2024 2024: Faculty share innovative ideas at the 2024 New Approaches to Teaching and Learning Conference

2024 2024: Faculty share innovative ideas at the 2024 New Approaches to Teaching and Learning Conference
Faculty share innovative ideas at the 2024 New Approaches to Teaching and Learning Conference

UMassD faculty lead the way in navigating AI in the classroom

UMassD faculty gathered in the grand reading room

Committed to students' personal and professional development, faculty seek new ways to help students succeed in a rapidly changing world

On Thursday, January 18, faculty from every UMassD college gathered for the 2024 New Approaches to Teaching and Learning Conference, an annual campus event sponsored by Computing and Information Technology Services (CITS) Instructional Development, the Office of Faculty Development, and Online and Continuing Education. Participants and presenters included faculty from across disciplines, from experienced professors to new faculty and master's students preparing to teach.  

This year's theme was "Intentional Teaching: Active, Multimodal, Engaged." Faculty shared insights and strategies for effective teaching and classroom management. Conference sessions included discussions on the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration, findings on gamification to boost student engagement, and a panel of students from a variety of disciplines who shared their perspectives on teaching and learning.  

A recurring theme throughout the day was one of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing educators today: artificial intelligence.   

Outsmarting AI and harnessing its benefits 

Since the arrival of ChatGPT in late 2022, students in the U.S. have been adopting the tool at an exponential rate, regardless of whether such use is permitted by their instructors. This trend has spurred some concerns: "AI can hinder student learning; students won't get anything out of their assignments if ChatGPT is doing the work," said political science lecturer Eiichiro Kazumori. "Traditional assignments are too easily compromised by student use of language learning models like ChatGPT." In response to this challenge, Dr. Kazumori developed a novel method of generating assignments using quasi multimodal large language models. He showed how instructors might harness AI to create better assignments and exam questions that can't easily be answered by ChatGPT.  

Yi Liu, professor of computer science, followed up with an investigation as to how ChatGPT can prove useful in an educational setting. Dr. Liu shared the results of a pilot study in which, for extra credit, her students were instructed to use AI on a software engineering project and give feedback on their experience. Dr. Liu's pilot study illuminated the tool's advantages and limitations and prompted students to reflect on their own learning. Her findings suggest that AI can be a useful tool helping students navigate the process of a software engineering project, though not for producing reliable answers.  

Intentional use of technology and AI 

The conference's keynote speaker was educator, author, and higher education consultant Dr. Derek Bruff. His interactive session explored several teaching principles for guiding the use of educational technology. He also provided tools and techniques for creating environments where all students are encouraged to participate, including ways faculty can use AI and ChatGPT to enhance class assignments and discussions. 

What it means to be a mentor 

The conference also included a session on undergraduate mentorship. The opportunity for undergraduates to engage in one-on-one collaboration with accomplished faculty is one of the things that sets a UMassD education apart. Faculty mentorship, particularly at the undergraduate level, nurtures the potential of future scientists, artists, and professionals.  

"Effective mentorship is about helping them see their own potential as more than just a student," said Michael Sherriff, professor of biology. "When beginning research, many students feel overwhelmed or underestimate themselves.  I always strive to treat research mentees as equals, which means holding them to a high standard while also giving emotional support."  

"My mentoring approach is to guide students through their stumbles," said Tracie Ferreira, professor of bioengineering. "I encourage students to set their own path based on their interests when possible, and I'm there to remind them, 'you won't get everything right the first time, let's work through it together.' Failure builds character and perseverance; you can't do research without failing." 

"Mentorship is a long-term relationship, and an investment in a student's personal and professional growth," said Vijaya Chalivendra, professor of mechanical engineering. "I think it's important to give undergraduate students opportunities outside of the university as well. Sending them to conferences and teaching them how to write an abstract can build their confidence and expose them to their field in a bigger way." 

To learn more about faculty instructional development resources and events, visit the CITS Instructional Development website or contact Dr. Jay Zysk, associate professor of English and director of the Office of Faculty Development.