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Educators Must Embrace AI as a Supplemental Learning Tool

Jessica Johnson on

When the 2024 spring semester ended earlier this month, I found myself thinking more about how technology is changing college classrooms. The traditional lecture that my generation was subject to during our formative college years in the late 1980s and early '90s is now considered an outdated mode of teaching for today's Gen Z students. My college professors mainly applied a didactic method of instruction, but they were excellent at facilitating class dialogue. I also think that it was a bit easier for them to connect with me and my classmates since we did not have the distraction of social media and smartphones.

Due to being digital natives, many Gen Zers are illustrative learners who like to participate in class through activities such as social media polls and online discussion boards. The online, game-based learning platform Kahoot! that one of the Ohio State University Lima librarians uses during his research sessions for my English courses has also been a student favorite. As I begin preparations for my upcoming fall classes, I plan to create Kahoot! games that will help students better recognize common grammar mistakes and motivate them to further develop their formal writing and information literacy skills.

While Kahoot! and discussion boards help pique students' interest in the subject matter being taught, the foremost technology challenge facing professors like me who teach in the humanities is the incorporation of AI in learning, specifically ChatGPT. ChatGPT is evolving at a rapid pace, as OpenAI technology chief Mira Murati recently announced its new desktop version called GPT-4o with much improved text proficiencies.

Students have been using ChatGPT for writing assignments since OpenAI rolled it out near the end of 2022. Some have appropriately used it for help with outlining topics and research suggestions, while others have succumbed to the temptation of letting the chatbot write essays for them. We're at a critical point now of not just concerns about the authenticity of students' work, but we must delve a little deeper in examining our teaching methods in this ever-changing digital age.

In reflecting more on the best practices advocated for student comprehension of course material, debates have significantly changed from whether students should take more written notes in class and put down their laptops. This was the focus of a 2017 Brookings Institution article by economist Susan Marie Dynarski, who wrote that "[w]hen college students use computers or tablets during lecture, they learn less and earn worse grades." Now, professors worry about students bypassing learning by leaning too much on generative AI. AI technology is here to stay, so professors are going to have to show students how to use it efficiently as well as ethically. We are now tasked with finding creative ways in using AI to supplement our teaching, which is a bit demanding since we are still navigating its features.

I strongly believe the main component for outstanding instruction throughout previous generations to today is great class interaction. While Gen Z students have the luxury of vast amounts of information at their fingertips through ChatGPT, this doesn't mean they are invested in their assignments or enjoy completing them. For example, if students are bored with an essay assignment and how a professor explains the requirements, they will be bored typing in research terms as they use the chatbot. So even with the advanced technology we have, we still have to make learning come alive for students.

 

I am from a family of teachers, and my mother, who worked in adult education, emphasized to me that she drew inspiration in relating to her students from studying how biblical parables were used in Jesus' methods of instilling knowledge. She didn't particularly tell stories in a parable format, but she used real-life experiences in storytelling to demonstrate important concepts in her lesson plans. Similarly, I have found using anecdotes to be effective in getting students to think more critically about the Gen Z topics and current events covered in my English courses. When we have class discussions, I want students to ask vital questions about the issues affecting their social and educational development, much like the manner in which people intuitively probed Jesus about moral truths of love and forgiveness.

I think that perhaps one of the blessings in disguise regarding generative AI is that it will provide a boost for professors to teach to their strengths as they use it to augment their curricula. This should result in more student satisfaction and appreciation in what they are learning, which has always been my main objective.

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Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at smojc.jj@gmail.com. Follow her on X: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate, Inc.


 

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