At the end of the academic year 2022-2023, I moderated a session called Detecting Contract Cheating: Human or Machine facilitated by Kane Murdoch, Head of Complaints, Appeals, and Misconduct at Macquerie University. The session was part of a week-long symposium sponsored by UC San Diego Academic Integrity. I must admit, when I volunteered to moderate I thought, “I don’t know anything about the topic. Why am I here? What am I doing?” Then, my thoughts settled. “I’m not here as the expert on the topic. Kane is.”

So, there I was listening to Kane about contract cheating. “What’s that now? What is he talking about? I don’t understand.” This is what most of us in higher education are feeling with generative artificial intelligence (GenAI). Confused. Maybe we’re also over it, fatigued, and scared. We don’t want to be bothered by yet another thing that’s impacting teaching and learning. I mean, aren’t we just getting back to some form of normalcy with teaching in-person, again?! While listening to Kane, I was trying to make sense of how I would apply the information to my work. As associate director of UC San Diego’s Teaching and Learning Commons Engaged Teaching, I support a small team of eight professionals. Together, we support faculty with their teaching through workshops, individual and department consultations, graduate student teaching support, and Teaching and Learning Commons Changemaker Fellowships.

I wondered, how does GenAI, like ChatGPT, impact me, impact my team, and how I support faculty? Innate in this wonder is a sense of unknown. It’s important for me to share that I was, and still am, okay not knowing or not being an expert of GenAI. Yet, I’m also aware that some educators might confuse my not knowing with lacking credibility, especially as a Black female educator, when in reality, in this moment, I’m facing the same learning curve as most other teaching and learning professionals.

In academia, we function in the idea of being perfect, a characteristic of white supremacy explained in White Supremacy Culture Still Here (Okun, 2021). Likewise, Rendün (2010), in Recasting Agreements that Govern Teaching and Learning: An Intellectual and Spiritual Framework for Transformation discussed the agreement of perfection. So, educators who are new, nervous and/or resistant to GenAI–whatever that feeling might be–is possibly confronted with the belief of being perfect at all times and, to some degree, protect their comfort with what they know to maintain credibility. I would add that those feelings are even more amplified for nontenured and/or educators of color, who, like me, are treading an educational system that favors tenured, white male educators. Not only is there little room for error or for being imperfect in being “perfect,” there is little room for learning. GenAI isn’t challenging what I know about supporting faculty or what faculty know about their discipline. It’s challenging or providing an opportunity to adjust how we deliver what we know.

Despite our fear of seeming incompetent, GenAI, whether used or not as a tool in teaching practice and in the learning of students in the classroom, should still be learned; at the very least the basics of it. Either way, students are looking to faculty to explain why or why not use GenAI in the classroom. “I just want them to use it” or “I just don’t want them to use it” isn’t enough of an explanation.

To help faculty move past this fear, I encourage them to remember their younger days of playing in the sand box. Remember those days?! Dressed to play and get dirty, with a red or blue or yellow bucket in one hand, and a scoop, a rake, and a sieve in the other. We built sand castles or whatever we could build with those tools and our hands. Then, a friend joined in the sand box. Together, we carried twice as much sand, dug deeper into the sand, and build bigger sand castles. Sometimes, the sand didn’t cooperate and we didn’t build much of anything. But we gave it a try. Maybe we went back to the sand box the next day, maybe we decided the sand box just wasn’t our thing.

So, I invite faculty to play with GenAI. It can be as simple as playing in the sand box.

  • Read what you can about the GenAI tools you’re curious about, like ChatGPT, Bing, or Bard;
  • Invite a colleague for coffee to talk about it;
  • Open an account and play around with the GenAI tool;
  • Come up with 1 – 2 prompts to explore with a student worker, a tutor, or a couple of students from class;
  • Consult with an education specialist from your school’s teaching and learning center on the use of the tool in your teaching; and/or
  • Attend an in-person or virtual conference on GenAI.

By exploring various GenAI tools, faculty become participants versus spectators of this new technology. This is not to say that on-becoming an expert is the goal of the exploration. On the contrary, education is always changing. So, the goal is to change when education is changing, which means learning new ways of teaching by stepping out of our comfort.

I’m doing my own exploration of GenAI with colleagues. Every Tuesday of August, for one hour, my team and UC San Diego Academic Integrity are hosting teaching chats series on GenAI. Teaching chats bring us together with faculty who are curious about how this technology intersects with education, and its influence on teaching and learning. As a participant of this learning community on GenAI, I’ll learn how to better support my team, and faculty in their teaching; whether they decide to use it or not. No matter your role in higher education, yet with an invested interest in the teaching and learning community of your campus, I encourage you to create or join a community with your colleagues as well.

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