Monday, February 27, 2023

Chatbot AI Can Enhance the Educational Experience


In last month’s blog post, we outlined the challenges that ChatGPT presents for assessment, or how it can support cheating without getting caught. In this month’s post, we’ll explore how chatbot AI can enhance the educational experience. And it can.


The Brookings Institution suggests that “[u]sed in the right way, ChatGPT can be a friend to the classroom and an amazing tool for our students, not something to be feared.” They analogize chatbot AI to calculators. The calculator does the routine math processing, while the student has to know which processing to ask the calculator to do and how to interpret the results. Similarly, in a writing exercise, ChatGPT can collate all the relevant background information; but the student still needs to do the synthesis and know which information to ask for. And the students can exercise their editing skills to make the ChatGPT-generated draft an A+ paper.


UCLA law professor John Villasenor is encouraging his students to generate first drafts of his assignments using ChatGPT, and teaching them to use the draft report or brief ethically. “To remain competitive throughout their careers, students need to learn how to prompt an AI writing tool to elicit worthwhile output and know how to evaluate its quality, accuracy and originality.” He still plans to hold his students to the usual academic and honor code standards (accurate facts, well-organized text, no plagiarism), but helps them learn to use chatbot AI as a valuable research tool.


Most of the concern about ChatGPT has come from academics in the humanities, where a written work product is the usual basis of assessment. Some academics in more technical fields are institutionalizing the calculator analogy and allowing students to use chatbot AI to do the mundane calculations underlying more sophisticated analysis. Matthew Lang, an economics professor at University of California Riverside, says: “In a course like econometrics, where students are required to work with data throughout the course, ChatGPT can be particularly beneficial. It allows for a reduction in time spent on tedious tasks such as data loading and troubleshooting, which can be a source of frustration for students. This enables me as an educator to focus more on the critical analysis of empirical models, leading to a deeper understanding of the subject for my students.”


Some teachers have used ChatGPT as a tool to make their own lives easier. They’ve asked the chatbot to develop lesson plans or to draft quizzes. One creative use of the chatbot was to develop a class activity: “write a script for a ‘Friends’ episode that takes place at the Constitutional Convention.”


Chatbot AI is here to stay, both in education and in the real world after graduation. As teachers, let’s embrace it and use it to make our students ever more knowledgeable and accomplished. They may even ask ChatGPT to write you a thank you note!

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Study Hall Scholarships Available Until March 7, 2023


Study Hall, an online program offered by Arizona State University (ASU), offers anyone the opportunity to learn what it’s like to be in college without the commitment to BE in college.


There are videos about “How to  College” and “Fast Guides to Majors” that give the potential college student a taste of what being in college is all about. “How to College” videos range from “How to Apply to College” to “How to Choose a Major” to “How to Pay for College.” Majors included in the “Fast Guides” are anthropology, psychology, education, political science, English, nursing, sociology, history, sustainability, social work, mechanical engineering, inter-disciplinary studies, data science, health sciences, computer science, criminology, biology, electrical engineering, mass communication and business.


Study Hall participants can take a select number of college-level courses through ASU without enrolling in college first. If you decide after getting your grade that you would like to enroll in college, you can claim college credits then. And the credits are valid at any higher education institution that accepts transfer credits from ASU. Courses available include Intro to Human Communication, Rhetoric and Composition, Real World College Math and US History to 1865.


Learn more about Study Hall opportunities here.  There is a $25 charge for taking a course, and a $400 charge to claim college credit after finishing the course. Scholarship pricing is available to anyone who registers for a course by March 7, 2023. Courses must be completed and the credit added to your transcript by August 9, 2023 to qualify for the scholarship pricing.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Will Chatbot AI Change Assessments for Online Instruction?


There have always been many ways for students to cheat in the classroom. Sometimes the cheating can be detected, and other times not. I had a case of plagiarism in the first higher education course I ever taught. The student almost got away with it, but made the mistake of writing about my specialty subject area. He copied verbatim (text and graphics) an as-yet-unpublished research paper that a colleague had asked me to peer review just months before. I recognized it immediately, confronted the student, and appropriate disciplinary action was taken. After that, I started using plagiarism checkers (e.g., Turnitin), but I’m not sure that an unpublished draft would have raised any red flags.


Now, with the introduction of artificial intelligence chatbots that can write papers and reports from scratch (e.g., ChatGPT), the problem of catching cheaters has become more complicated. Even if the instructor suspects that a report or paper is not the student’s original work, there is no way to prove that the student used an AI chatbot to write it.


There are many stories about what individual teachers are doing to address the AI chatbot challenge. Some are requiring students to write their first drafts of papers in the classroom, using computers that can monitor where they go to do their research. Some are moving away from requiring written papers to having more oral exams and handwritten assignments. Many schools have banned use of the AI chatbots on their school computer networks. Others are moving away from open-book or take-home assignments.


Some are planning to use AI chatbot-generated reports as a springboard for critical analysis. What’s missing in the chatbot’s analysis. Are there other ways to interpret the same research results? Other instructors are trying to revise their materials to focus on literature and other texts that the AI chatbots may not have been “trained” on. And to focus their testing on critical analysis, rather than synthesis of easily researched material (the AI chatbot is good at synthesis, less skilled at analysis).


Online education will be affected in similar ways by the AI chatbot revolution. Online instructors will be equally stumped to identify chatbot-informed papers and test results. In some ways, the online platform may make it even easier for students to fool their instructor with AI chatbot-generated content. Some of the responses being tested in brick-and-mortar classrooms (e.g., in-person testing and paper-writing) cannot easily be implemented in an online format.


What to do to ensure that online students produce original work? Share your ideas with our readers by emailing me.


In the end, it’s the student who is most harmed by cheating. They don’t learn the material, and that may come back to haunt them in the post-graduation real world.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Happy New Year 2023!


I’m taking a little break from researching and writing blog posts to celebrate the December holidays and the New Year. Hope you have been doing the same (enjoying quality time with family and friends).


Here’s a few highlights from 2022 if you’re looking for something to read:

·      11 Best Online Learning Platforms for 2022

·      100 Best E-Learning Blogs and Websites

·      The 10 Top E Learning Blogs

·      The 9 best platforms to create and sell online courses in 2023

·      Top eLearning Blogs



I’d love to hear what online education topics you, our readers, are interested in learning more about.  Email me your suggestions here, and we’ll see what we can do.


Happy New Year!



Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Mindfulness Practice Improves Academic Performance


This blog writer has been intrigued by the benefits of mindfulness for a long time. We even offered free access to mindfulness resources a couple years ago. Looks like schools are coming to the same conclusion, with some having their students practice mindfulness a few minutes every day. Why?


Some research suggests that students’ regular mindfulness practice resulted in 28% higher grades in reading, math, and science, a 43% decrease in teacher stress, and schools experienced a 60% decrease in behavioral issues. A 2019 Harvard study found that sixth graders doing mindfulness practice four days a week increased their ability to focus and regulate their emotions, reduced their stress, and improved their learning capacity. Additionally, mindfulness lowers stress levels in students, faculty, staff and parents.


There are many mindfulness apps, but some programs are specifically designed for the school environment. Inner Explorer is a highly recognized program that provides audio sessions for use in K-12 classrooms and at home. Mindful Schools offers online training programs to build institutional capacity, online K-12 mindfulness curricula, and online mindfulness coaching. Learning to Breathe is an award-winning book-based mindfulness program for adolescents. MindUp (featured in a previous blog post) offers an extensive online curriculum for social and emotional learning, including mindfulness practice.


If you’re interested in becoming a mindfulness guide in schools, the Mindfulness in Schools Project offers online trainings.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Search for Fully Effective Internet Connection in Rural US Continues


We’ve written before about the need for universal broadband, usually defined as access to the internet for all regardless of physical location. Today I’m going to share my personal experience with looking for an effective internet connection in rural Washington, which underscores the complexity of the problem. Especially if your need for an internet connection is online education.


Six months ago, I lived in a major western US city and got my internet via Google fiber. 1 gigabit download and upload speeds, no data caps, $70/month. To put it simply, I got spoiled.


Then I moved to the Pacific Northwest, 15 minutes from the nearest town and surrounded by beautiful tall trees. As I queried my neighbors about what they do for internet access, I got a lot of different answers and a lot of sighs. One neighbor has no TV and no internet access, and relishes the solitude. Other neighbors used their cell phones as a hotspot, but that needed a cell booster to work and the cell booster had to be placed in the perfect location (sometimes at the top of a tree up at the road). Most used the same satellite company, but complained about slow service and data caps; don’t stream a lot of TV or you’d run of data by the middle of the month we were told. One neighbor had two satellite dishes and paid double monthly service to increase the useable data. Of greatest interest and concern to me, no-one was highly satisfied with their internet set-up (except the one neighbor without internet).


The house we bought already had a satellite dish from this one company, so we decided to use them. Our monthly cost was $150 for 25 Mbps max download speeds and 60 GB high speed data. Other plans were much more expensive for marginally faster download speeds and varying data caps. We watch very little TV, but we do a good number of zoom calls. Our data ran out in the middle of the month. In the past few months, the company has added the option of paying for additional data when you run out. Last month, that cost me an additional $100, for a total monthly cost of $250.


I researched other satellite internet providers and found they all offered the same “deal”. Low speeds, low data caps. If I was trying to take courses online, this would not work. I’d either have to miss the second half of the months’ classes, or pay a small fortune to keep the high speed data flowing.


We paid a deposit for Starlink as soon as we moved in, and last month got the notice that service was now available in our area. We paid for the satellite dish ($500) and have it set up on the back porch. Our monthly cost is $110, with up to 60 Mbps download speeds and no high speed data caps. Problem solved, right? Not exactly. Yes, we can watch TV to our heart’s content, and emails, websites and videos download quickly. But our zoom screen regularly locks up. Starlink says that’s because the dish is not placed properly; there should be no tall trees anywhere near the dish. We live in a forest! I’ve also heard that some neighbors have decided against Starlink because of the trees.


Once again, not an ideal setup for online learning, where classes via zoom are the norm.


I recently learned that Amazon is working on Project Kuiper, satellites that will provide internet service anywhere. The research and development part of the project launched in 2019. Amazon just announced that satellite production would start in early 2023. The first two prototype satellites will also launch in early 2023. Amazon has contracts in place to launch its satellites as they are produced, but I haven’t read when Amazon will start offering this satellite-based internet service. Likewise, no details are available about cost or capacity of the Amazon satellite service. Hopefully it will be an improvement on what already exists.





Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Reasons to Move to Online K-12 Education Are Growing


When this blog first started in 2007, our mission to promote online learning for everyone everywhere at little or no cost was aspirational. Fast forward 15 years (to October 2022), the infrastructure for mass online learning generally exists and the reasons for moving in that direction are ever more compelling.


In our last blog post, we talked about the teacher shortage facing US K-12 schools as they reopen for in-person fall classes. School administrators seem focused on potential solutions that have the potential to water down the learning experience (increasing class size, reducing in-class student time, using less qualified individuals as teachers), with few schools turning to online options for providing the missing instruction.


Recently, the US K-12 public school system was given a D+ grade based on failing infrastructure. Many schools, especially in low income neighborhoods, have no air conditioning as temperatures rise to unhealthy levels due to climate change. Some schools have no heat, leaking pipes and crumbling buildings. Others have bug infestations. The go-to solution for these infrastructure problems is to find scarce public funding to renovate and rebuild. No schools seem to be looking at totally rethinking how to provide public education to avoid the infrastructure problem altogether: moving the education online.


One common argument against online learning, especially for younger students, is that in-person connection is critical to helping children learn to work well with others, to know how to  behave in a community. I’m going to push back on that argument and suggest that interpersonal skills can be addressed through online instruction, and are also addressed well through family interactions and extracurricular activities. In the business community, there is increased recognition that in-person contact is not the only way to develop connection and a desired group culture. Paying attention to interpersonal connection, being intentional about promoting that skill and opportunity, is highly effective.


I believe, however, that the biggest resistance to online learning is fear of change. Many school districts pivoted to online education during Covid. This was done under time pressure, so the results are not necessarily ideal, but they were a good first step and demonstrated that providing universal K-12 education virtually is doable. The lessons learned from these crisis experiments can prove useful in designing a more effective online education system of the future.


A family can choose to do online learning now. The amount of available materials is overwhelming. Tuition-free online public school exists as an opt-in endeavor (examples here and here). There are free curricula for homeschoolers (examples here and here). Subject-specific courses are available online to supplement the existing in-person school curriculum (state-by-state available courses here).


But, for now, it’s up to each family to decide whether to pursue online learning for their children, and the in-person public school system continues to struggle. Here’s hoping for a future where our mission has been accomplished, and all K-12 students can go to school online and excel.