The CETLSS Spotlight is a blog authored by CETLSS staff that highlights happenings in teaching, learning, and career support, both at App State and beyond.
Mountaineer Mental Health First Aid & the National Conference!
by Katie Lail, Program Associate, MHFA Instructor, CETLSS
Higher education and mental health professionals alike continue to seek innovative solutions to the growing mental health crisis impacting college students at exponential rates. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) has made it's way to the high country! This 8 hour training is available to students, faculty and staff alike, and reviews basic knowledge and skills that empowers university communities to promote and destigmatize mental health issues. Additionally, MHFA empowers individuals to recognize signs, symptoms and risks of a mental health challenge, but most importantly, participants learn how to respond to common mental health and substance use issues that can arise from the high-stress environment of higher education. The National Council for Mental Wellbeing provides curriculum for all MHFA instructors. The curriculum is evidence based, and updated regularly to meet the needs of the community.
So what are the benefits of completing Mental Health First Aid? As a "Mental Health First Aider" participants will be
- Promoting mental health awareness among their community (fellow students, faculty, staff, etc.)
- Reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness
- Improving the understanding of mental health and substance use problems
- Providing a tangible action plan to safely and responsibly identify and address potential mental health challenges, crises, and disorders
- Equipt with the skills and knowledge needed to provide initial support to somone experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis
- Empowered to utilize local resources within their community
- Encouraged to recognize when someone they know, work with, or may not know may be struggling with their mental health but unsure how to voice it
Since Janurary, 2023, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for Student Success has been home to hosting several MHFA courses throughout the year, both in person and virtually. I have had the unique privilege to spearhead this resource by working with a variety of other instructors on campus, departments and have worked hard to create a new cutlure among our community! This year, for the first time ever, we were able to certify all 150 residential assistants across campus! We worked hard to certify all of the housing staff members as well as over 100 AppState Faculty and Staff!
This year, we have been accepted into the National Conference for Mental Health First Aid and the National Council in St. Louis, MO in April 2024 where we will present our successes from this past year! We are excited to announce that within CETLSS, excellence doesn't stop with faculty, we strive to provide excellence to all members of our academic community and I have been honored to be apart of it.
We're not done yet! If you are interested in attending a course, we offer a variety of modalities, dates, and times. Or if your department is interested in a group training we can coordinate that as well! Check us out here and register today! There's no greater feeling than learning how to #bethedifference among our fellow mountaineers.
AI in Your Classroom: Our Latest Resources
by Rachel Clark, Director of Online Teaching and Learning, CETLSS
Welcome back, friends! We in CETLSS hope you've had a good summer. We have been busily chipping away at a number of things while you've been sprawling on the beach in Fiji (OK, we did get a little R&R too). We're still inventing new workflows and reorganizing, so we appreciate your patience with us, as it's allowing us to grow our new suite of offerings to help you better meet your teaching needs. Thanks for bearing with our construction dust!
A lot of you have come back from your summer travels eager to hear where things are with AI and ChatGPT, so if that's you, you're not alone. As you know, CETLSS spent the spring 2023 rolling out discussions and help via both monthly large-group panel offerings in conjunction with faculty around campus as well as individual consults as needed - like all centers for teaching and learning (CTL's), we are learning with you. But we know you're still wondering what to do. We don't know everthing, and we know there are those among you who are hard at work experimenting with it. Make sure and let us know if you have any fresh ideas or knowledge to add to our pile, would you?
If you are someone who just wants a quick fix, we have some bad news: there just isn't one yet. We do offer Turnitin in our tech stack - you'll see the classic Turnitin assignment there in the "Add an Activity or Resource" interface in AsULearn, which does indeed offer an AI "score" that estimates the percentage of the document that may have been created with AI. Keep in mind, though, that it's not a perfect tool - there is research to support the criticism of a higher-than-desirable rate of false positives being identified, so you'll need to teach carefully with that. By the way, with or without AI, I'm a fan of Turnitin's rich grading interface for writing, as they offer a voice-recording option, frequently used comments, in-line grading and a number of other aids that makes that all-important feedback connection with your students as robust as possible. And, whether you need the plagiarism protection or not, you can alway use similarity scores to have great conversations with students about protecting their credibility by being responsible members of knowledge communities. Bottom line: it can help, but it's not a perfect tool - and none are.
As my colleague Lindsay Masland noted in her January blog below, we have choices. I'm still encouraging folks to resist the urge as they can to move too hard and fast into "policing" mode, and remember that in no moment in history has there ever been a single fully cheat-proof method of checking our progress with our students - even if they are sitting right in front of us in a face-to-face classroom. Right?
My urge is to position myself beside students and find ways to help them learn how to use it responsibly. I now can't imagine a world beyond academia where they are not only using ChatGPT to do some lifting, but they are expected to use it. As in that transitional moment with that thing called the World Wide Web back in the dinosaur days I come from, we will need to learn how to use it well ourselves, and then learn/teach with them. So, if you are struggling, maybe you use Turnitin, maybe you don't; my step 2 would be, go play with it and see what it looks and feels like.
My assessment, as with so many others, is: there is still critical thinking to be taught even when using this wild west of a tool - we have to engineer our prompts with savvy; then we have to evaluate the quality of what comes out, and know how to adjust. Wonder what kind of genius assignments your colleagues are already noodling with along these lines that could be shared? All of us want know our students have done their own work, of course. But you might even begin by considering what questions you might ask, and what kinds of projects you have students working on that might make it both hard to cheat on as well as undesirable or unnecessary to cheat on, because their assignments and assessments feel personally meaningful, long-term useful to them, and more than anything, doable to them. Maybe you carefully scaffold their activities in a way that sets them up for the success we want them to want. In other words, if you spend your energy on good design, you might be able to spend less energy policing - and class will just be more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone.
At any rate, we have collected a few resources where you might begin if you're just joining the conversation, or even just checking in:
An open-source slideshow Lindsay shared with us in January (and make sure you check out her other links out - see her January post below)
Scared of AI? Don't be, Computer-Science Instructors Say (August 2, 2023, Chronicle of Higher Education)
4 Steps to Help you Plan for ChatGPT in Your Classroom (June 23, 2023, Chronicle of Higher Education)
Finally, know that this is a moving target, and we will all be moving with it -- and that even at the federal policy level, work is underway, because while we do our best to swim with this tide, we do ultimately have to hold some basic boundaries. But it might take a minute for everyone to figure out how and when. I understand the discomfort of this ambiguity. I am a writer at heart, and have spent enough years in the trenches with you teaching writing to know how jarring all this is. But I am also a playful person, and will admit my bias toward having something new to try, because it helps. Our melancholy Greek friend Heraclitus reminded us that the only constant in life is change. There's kind of no fighting it. In which case, how can we make it work for us and our students?
Learning for All: Removing barriers with accessible course content
by Emily Wilson
If you saw someone struggling to get into a building, would you stand by and watch or would you come to their aid and open the door? Most of us would answer this question in the affirmative. But what if a student was struggling to learn because of an accessibility challenge related to your course content? When it comes to doing the actual work of making learning accessible, we may not respond as quickly. To recognize National Developmental Disability Awareness Month, we invite you to identify and utilize the power you hold to make meaningful accessibility improvements in the learning environment.
Failing to address accessibility challenges has real consequences that affect real people. I recently spoke with a friend with hearing loss who paid $85 to attend a speaking event. The event did not have any accommodations in place for individuals with hearing challenges and my friend could not hear the speaker. Not only did they feel they wasted their money during the event, they were unable to participate in thought-provoking conversations with a group of peers afterwards. A few simple accommodations would have made this event a meaningful, enriching experience. Instead it made them feel marginalized and forgotten.
Accessible design improves the learning experience for everyone, not just students with disabilities. As a neurotypical individual I do not need accommodations, but I regularly use captions and screen readers to help me assimilate information. It helps me to both hear and see the words. I am better able to pay attention because these small actions improve my learning and focus. Non-native English speakers can benefit from accessibility features such as transcripts, closed captioning, and image descriptions. Accessible content is easier to read, understand, and navigate. It eliminates unnecessary distractions, reduces cognitive load, and enhances comprehension - something we can all benefit from.
Take a moment to stop and consider the ways you are currently interacting with the environment around you. If you are a fully able-bodied, neurotypical individual, you are likely able to access most of what you need without any disruption or second thought. But imagine if you couldn’t use a mouse or trackpad on your computer to locate, navigate to, and read this blog post (for more about this experience, consider taking the “No Mouse Challenge”.) Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the United States has some sort of disability (CDC, 2023). For the estimated 10 percent of students in higher education in the US with a disability, the traditional college experience is likely different, in small or significant ways. Unfortunately, only one-third of those students report their disabilities to the institution they attend, because they fear discrimination, embarrassment, or a lack of understanding of disabilities. (Penrod, 2023)
Success for all Mountaineers means designing and delivering inclusive learning experiences that meet the needs of our students, of all abilities, identities, and lived experiences. On your journey toward creating an equitable and inclusive learning environment, the best strategy is to ensure your content is accessible during the design process. It is much easier to design this way from the beginning than it is to go back and remediate. While it is tempting to wait until you receive an accommodation request and “cross that bridge when you get there”, this often leads to delays, frustration, and sometimes panic.
As you review your course content, consider where you can improve access for all students. Take the review one step at a time, one video at a time, one module at a time, one activity at a time. To help you make this process less overwhelming, use this short checklist for making your AsULearn course more accessible. With the coming upgrade to Moodle 4, we will have access to the Brickfield accessibility checker in AsULearn. After seeing it in action, I am excited for its potential to improve access. Another excellent resource is the Quality Matters (QM) Accessibility and Usability Resource site which you can access by setting up a QM account.
Once you have taken a look at your online course site, consider setting up an appointment with one of our Instructional Design Specialists to discuss ways to make the face to face experience more inclusive, accessible, and increase the sense of belonging in the physical classroom.
Hopefully at this point you feel empowered and inspired to make incremental but meaningful changes to improve the lives of your students. The responsibility lies with us. If you said yes to the first question I asked, it’s time to start opening doors.
Centers for Disease Control. (2023, January 5). Disability Impacts All of Us. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/infographic-disability-impacts-all.html#:~:text=Up%20to%201%20in%204,and%20people%20with%20no%20disability.
Penrod, J. (2023, February 3). Hybrid Learning and Space Reimagination: Optimizing Access and Equity to Promote Student Success. Educause Review.
Spotlight: Chat GPT
Although artificial intelligence and related language processors are not new, they didn't occupy any space in my "pedagogical brain" until exam week of Fall 2022. It was then that people started talking about a new technology called ChatGPT on Twitter. At first, I ignored it. I didn't have the time or energy to care. Until I saw screenshots of the types of material this "bot" was able to produce... Example after example of serviceable essays, worked math problems, and "original" poems began to fill my social media feed. It was then that I realized that this sort of technology could have wide-ranging impacts on teaching and learning. (And if you'd like to see some samples of ChatGPT products without having to sign up for an account yourself, check out these slides, which both explain ChatGPT as a technology and which include many examples of generated work.)
I think we've found ourselves in a bit of a pressure cooker when it comes to Chat GPT and related technologies. We are learning new things about it every day, and yet, we need policies and solutions now. Or yesterday, really, since the semester has already begun. Because of the pace at which things are evolving, my hunch is that the pedagogical response we have to ChatGPT in Spring 2023 will be very different than the one we have a few semesters from now. Like everything in teaching, I think it's best if we view our response to this technology as a marathon and not a sprint.
So, what are the options now? What do we say to our students about this technology? What do we allow or disallow when it comes to ChatGPT? At this "pressure cooker moment," I think we have four potential options:
1. We ignore it.
Let's be honest. We've been through a lot these last few years. The last thing we need right now is a new, disruptive technology. So if you feel like you're at your wit's end when it comes to modifying your teaching approach, this might the right course of action for you in the short term. Does this mean that a few students might use this technology to support or supplant their learning in ways you don't love? Maybe. But I think you should be honest with yourself and your capacity for or interest in surveilling student behavior. I'm personally never interested in policing students, as it seems like the least effective way to help them learn, but even if I were interested in that, I just don't have the capacity to add another item (i.e., catching students using ChatGPT) to my teaching to-do list!
Or maybe you still have a lot of gas in the tank, but this sort of technology isn't really disruptive for you, your field, and/or the way you've designed your courses. Maybe it's hard for students to effectively use this sort of technology to complete their assessments. That's the case for a statistics class I'm teaching this semester, for example. Although it's true that this technology can solve math problems, my class has students working with very large, real-world data sets. They learn how to run statistics so they can make recommendations for real community partners. Since ChatGPT doesn't consult the internet and since it only contains information up to 2021, it's not likely to be very helpful for my students who are being asked to make real-world recommendations about large sets of real data. Maybe you have a class like that too? Then you might be a candidate for ignoring.
2. We strongly discourage it.
I'll admit that this response was the one I saw many folks jump to at first. I saw lots of examples of syllabus policies expressly forbidding the use of ChatGPT at all. I'm hesitant about this response, though, for multiple reasons. First is the issue raised above—anything you disallow in your classes has to be surveilled in some way. The result? An extra task for our already too-full plates. Second, I didn't get into teaching to police student behavior. Especially at App State, where a primary focus is transformational teaching and learning—trying to catch students in doing, well, anything feels like the opposite of that. Third, we talk a lot about preparing students for the "real world," and it's pretty clear that the real world into which they will be graduating is just like the real world they currently inhabit — a world in which ChatGPT exists. Better prepare them to thoughtfully engage (or avoid engaging) with this technology than to ban it outright, I think. All of that being said, this is just my perspective, which is a reflection of the personal values I hold and the various situational and positional constraints I am subjected to. Others with different situational factors may come to a different conclusion about how a ban supports student success.
3. We softly discourage it.
Once folks started to shift out of emergency mode, "soft discouragement" got attention. For example, as we continued to play with it, we learned that although ChatGPT's products are serviceable and often somewhat correct, they're almost never exemplary. The responses lack creativity and a unique voice. Even if you ask the bot to write an explanation of photosynthesis in the form of a rap or in the style of Mary Oliver's poetry (both of which it will do), the outcome is often fine. But that's it. Just fine. And not only that, ChatGPT is sometimes wrong. If it only partially knows the answer to your question, it will fill in the rest. Which sometimes means generating completely fake citations or writing the same idea over and over, but in slightly different ways. If students were invited to critique the outputs of this technology, they might quickly come to the conclusion that it isn't as magical as it seems on the surface.
And if its just-fine-ness isn't enough to dissuade someone, maybe the ethical argument is. Investigative reporting has revealed that this currently free technology was built, in part, using Kenyan workers who were paid $2 an hour to attempt to cull all of the explicit, traumatic, and/or pornographic material that the earliest versions of the bot produced. Students (and professors) might be horrified to know that the contract to do such culling was terminated 8 months early because too many of the workers were experiencing PTSD symptoms connected to the material they were tasked with removing. Do we feel comfortable using technology that was built through such exploitative means? And not only that, but there is the argument that each time we interact with ChatGPT, we are providing free labor that improves the bot's ability to produce. Eventually, this technology will be monetized, so if we want to continue to use it, we will have to pay for access to something we helped to build.
Or, to take a completely different tack, we could try to design it out of utility. Meaning, we can select class assessments that don't benefit from ChatGPT input. For example, some instructors have decided to shift to all handwritten, in-class assignments. Although this might solve the ChatGPT problem, it generates new ones—requiring handwritten responses is not inclusive of some student learning needs. And besides, do you really want to go back to grading handwritten essays? So perhaps a different angle might work. As mentioned above, the technology was only fed information up to 2021, so it is unable to make connections or applications to current-day happenings. It also has a limited ability to generate good citations, and it's not particularly good at synthesizing ideas across multiple sources. ChatGPT can't produce multimodal products (i.e., it can only produce written word), nor can it generate authentic products like websites, videos, or slides. Its ability to produce metacognitive or process-based reflections is severely limited, so assignments that ask students to explain their process of completing an assignment or how they incorporated specific pieces of instructor feedback aren't good candidates for the technology. So, if we are creative with our assignment formats, we could softly discourage the use of ChatGPT in the first place.
4. We encourage it.
Some instructors have decided to fully embrace the technology and incorporate it directly into their courses. I'll admit that this was where my own head went as soon as I heard about the technology. And once I started playing around with it and realized that most of the output was fine, I started envisioning assignments that might invite students to generate ChatGPT output and to critique it or modify it to be better than fine. This seemed like an excellent way to support students in critical thinking and to prepare them to use a technology that would likely be a part of their post-graduate experiences! After I heard some of the ethical arguments discussed above, I dialed back my enthusiasm, but I still think that there are many inventive ways to introduce students to the affordances and constraints of technology like this. A great example of such an assignment comes from Morton Ann Gernsbacher, Psychology professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Or perhaps you don't want to give students free rein when it comes to the use of ChatGPT, but maybe you recognize there are certain phases of an assignment like outlining or brainstorming where ChatGPT input makes sense. Maybe you're OK if students use it, as long as they cite it. There are lots of examples of classroom policies that work with ChatGPT (and policies that expressly forbid it) here.
So there we have it. Four possible responses to ChatGPT, none of which is perfect.
I think the best thing we can do right now is to ask ourselves these questions:
- What do I want to model to my students about this technology, which surely isn't going away?
- What additional labor am I willing to invite into my teaching (i.e., devising new assignments, trying to catch use of ChatGPT etc.)?
- How can I ensure that my response to this threat isn't bigger than the threat itself (i.e., if only a few students might use this, does it make sense to completely overhaul things?)
- What decisions can I make that will maximize BOTH my student's success and my own enjoyment of this facet of my career?
As long as we are making thoughtful decisions, I think we are on right path, even if the path is longer and more winding than we might like.