AI tools such as ChatGPT have the potential to significantly disrupt how we work and how we learn. In this episode, Don Donelson joins us to discuss a course redesign strategy that could help prepare students for a world in which AI tools will be ubiquitous. Don is a senior lecturer in the Miami Herbert Business School at the University of Miami. He is a recipient of the Spring 2016 University of Miami Excellence in Teaching Award and the Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award from the Miami Herbert Business School.
- Eloundou, T., Manning, S., Mishkin, P., & Rock, D. (2023). GPTs are GPTs: An early look at the labor market impact potential of large language models. arXiv preprint arXiv:2303.10130.
John: AI tools such as ChatGPT have the potential to significantly disrupt how we work and how we learn. In this episode, we discuss a course redesign strategy that could help prepare students for a world in which AI tools will be ubiquitous.
John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…
Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.
Rebecca: Our guest today is Don Donelson. Don is a senior lecturer in the Miami Herbert Business School at the University of Miami. He is a recipient of the Spring 2016 University of Miami Excellence in Teaching Award and the Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award from the Miami Herbert Business School. Welcome back, Don.
Don: Glad to be here.
John: Today’s teas are: …Don, are you drinking tea?
Don: I am. It’s the same tea that you’re drinking, black currant, and it’s great.
Rebecca: It’s a John favorite for sure. I have a Tazo Awake tea today.
John: Does that mean you’re woke? That may be an issue down in Florida.
Don: …not in a private school.
Rebecca: It means that I couldn’t make a pot of tea. I didn’t have time. So I had to use a single tea bag. [LAUGHTER] That’s what it means.
John: And I am still using the mug from Australia that Clare McNally gave me with kangaroos all over it.
Rebecca: I like that mug.
John: I do too.
Rebecca: I look forward to seeing it in person.
Rebecca: Yeah, you’ll be back soon, right? A couple weeks.. I’ve got my grad studies mug. We’ve invited you here today to discuss your plans to revise the graduate and undergraduate core courses in critical thinking and business communication at Miami Herbert. Can you tell us a little bit about this course?
Don: So this course started at the grad level, MBAs in particular, in 2008. That’s what I was hired to teach. And it grew with the program, expanding into specialized master’s programs. And then it went out into the undergrad program. And it’s a core course required for all full-time business students, undergrad and graduate. This past year, we had 46 sections of undergrad courses and 21 sections of graduate courses, about 900 students or so in total.
Rebecca: So a really small situation going on here.
Don: Oh, yeah, very small, [LAUGHTER] no problems with scaling or anything like that.
John: What was the typical focus of this course in the past before this revision that you’re working on?
Don: So the course was called “Critical Thinking and Effective Written and Oral Communication,” and it lived up to its name. It was about those three things. At the time that we started in 2008, we called them soft skills. We don’t use that phrase anymore. We like to call them fundamentals, something of the sort. We think that soft skills sends a bad message. But it’s been overhauled three times, this will be the third overhaul since. And the things that we would do in the courses, from the very beginning, the main evaluations would be based on writing memos and giving presentations
Rebecca: Which should be about the kind of communication you’d be doing in business. [LAUGHTER]
Don: Yeah, it’d be based on hypothetical cases, some non-hypothetical cases, the standard Harvard Business publishing 10, 20 page case on “How did Netflix beat Blockbuster?” or something of the sort.
Rebecca: What prompted this big overhaul?
Don: Well, the accreditation body, AACSB, required program evaluation. And it’s sometimes an annoying task that people do just to go through the motions. But what we found, the first time I went through it, was that we actually learned a lot from going through those motions. And so in my department, at least, we institutionalize curriculum audits on a semester basis. And so, in between the fall and spring semesters, we have a shorter meeting, where we kind of look at what happened in all the instructors, faculty teaching in that space in the fall, what happened and what worked, what didn’t work, and we might make some minor revisions. And then at the end of the spring semesters, we’d have a little bit of a longer meeting. And the last few of those had turned out some opportunities for change.
Rebecca: Can you talk a little bit about what some of those opportunities were?
Don: Yes. So we found that this is a challenging course to get buy-in from the students. And so we still haven’t figured out 10% of what we can figure out about teaching in this space, I’m sure. But one of the things that we’ve seen is that it is somewhat of an innovative curriculum, and one of the challenges with being innovative is students haven’t had material like that before. It’s a core course. And so students have to take it. And there’s always challenges with that. But this is a bit of a different challenge. And so I was talking with John the other day, he has some core required economics courses for business students, and some of the challenges that come with that. But this is a bit different in that those students know that economics is a field of study. And they know that people take economics courses, and there’s a textbook and critical thinking and communication. They’ve been taught kind of as separate. They’ve been add ons in other courses, not as a discrete course itself. And so we think there’s some challenges with that. And really, the challenge that we’ve seen, in addition to that, is that from the faculty view, critical thinking and communication are not separate things, they are one thing. And so critical thinking, I would call it problem solving, is really what we’re teaching. But communication is a component of that. And from the student view, we’ve had a hard time getting them to see those as integrated. And so when they do a memo, that’s an evaluation metric, they see it as: “Well, that’s just looking at the writing and not critical thinking.”
Rebecca: That’s interesting. Some of the things that we’ve done in our design courses around critical thinking and writing across the curriculum, my department, which is art and design, is doing some of those same things. We would do projects and embedded in those projects would be things like memos and other ways of communicating as a way to critically think about the decisions that our designers were making on things. But we would run up sometimes against the same kinds of challenges, like how do you really make that feel practical, that’s relevant, and then also keep it interesting. And it helped, I think, in those cases, because it was tied to a project. So is that a challenge that you face in this particular class is because there are these kind of standalone case studies, and it’s hard for students to buy in or get them into a business space?
Don: That’s one of the things actually I think that’s going to be changed is more of an arc to the course. And one of the things that I’m looking at is more integration of assignments. And so things building more towards the other assignments, and so we have skills building on top of each other. But, ideally, the assignments that they’re doing all build towards one culmination assignment, capstone type project.
Rebecca: Where does this course fit into their other required courses? Is it something that happens in the beginning? or in the middle? towards the end?
Don: So that’s partially an administrative question that is dependent on staffing. We see some students wait until the very last semester to take it, particularly the students who don’t have English as a first language, but they can start taking it as early as their sophomore year. But usually, it’s junior.
John: What’s the difference between the undergraduate and the graduate versions of the course?
Don: So the graduate versions are taken on a quarterly basis, and the undergraduates on a semester basis and so there’s more contact time in the undergraduate version of the course. They use different materials, and they’re more in depth. And so much like you would see with undergraduate economics classes, the graduate version of the economics classes might have similar titles, but go far more in depth into the material.
John: So one of the main issues is that students don’t see the critical thinking aspect of it as being important in their writing. How are you going to change your course to focus a bit more on the development of those critical thinking skills?
Don: Well, this is where I need to go back and add more to what Rebecca asked before about what prompted this because of course, ChatGPT prompted a lot of the revisions as well. And so ChatGPT, AI in general, while it’s kind of an independent axis of revision, we were thinking about some of these other problems well, before ChatGPT even became a thing that people were aware of. But they go hand in hand, really. A lot of the problem that I’ve seen with the writing assignments, and why students don’t necessarily view them as critical thinking and focus on the writing, is because there’s writing for aesthetic, and then there’s writing for substance. And if you’re teaching anything about writing, you kind of have to be teaching both. But when you’re teaching both together, the students tend to focus more on the aesthetic. And they connect it back to English composition classes that they might have taken in ninth grade or 10th grade. And those classes are certainly very important. But they’re a bit different than what we’re doing in these classes. And so I think it primes them to approach the course in a way that is not really conducive to getting what we want out of it. And so with AI, well, it remains to be seen, but it looks to me like you don’t need to be teaching the aesthetics of writing so much anymore in a class like this. And so I’m going to experiment with just not. [LAUGHTER]
Rebecca: It’s interesting, because in design classes where we were doing some similar kinds of things, aesthetics obviously always come about, because if we’re doing visual design, aesthetics are a part of that conversation. But we would have the same thing. It was like, “Well, that looks nice. That reads nice. It just doesn’t say anything.” [LAUGHTER]
Don: Right. Yeah. [LAUGHTER]
Rebecca: So it’s interesting that we bump up against these same kinds of challenges across a wide variety of disciplines. And that ChatGPT does offer some opportunity to focus on some different things.
Rebecca: I’m curious what exactly you’re going to focus on and how you’re gonna leverage ChatGPT in the context of this class.
Don: So I think ChatGPT is an insane, wild, amazing tool. And it’s going to only be more wild, more insane, more amazing next month, [LAUGHTER] or six months from now. But I see it really changing the way that I teach, the way I prepare for teaching. So kind of on the end of creating lesson plans and what it does for me as a teacher and the kinds of things that I can do in a class that I wouldn’t be able to do in a class before without a lot more hours in the day. And then also, from the student side, changing the way that they do assignments. They’re not going to be writing memos outside the classroom in the way that they have in business for decades and centuries. They’re going to be using ChatGPT. And so if, in this course, which is meant to be a practical course, we can’t make it practical if we’re not allowing them to use the tools that they’re not only going to be encouraged to use, they’re going to probably be required. And so if they don’t use ChatGPT in the future, they’re going to have bosses saying, “Why are you spending X amount of hours on this client memo instead of doing something else.” And so we really need to prepare them for that world. There’s been some early research and I’ll get John the citations, but we looked at research over the break between fall and spring, this past year, some preliminary research about the kinds of jobs in the way the labor market is going to be affected in the future by AI and ChatGPT and the jobs that were predicted to be the hardest hit in terms of reduced wages, and just reduced demand are jobs that involve writing and the jobs that were predicted to be the most insulated from Ai were jobs that involve problem solving and critical thinking. And so really, when you look at that research, it doesn’t even give us a choice. Even if we weren’t thinking about making some kind of revisions before, we’d probably need to just on that alone.
John: So is the focus now shifting more to the critical thinking skills and a little bit less on the basic structure of writing?
Don: Yes. And that’s really where even though the impetus for the revisions were independent, in practice, they’re not going to be that independent. And so it really dovetails nicely. And so I’ll give you an example, if a student is writing a memo, where a business is making a decision between two or three different courses of action, and one of the main criteria is the profitability of those courses of action, the structure is kind of guided by the math of profitability. So if you’re not talking about revenues, independently of talking about costs, you’re not proving profitability. And so when we talk about structure in this course, that’s really what we mean. But students very often, because of some of the things I’ve talked about previously, they’re looking at it as far as like the five-paragraph structure. And that’s not really what we mean. And so by being able to focus less on the aesthetics of writing, and more on the substance, I think we’ll be able to undo some of that priming,
Rebecca: …almost like this shift to articulating the decision making…
Rebecca: …rather than talking about writing, because articulating, it could be verbal, it could be in written language, it could be in a lot of different formats. But the point is that you thought critically about the issue, and how you made the decision. [LAUGHTER]
Don: Yes, exactly. In presentations, I’ve never had as much of the same problems as we have in the memos. Part of that, I think, it’s because of contemporaneous feedback. My students early on learned that this comment is kind of a trolling comment. And it’s not really meant as a attaboy or attagirl. But, sometimes a student will give a speech, and when they’re done, I’ll say, “I’m very impressed with your public speaking skills.” And they think, at first in the early parts of the class, that that’s a compliment. But they realize that that’s actually not a compliment. What I really mean is “No one would be buying what you’re selling, no one would be buying this stock, no one would be making a decision based on this, but you have very impressive charisma and confidence.” And that’s not really what we’re about, maybe in politics, but that’s a different question.
Rebecca: I’m curious about integrating ChatGPT as part of the process. Are you thinking about requiring students to reveal and discuss how and why they use ChatGPT in particular instances, and how they leverage the tool.
Don: So I think part of it is going to be first showing them how ChatGPT is not a critical thinking tool. And so I think it’ll be kind of walking on the escalator backwards for a bit just so that we can walk forward. It’s not going to be ChatGPT’s here, so you should use it. Go. ChatGPT is like a personal assistant, who is extremely capable and competent, but will do precisely what you tell it to do, and nothing else. The input you give it determines the quality of the output. And so if you go to ChatGPT, and you say, “I’m writing a letter of recommendation for Rebecca, and she was a great student, and she’s applying to law school period,” it’s going to give you about what you would imagine…it’s going to make up some stuff about Rebecca, it might even not get what program you’re in right. It’s not going to use the last name because I didn’t give it one. And it’s going to give you a very fluffy, perhaps disingenuous response. Now if I give ChatGPT a really robust stream of consciousness almost about Rebecca Mushtare was a student in the spring of whatever and she got this grade and she did phenomenal in these areas. And this assignment she really stood out most because of this, this, and this, it might give me a much more usable response that I can then play with. And so I think that’s going to be the first to instruct students on: what it does not do, which is critical thinking. And from there, I think they’ll have to use it however they feel comfortable. We’re still going to have some writing assignments that are scored. But what I’m hoping for is that these changes will make it so that they’re focused much more on the critical thinking parts of it. And so for some students that might look like writing a fairly complete draft on their own, and then putting it into ChatGPT and telling it to edit this for brevity and clean up grammar mistakes or do something of the sort. For some students, it might be much more of a back and forth kind of a conversation with ChatGPT, which I think a lot of students will be surprised to learn that it functions in that way. And when I find myself using it, it’s mostly as a conversation. Like, I didn’t like what you did here, cut that part out and do this again.
Rebecca: It’s funny that we don’t always think about it as a chat tool, despite the fact that chat is in its name.
Don: Yeah, exactly.
John: Before making this major change in your curriculum, have you experimented with any changes in this course recently to put more focus on critical thinking skills before introducing ChatGPT?
Don: Yes, so in some of the sections, especially at the graduate level, since we have so many different master’s programs, when I first started, it was MBA, and pretty much that’s it. Now with where the business world is going, there’s a lot more demand for specialized skill sets. And so we have, in addition to MBAs, we have a Masters of Science in Finance, a Masters of Science in Sustainable Business, so on and so forth. And each of those sections afford some opportunity to take things in a different direction, really, not even just an opportunity, but we kind of want to, to be more responsive to those fields. And so in the graduate sections, we’ve had some isolated ability to experiment with more problem-based learning, which I think ChatGPT goes really, really well with on the faculty end as far as creating problem-based learning curriculum. But we haven’t experimented with the AI component of it yet, really, because it’s so new, and it doesn’t feel like it right now…it kind of feels like it’s 20 years old, but yet haven’t used it. But it’s very new. And so I don’t know about every other institution, but we don’t move at the pace of jets when it comes to curriculum revision at the University of Miami. We move, I think, faster than probably most but still, it takes time. And so we haven’t had the opportunity to do anything with the AI yet. But we’ve revised in the past couple years to focus more on some of the problem solving in some of the graduate sections.
Rebecca: The faculty member in me heard I can use ChatGPT to help me with problem-based learning classes, and I want to know more about that.
Don: Oh, yeah. [LAUGHTER] So if you type into ChatGPT, you have to give it really, really good direction: the who, what, when, where, why…that you are a professor teaching a negotiation class. And it is a upper-level, undergraduate course. And you are going to create simulation practice for negotiation in which you play one role and the student plays the other, and you will create a scenario and interact with the student, but wait for the student’s response after each of your responses. And then at the conclusion, give the student feedback based on what you know about the science of negotiation from a management sciences perspective, as well as a legal perspective. And then you hit go, you will be blown away with what ChatGPT starts to create. And so it will give you a little blurb. A couple of weeks ago, I did something of the sort, and it said, Sally is the owner of a handmade furniture manufacturing company in North Carolina and has been contacted by so and so that owns a furniture retail store. And so and so has been impressed with Sally’s furniture and wants to arrange a distribution agreement. The meeting begins over the phone and so and so ask Sally what her goals are in this arrangement. And then that’s where I would type in and I said my goals are to reach this level of profitability and to have a productive long-term relationship with the other party, and it responded back. So it can create an entire dialogue that you can then ask afterwards, once you tweak it and say, “Well, I liked this part of it. I didn’t like this part of it, write the Python code for this, and it will write the whole Python code and allow you to turn it into a web-based interactive program. It’s really quite wild.
John: So basically, it gives every faculty member the ability to create interactive simulations for their classes, which could be done for pretty much any topic I would think.
Don: Absolutely. In the past that kind of thing was in some courses, probably a bit aspirational. It’s the kind of thing that would probably require some kind of course leave to develop it. And for faculty who become really comfortable with it, it will get to a point where it’s doable within a day or two of a lesson. And so you can on kind of miniature scale, you can do these on a daily basis, really high quality ones.
Rebecca: It sounds like something that we can use in a lot of contexts in higher ed, including if we want to do simulations for interviews for new positions or other things as well, if you’re trying to better understand how someone might approach a problem.
Don: Absolutely. I think that’s a very good application, in fact.
John: One of the things though, that I think has generated some panic for a lot of faculty is the effect that this may have on how we assess student learning. So how can faculty address issues related to the ethical use of artificial intelligence?
Don: Well, I’ve never known any faculty to ever panic over a technological innovation…sarcasm ended. So I think faculty have to assess this on their own, but also part of the community. One thing that I think’s going to be an early problem are faculty doing things in a different way, I think that’s probably unavoidable. And so I say all that as kind of a disclaimer that my approach and what I think our approach is going to be in my department, and even if the disclaimer applies to that, I don’t even know that for sure, is perhaps going to be different than others’ approach. And so since this course is supposed to be so much of a practical course, and the writing is on the wall, no pun intended, well, it’s in the AI software, I view that we really have no choice. And so there’s been a lot of commentary in The Atlantic magazine, a lot of commentary in the higher education journals. And most of that I have seen focused on this question, but using as an assumption that it’s wrong to use ChatGPT. And so the easiest way to make it not a question of cheating is to allow it to be used, and then it’s not cheating. And so that’s the direction that I’m leaning in. And I think, ultimately, for the practical tools, for the practical courses, that’s going to be the direction it goes. But again, I can’t even speak for my own department on that, because we’re so new in this.
John: And that will be an issue, I think, everywhere, as it has been in the past with things like calculators, or smartphones, or even Apple watches, I remember getting all these memos coming in from various places at one point to make sure your students are not using a smartwatch while they were taking an exam, because somehow the answers are going to miraculously appear on that tiny little screen for the test that you’re giving them.
Don: Right. And I think you can’t really separate the assessment design and the student response to the assessment in this. There are going to be some courses, I can imagine, in different disciplines, that they’re focused on more fundamental foundational skills, that it’s going to be more of a challenge for them. Well, I’m not saying that students don’t need to know and learn about the aesthetics of writing; that has to keep happening, but not in this course. And so I don’t know how the faculty in those spaces and really the 9th and 10th grade composition teachers that I talked about before, I don’t know how they deal with it, probably in person assessments, that sort of thing. But for this practical application course, I would view it really as kind of training track runners to hop on one foot. And so that wouldn’t be very practical. And so if you have a cheating or plagiarism or honor code policy that requires them to only use one foot, then it would be plagiarism for them to run on both feet. But that wouldn’t be very helpful. And so I really viewed ChatGPT as the same thing in a practical sense, if you’re plagiarism or honor, code policy defines ChatGPT as out of bounds, you’re training them to run on one foot.
Rebecca: So we’ve talked a lot about the writing component, and really building in stronger structures to focus on critical thinking. One of the other issues that you identified was that students don’t necessarily see the intrinsic value of the course or like get the buy-in. Can you talk a little bit about the ways that you’re redesigning to help with that piece of it as well?
Don: Yeah, and so certainly a lot of students do get that. But it really depends on how intrinsically motivated they are. And I think it requires faculty to kind of sell it somewhat. And so in my courses, I’ve found success with selling it in that way, which I really don’t like to do. And it’s something that a lot of faculty probably think is kind of an icky thing to do. But for instance, I will repeatedly tell students, I’m not here to make myself feel good. I’m not here to make myself feel smart by putting you all down. I’m here to help you all get jobs and to get promotions at those jobs and do well in your careers. And so I will focus a lot on kind of pointing things out as criticism that I also tell them these are not affecting your grade, however, X, Y and Z. And so little things like in a presentation if they go…you know, we have to have time limits for presentations because it’s basic math, we have X number of students, 75 minutes in a class session, we have to have time. And so when it comes to a student has five minutes and they go over, what do you do? I’m not going to take off on grades for that. But I am going to point out for a student that, in some settings, if you’re given a time limit, that’s because the CEO has another meeting five minutes after you start and you will be cut off, not because they don’t like what you’re saying not because you haven’t followed the directions, but because they’ve got somewhere else they need to go. And so a lot of the problem I think, is just students are so focused on grades, to the shock of everybody, [LAUGHTER] that when the things that you’re grading and are affecting their grades are these kind of…and aesthetic isn’t the right word, but they would view grading something like that as a bit ticky tack. And when you’re scoring things like that, it’s much harder to have a serious conversation about the nitty gritty substance, and how, if you’re trying to prove that this course of action is more profitable than the others, and you didn’t provide any support for the change in costs, you really can’t have accomplished your goal. You don’t get the same attention from the students in the same response, if you’re also talking about things like, well, “you went five and a half minutes when you only had five minutes,” or “You didn’t use 10 point font when you were told to use 10 point font and that ChatGPT, with that second example with that 10 point font, if the instructions said 10 point font and the students input the instructions it produce it in the appropriate formatting.
John: And I know in the past, when I’ve graded student papers, I, as many other people do, spend far too much time correcting grammatical errors, reminding them that there’s a difference between singular and plural or the difference between all the various homonyms out there. Might be easier for us to evaluate student work when we can actually focus on the arguments they’re making, and their ability to engage in critical thinking, rather than getting ourselves so tied up in all this minutia, which I always try to avoid doing, but when I see so many errors in student work, it’s hard not to at least correct some of it so that they could become more proficient. In the future, they may not need to have that type of correction.
Don: Yeah, John, I think you really hit the nail on the head there. You really feel like you have an obligation to correct those. And when communication or writing is one of the titular topics of the course, even more so. But I have always felt that you get diminishing returns on the things that you focus on. And every time you’re talking about grammar, you are not talking about the critical thinking, and the grammar does matter. I can tell you that I have lots of conversations with CEOs with HR directors, etc, in the ongoing effort to make sure that my curriculum is responsive to what’s happening in the market. And one thing that I consistently hear is grammatical errors, spelling errors on slides or in cover letters are catastrophic. And it’s not because they’re nitpicky, it’s because the markets are so competitive, that they get a window that’s maybe 5% or less of what someone’s actual quality as a candidate may be. And that’s just something that there’s going to be some other candidate that is just as qualified and equal in every other way that didn’t make grammatical mistakes in their PowerPoints, and so on and so forth. And so it is important, but it doesn’t matter how good your grammar is, how compelling your vocabulary is, if you are missing some of the logical components of the argument, you cannot be correct.
John: And when students get feedback, where they see dozens of comments on it, the easiest strategy is to focus on correcting those small grammatical errors that are riddled through it. You might also have told the student that they don’t have a very substantive argument. But if they’re going to make a lot of corrections, it’s easier for them to focus on correcting the grammar and ignoring the more fundamental problem.
Don: Right. The very first writing assignment I ever did as a graduate student was a 50-page memo and I got back no comments anywhere except for on the front page: “Do you talk like this?” I think probably somewhere [LAUGHTER] in between those two is ideal. But you’re exactly right, that the more that we focus on things like grammar and tense and such things, the less we can focus on the meat and the critical thinking.
Rebecca: It’s funny how that often is the level of polish would be something that goes from someone that’s got like a really high grade to like an excellent grade.
Don: Right, exactly.
Rebecca: Something that’s foundational, that’s often not how our feedback structures work. And even if we keep form and function feedback separate and even weight them very differently. It’s really easy to address the form issues, because it’s almost like a series of checkboxes and it doesn’t require a lot of thought because the critical thinking part’s the hard part. And so it’s funny that even if they’re weighted differently, and to keep the comments separately, students will always flock towards the thing that’s kind of easy to fix. I mean, who wouldn’t? Then it becomes a checklist.
Don: And that’s exactly really kind of where this boils down to me, it’s not to say that those things aren’t important. They’re still very important. But in the world in which ChatGPT is a real thing, which it now is, and will continue to be and only be more powerful than it is, the juice that we get out of spending time in class or in feedback, in office hours, whatever it may be, talking about those sorts of things, is getting much less of a return than it did before ChatGPT. I am not a walking detector of 100% perfect polish by any means. But it seems to me that the product that ChatGPT can produce, in terms of those things that you were speaking about, Rebecca, is pretty dang good and hard to distinguish for me from highly polished products. But again, where it is easy to distinguish is this is a load of crap [LAUGHTER] that is fluff and has no substance to it, but a very polished load of crap, but nonetheless…
Rebecca: It’s pretty crap. [LAUGHTER]
Don: Exactly. It’s very pretty crappy with a nice bow,
John: …which reminds me of some work that I graded just the other night, where spelling and grammatical issues have mostly disappeared in student essay responses since the advent of ChatGPT, but the substance is not always there. And there were many responses that I provided feedback on which said, “this is a really nice response, but not to the question that you were asked to address.”
Rebecca: Yeah, or you spent two paragraphs and you haven’t actually said anything yet.
John: So teaching students how to use ChatGPT or other AI tools more effectively might allow them to be more productive in their learning as well as beyond their college experience.
Don: And might allow us to make for more productive learning environments as well.
Rebecca: So we’ve talked a lot about course content, and what to maybe focus on and not focus on. One of the most important things a course has is its syllabus or course outline. Can you talk a little bit about course policies and the way that you might make change in that realm?
Don: Yeah, so I think you’re gonna have to be more detailed than you probably are used to being in terms of putting language and syllabi, very specific and upfront. And so some of the policies that I’ve seen that I’ve liked elements of and are going to end up including in the syllabi the explicit weaknesses of ChatGPT. It is not a critical thinking device, it will produce responses only as deep or as shallow as you instruct it to. You are still responsible for the critical thinking, essentially, and very explicit in terms of what’s allowed, what’s not allowed. And I think also, it would probably be a good idea for faculty to be putting in explicit language that what is allowed in this course, is not necessarily the same as what will be allowed in other courses, and it is incumbent on students to navigate those differences themselves.
Rebecca: And part of the reason why things might be different across courses is because the focus of those courses is different and really helping students understand that there’s reasons why policies might be different in other classes. It’s not necessarily arbitrary.
Don: Right, exactly.
Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking: “What’s next?”
Don: Well, what’s next is I figure out how to do all this stuff, [LAUGHTER] and not just to talk about it.
Rebecca: …and you’re gonna send us a memo, right with that in it. [LAUGHTER]
Don: Oh yeah. Yeah, I’m happy. [LAUGHTER]
John: …or at least have ChatGPT generate a memo explaining….
Don: Exactly. So yeah, what’s next is to put this stuff into action. Of course, as I mentioned, some of the things here have already been experimented with, the non-ChatGPT parts of it at least, but really kind of integrating them and seeing if what I am imagining is what comes to fruition in terms of do these things dovetail as well as I think. I really think that they do. …that kind of pre-existing urge to go more towards the critical thinking element, and really, I think, does dovetail well with the AI, but putting it into practice, it will be over the course of probably all of next year. And so there’s going to be some experimental sections, most of the sections are probably not going to look very different than they did in the spring. And I think that’s probably a very good plan. But there’s going to be some experimenting in some of the sections at the undergraduate level, and part of a faculty learning community on problem-based learning. This course is going to be participating in that in the fall. And so a lot is going to come out of that, I think, as well.
John: Do you think there’ll be much buy in from other people teaching the course?
Don: So, students, by and large, do not like writing. Faculty, by and large, do not like grading writing. And so I don’t think this is one of those political monsters of how are we going to get this through? How are we going to make these changes work? I think there’s probably a lot of people who have nervousness about how you would make these changes. But with those two facts that I don’t think you’d get much disagreement from, I think even across disciplines, I don’t think it should be that difficult for this to be implemented
Rebecca: Well I hope you’ll join us after you’ve implemented some of the things to share some of your reflections and let us know how it went.
Don: I’m happy to.
John: Well, thank you, Don.
Don: Thank you.
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Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.