Dean Talk: Personal Reflections on Shifting Pedagogy with AI
Last week, we heard from teachers and admin about what’s rolling around in their minds as they face the technology jungle–cell phones and generative AI in particular–heading into this school year. Today, we are so lucky to have set aside space to feature a story from our academic dean on these very questions. She has been our fearless leader helping us to navigate these larger conversations about generative AI and the wise brain who helped develop our school’s policy on it.
Below, she offers a personal glimpse into her own initial thoughts about generative AI, followed by a little Q & A with us!
I struggle getting started with writing projects. I wish I could say I have writer’s block or I’m an uncompromising perfectionist who obsesses for days, weeks, even months to find the perfect word(s), or I feel intense pressure to hook my audience right from the start (good writing immediately captures your reader’s interest! A principle I used to teach my students), or I am filled with self-doubt, self-criticism, and a fear of failure or I subscribe to an idealistic notion that I have not yet found a genuine inspiration. But the truth is much more mundane. I often have vague ideas about a topic and lack a clear plan to articulate. So last winter when the Chat GPT website launched, I was ecstatic. While I immediately recognized some of its ramifications, especially for students in a school environment, I secretly contemplated if I had found a panacea to my writing woes.
Earlier this summer, a colleague and I started work on a new initiative that required some writing, so I decided to experiment with Chat GPT. My task? Design a rubric to evaluate an application. Knowing my weakness when undertaking a writing project, I opened Chat GPT and typed in a prompt: design a rubric using these three categories for this type of application. Thirty seconds later, I had a rubric. A quick glance revealed some missing information, so I revised my prompt, and fifteen seconds later, to my delight, I had a second, more complete draft. I cut and pasted the rubric into a word document and engaged in the writing process: I reflected, revised, edited, sought feedback, and in the end when I submitted my project for approval, the final draft ended up not containing anything from the original Chat GPT drafts.
At the start of the school year, I discovered a generative AI website that writes assessments for teachers. I posted the site for our faculty and asked for feedback about the site should anyone choose to use it. I received several responses, all of which aligned with my Chat GPT experience. When an initial prompt resulted in missing information, teachers reworded prompts to generate another draft. Subsequent drafts provided a starting point but ultimately did not design quiz questions that could effectively assess for deep student understanding. In one case, a teacher took the generated quiz and found that several of the questions had no correct answer. In the end, these teachers scraped the quizzes generated on the website.
Generative AI proves an effective tool to provide a rough draft, a springboard to begin the writing process, especially for anyone challenged by initiating a writing project. At best, it provides inspiration and support; yet it cannot replicate my unique perspective or capture my voice, intuition, empathy, or creativity. Only I can put my stamp on my writing.
Generative AI proves an effective tool to provide a rough draft, a springboard to begin the writing process, especially for anyone challenged by initiating a writing project. At best, it provides inspiration and support; yet it cannot replicate my unique perspective or capture my voice, intuition, empathy, or creativity. Only I can put my stamp on my writing. Among some faculty, a fear endures about how students may use generative AI for rampant plagiarism, leading to a loss of critical thinking. However, the more I learn about generative AI, I wonder not what I and others are taking from it, but what we are giving to it. Each time I cut and paste my words into Chat GPT, I add my ideas and information to this massive generative AI database that anyone can use. In the end, what remains of my thoughts and me? Maybe the question is not what we can get from generative AI, but what does it take from us?
Dean Talk: Q&A
Her Voice: You mention that teachers, like you, have had similar kinds of experiences when using AI for themselves–it has served as a springboard, a way to move beyond the blank space (a space that can be terrifying!). Can you tell us a bit more about how teachers are feeling about generative AI–either in or out of their classrooms? Is there, for example, a demand for more professional development in this area?
Teachers fall into several categories regarding generative AI. There is one group who may believe generative AI has nothing to do with their academic discipline. There is another group who is interested in generative AI but not sure how it pertains to their discipline or how it could be helpful/hurtful to their academic discipline. Another group that is interested and would like more training. And still another group who is “all in” and excited to find ways generative AI could help.
Her Voice: What kinds of conversations, if any, have you been having with parents about generative AI?
I haven’t had any parent conversations yet about generative AI.
Her Voice: Your personal story does not echo some of the gloom and doom stories that have been circulating about this technology. Are you feeling hopeful, then, about the possibilities of generative AI for students and teachers?
I am cautiously optimistic. Right now, I can see both positive and negative possibilities for the use of generative AI in educational settings. I believe it will require teachers to shift pedagogical practices and think about what/how they are teaching. And with any new technology, we never know what or how someone might use it until that moment happens. I believe we need to teach students how to approach generative AI because it will only continue to be a part of the world in the future. I believe we could all use more education/training on what happens each time we enter our ideas into a generative AI website. The idea of what we are contributing to this massive database is fascinating on so many levels.
Her Voice: Going forward, do you have any predictions for AI this year, either for personal or professional use?
I wish I had some wise insight, but right now my only predictions are the following: 1. Generative AI is here to stay and will continue to morph and evolve. 2. Students need to learn how to navigate a world that includes generative AI just like they have had to in the past with any major technological breakthrough.
Elizabeth O. Smith is the Dean of Academics at an all-girls independent school.