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5 Guidelines for Fostering Constructive Conversations in Your Course

Constructive Conversations: 5 Guidelines for Fostering Them in Your Course

by Felice Nudelman

President, Net Edge Training, LLC

I am sitting in a large meeting space at a university in Texas with tables spread across the room. Each table has six to eight students and they are tackling the hot topic of gun control. This could end up being one of the most contentious conversations I have witnessed. But because the faculty facilitator is employing a well-constructed and intentional approach to a deliberative dialogue the students are having thoughtful and constructive conversation that is informed by fact and reason, acknowledges cognitive bias, and is respectful of the multiple perspectives and views in the room.

It can seem nearly impossible to surmount the biases that are so ingrained in each of us and to rise above our partisan and polarized landscape. But by utilizing Constructive Conversations, we found that students were more engaged, strengthened their critical thinking skills, and built connections across ideological divides.

Constructive conversations connect academic rigor with credible sources of information, utilizing an intentional process for dialogue in a way that is approachable to students and yields significant results. It is a creative and hands-on experience that is suited to any discipline.

So, how in the world did these students accomplish this level of discourse?

There were guidelines and processes in place that made this and other constructive conversations possible.

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    Create a Culture of Exploration and Inquiry.

    By creating a culture of exploration and inquiry, we can equip and inspire students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences to tackle society’s most pressing problems. A culture that engages students, promotes critical thinking, and supports their ability to take in the complexity of multiple perspectives, political ideologies, and lived experiences ultimately ensures that all have a voice and can share without threatening or feeling threatened.

    Building this type of culture is developed over time. A consistent process will help lay the foundation and is easily embedded into your pedagogical approach so that when you introduce the constructive conversation exercise your students have a sense of agency and the skills for productive engagement.

    Good Moderation Is Key.

    Intentional and well-planned facilitation is key to a successful constructive conversation. In higher education, students are often asked to engage with complex and thorny issues that can provoke strong feelings and diverse opinions. Whether discussing ethical dilemmas in medical research, debates around free speech on campus, or the challenges of balancing environmental sustainability with economic growth, students must navigate sensitive topics thoughtfully. A skilled moderator can introduce these difficult subjects, set a neutral and focused tone, and ensure that respectful and productive dialogue processes are in place. By learning to discuss these issues effectively, students can develop critical thinking skills and become more empathetic and informed citizens.

    Come prepared with issue guides that lay out the problem and include the process for constructive conversation. Show how the hot topic issue relates to what they are studying, is integrated in the curriculum, and has relevance to everyday life. Faculty moderators are in the perfect position to encourage students to be self-aware and cognizant of their own biases and blind spots and to be open to challenging their own assumptions. The moderator remains neutral, frames the issue, maintains consistency of process, and creates a climate for constructive conversation.

    Access Credible Sources of Information to Frame the Conversation.

    Help students understand how to access credible sources of information and how to spot problematic information, i.e., “inaccurate, misleading, inappropriately attributed or altogether fabricated” (Jack 2017).

    This includes the use of AI to manipulate and fabricate misinformation like the famous video of President Obama. Setting a solid foundation built on reliable information will go a long way.

    Understand Cognitive Bias, Elicit Normative Responses, and Build in Time for Reflection.

    Surmounting deeply ingrained biases can feel impossible, but by utilizing constructive conversations, we found that students were more engaged, strengthened their critical thinking skills, and built connections across ideological divides.

    As an example, in Stewardship of Public Lands, a project led by AASCU, faculty experienced constructive conversations as a powerful pedagogy of democratic engagement. They listened to the bitter antagonisms on either side of an issue at Yellowstone National Park. Each warring party had valid points, and each came to the conversation unwilling to accept the other, but ultimately, the ability to listen and engage led to compromise.

    Faculty studied the techniques of constructive conversations and the importance of building the culture for it to succeed. They identified a controversial issue relevant to their own campus or region and constructed a similar experience for students.

    Students studied the components of the issue—like the environmental impact of plastic in the Chesapeake Bay—and then used constructive conversation. They were able to take in the complexity of the multiple perspectives, political ideologies, opinions, and lived experiences. The students used this technique as part of an academic project to work with the Bay community and governance structures and were able to achieve an agreement to reduce use of plastic.

    Trust the Process.

    Oftentimes the most engaging and substantial constructive conversations utilize complex problems. Follow the process to ensure that all students have a sense of efficacy and agency, develop empathy and respect, value credible information and data, and provide space for all voices. The process will ensure that you have a solid foundation upon which to build and help students engage in constructive conversation without veering into debate.

    As an example, the moderator can establish a consistent process that includes the following key steps and elements:

    • Statement of the issue without interjecting opinion or assumptions
    • Review of data and credible information sources to get at the facts and avoid misinformation
    • Individual reflection time, followed by pair and share and/or small group discussion
    • Inclusion of students’ lived experience to enhance perspectives and give the issue relevance to everyday life
    • Finding common ground
    • Identifying potential next steps for resolution of the issue

    Constructive Conversations are a dynamic and innovative approach and an ideal way to help students connect what they are learning to the world around them and ensure they develop the skills and attributes to tackle some of most pressing problems.

    About the Author

    Felice Nudelman is the president of Net Edge Training, LLC, a higher education consulting firm. She also serves on the boards for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Education Writers Association,  Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, and CN World Foundation.

    Previously, Nudelman served as the associate vice president of Academic Innovation and Transformation at AASCU. She originally came to AASCU in January 2019 as the executive director of the American Democracy Project (ADP), which supports member campuses in programming to encourage students to be informed, engaged citizens for our democracy.

    Prior to assuming her role at AASCU, Nudelman served most recently as the executive vice president of the Weiss Institute/Say Yes to Education, the Chancellor of Antioch University, and the chief global officer for innovation and partnerships.

    She has spent the majority of her career in education, both on college campuses and for 12 years with The New York Times Company. In her final role there, she served as executive director of education.

    Before joining The Times, Nudelman served as executive director for Pace University’s School of Education , and she spent nearly a decade in academic affairs at Bloomfield College.

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    Support Your Faculty: 5 Reasons to Support Faculty With Community

    Get Connected: 5 Reasons to Support Your Faculty With Community

    Faculty members serve as the pillars supporting higher ed institutions. Their contributions extend far beyond the classroom—shaping minds, fostering critical thinking, and ensuring that students succeed. They play the single most important role in ensuring student success, but are sometimes overlooked when it comes to an institution’s long list of priorities.

    In some cases, faculty find themselves navigating solitary paths and grappling with challenges alone. But when faculty are given the support to break down silos, the connections they make with one another are incredibly impactful. Fostering a sense of community amongst higher education faculty is crucial, benefiting the institution as a whole through collaboration, camaraderie, and collective growth.

    Here are some of the benefits your institution could provide faculty with by implementing a community.

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      Propel Confidence

      Increase Self-Efficacy Through Community

      Faculty understand the challenges their colleagues face, and fostering a sense of community on campus promotes confidence and well-being through connection. Those who have completed high-quality professional development to enhance their teaching can serve as mentors for colleagues. When faculty engage in communities of practice as part of professional development, they have increased self-efficacy and a stronger sense of teacher-scholar identity (Gast et al., 2017; Hoyert & O’Dell, 2019).

      Building a sense of community involves bridging gaps between departments and disciplines to foster confidence and enthusiasm among instructors. Through active engagement with a supportive community of like-minded and experienced peers, faculty members can discover newfound excitement and fulfillment in their work. This journey nurtures a growth mindset and brings joy to teaching.

      Sync Up

      Professional Networking

      Networking plays a crucial role in academia, with many fellow faculty members wanting to connect with, learn from, and grow alongside one another.

      A plethora of networking opportunities exist, both in person and online. Engaging in focus groups, conferences, and collaborative projects empowers faculty to refine their skills, broaden their knowledge base, and elevate their teaching prowess. These interactions not only bolster practical expertise but also enrich a resume portfolio, offering tangible and hands-on growth opportunities.

      Promote Collaboration

      Resource Sharing

      While faculty are experts in their subject matter, they are not always provided with support on how to teach effectively or develop course materials. A community is a place where faculty can share practices, outcomes of implemented practices, and resources that foster effective learning in their courses. Faculty can save time and effort by building upon existing materials rather than starting from scratch, freeing up space in their workload to do what matters—teaching and engaging their students.

      In a community, faculty foster a culture of resource sharing, promoting collaboration among colleagues who exchange lesson plans, class structures, teaching techniques, assessments, and more! These collective efforts refine course materials, enhance teaching and learning, and foster professional growth, ensuring that faculty and their students are set up for success.

      Tear It Down

      Eliminate Silos on Campus With Community

      Building a sense of community on campus is essential for facilitating connections among faculty and breaking down silos. Often, even though they share similar experiences and challenges, faculty members don’t have many opportunities to interact with their colleagues from other departments or schools.

      Faculty may not have as much scheduled time with their colleagues as they do with their students. Providing them with a dedicated platform and space to connect with fellow faculty members can lead to unexpected opportunities and growth. This sense of community offers a practical avenue for busy faculty members—who are tasked with doing more with less—to connect with other instructors on campus dealing with the same student body and administrative pressures.

      Keep Them Happy

      Retention and Recruitment of Faculty Through Community

      Effective faculty are pivotal to your institution’s success, not only in retaining more students and enhancing grades but also in actively addressing and reducing equity gaps.

      Community building serves as a valuable resource for keeping faculty engaged and happy. Providing faculty with a space to connect with peers and enhance their teaching skills can significantly improve their well-being and overall job satisfaction.

      Happy faculty contribute to their institution’s success as it works to distinguish itself. And, in turn, the institution can become not only a destination for students but also a destination for faculty where they can grow and thrive for years to come.

      Start Building a Culture of Great Teaching Today

      By fostering community amongst faculty, more students succeed.

      Over the years, the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE), a leading provider of high-quality faculty development endorsed by the American Council on Education (ACE), has helped over 550 institutions support great teaching and develop a sense of community on campus between faculty.

      Based on the feedback we’ve heard from course-takers and campus leaders, we know that the sense of community fostered among ACUE faculty is one of the most valuable aspects of an ACUE partnership.

      Connect with us to talk about how our turnkey solutions for faculty development can not only be your trusted provider of cutting-edge content but bring your faculty together, propel them forward, and showcase your institution as a leader in teaching and learning.

      ACUE Chief Academic Officer, Penny MacCormack, Ed.D., speaking to a crowd of faculty and administrators celebrating their commitment to their approach to faculty development.

      ACUE’s Dynamic Approach to Faculty Development

      ACUE's Dynamic Approach to Faculty Development

      Picture of by Penny MacCormack, EdD

      by Penny MacCormack, EdD

      Chief Academic Officer, ACUE

      Faculty development plays a pivotal role in empowering higher education instructors to excel in their teaching endeavors. The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) has recognized the unique challenges faced by instructors, who are experts in their subject matter but have had little and sometimes no formal preparation to teach.

      With this in mind, ACUE’s approach to faculty development delivers two distinct offerings: Comprehensive Courses for Certification and Quick Study courses.

      ACUE’s high-quality comprehensive certification courses provide a solid foundation in effective teaching, leading to the only nationally recognized certification in college-level instruction.

      As for our new faculty development offering, ACUE’s Quick Study courses provide faculty with shorter, self-paced learning experiences that engage faculty in the new topics, practices, and innovative technologies impacting teaching and learning across higher education.

      A college instructor demonstrating the benefits of a dynamic approach to faculty development by standing next to a student seated at a desk reviewing a notebook.

      My goal here is to explain why ACUE has embraced both formats, and how together they offer faculty the varied types of learning they need to improve student outcomes and their teaching, while staying current regarding the new topics, practices, and innovations impacting the higher ed classroom and online courses.

      The Power of Foundation: Comprehensive Courses for Certification

      ACUE’s Comprehensive Courses for Certification serve as the bedrock of effective faculty development. These courses focus on the 25 essential topics outlined in ACUE’s Effective Teaching Practice Framework, endorsed by the American Council on Education (ACE). They equip instructors with a full toolbox of evidence-based teaching practices in five key areas: 

      The distinguishing features of the comprehensive certification courses include an emphasis on collaborative learning and a requirement to implement the evidence-based teaching practices in their own courses and reflect on the experience. Faculty embarking on this collective journey engage in rich discussions with their peers as they implement at least one practice per module. This format creates a supportive network of educators committed to excellence, while developing a solid foundation in higher education teaching and learning.

      Faculty who become certified in ACUE’s Effective Teaching Practice Framework not only improve the learning experiences of students and their own well-being, but also help their institutions achieve key performance goals related to student success, including increased course completion rates, reduced DFW rates, improved grades, and higher retention rates.

      The Quick Study Advantage: Flexibility and Timely Exploration

      Recognizing the dynamic nature of education, ACUE recently introduced Quick Study courses to address emerging topics and technologies. These courses provide faculty members with condensed and flexible learning experiences that last approximately one hour. 

      Quick Study courses allow instructors to delve into high-interest subjects at their own pace, leveraging interactive online activities, demonstrations, and expert commentary. For example, in the ever-evolving educational landscape, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a transformative force.

      The AI Quick Study series ensures instructors gain the foundational knowledge and skills needed to efficiently utilize AI in support of teaching and learning, as well as help their students learn how to responsibly utilize AI to meet their learning needs and better prepare for their future.

      These four brief, self-paced courses address how to effectively prompt AI, leverage AI in creating course resources, create both AI-inclusive and AI-resistant learning experiences, and, finally, empower students to responsibly use AI now and in their future.

      ACUE will continue to work closely with our Board of Advisors and alumni to ensure that the topics we choose for Quick Study courses align seamlessly with the interests and concerns of faculty members and leaders across higher education. We plan to roll out additional courses focused on constructive conversations, critical thinking, and digital literacy this summer.

      Balancing Depth and Agility: Choosing the Right Format

      The choice between Comprehensive Courses for Certification and Quick Study courses boils down to the depth of engagement and the specific needs of faculty members. While comprehensive certification courses offer a full exploration of evidence-based teaching practices that provide a solid foundation, Quick Study courses cater to time-sensitive topics and provide flexibility in quickly learning a new teaching practice or emerging technology impacting higher education classrooms. Both options serve as valuable assets, ensuring that faculty members remain well-equipped and adaptable in the face of an ever-changing educational landscape.

      ACUE’s commitment to faculty development through these two distinct formats reflects its dedication to meeting the evolving needs of instructors. By embracing this dynamic approach, ACUE empowers instructors to unlock their full potential, shaping the future of education through accessible, impactful, and forward-thinking professional development opportunities.

      Exploring ACUE's Approach to Faculty Development

      To learn more about ACUE’s approach to faculty development, visit acue.org/institutions.

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      Penny MacCormack, EdD, is ACUE's Chief Academic Officer. Learn more about her at acue.org/team/penny-maccormack-edd.

      AAC&U Annual Meeting 2024 Photos

      ACUE at the AAC&U 2024 Annual Meeting

      Members of the ACUE team attended the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Annual Meeting on January 17-19 in Washington, DC. During this event, higher ed comes together across sectors and professional levels to shape and share solutions to common challenges. 

      CIC Presidents Institute 2024 Photos

      ACUE at the 2024 CIC Presidents Institute

      On January 4-7, the ACUE team attended the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute held at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida. The event’s theme was “Under the Big Tent: Independent Higher Education in a Democratic Society,” where industry experts, presidents, and partners discussed and explored timely and relevant solutions to a variety of pressing issues.

      ACUE and CIC partnered in late 2022 to create the network, “Belong: An Inclusive Learning Community,” which aims to equip faculty and staff at CIC member schools with evidence-based strategies. Network members can credential people via ACUE’s new offering “Fostering a Culture of Belonging” and access live webinars, engagement resources, and a like-minded community.

      Instructor standing in front of a classroom of her students sitting in front of computers, talking about AI

      AI Assignments: 10 Best Practices for Higher Ed Instructors

      Unlocking Human-AI Potential

      10 Best Practices for AI Assignments in Higher Ed

      Picture of by Stephanie Speicher

      by Stephanie Speicher

      Digital Fluency Faculty in Residence - Weber State University

      In the early days of December 2022, late one night, under the cover of darkness, I eagerly typed “ChatGPT” into my Google search bar. I nervously and excitedly entered the world of AI, similar to when I walked into a candy store as a child and was bombarded with colors, flavors, and treats to pique my curiosity. However, just like the choices I would make in a candy shop, jumping into the realm of AI required thoughtful consideration.

      Whether you’re enthusiastic, wary, or, as Dr. Flower Darby puts it, an AI realist, as faculty, it’s crucial to navigate AI in education with mindfulness. AI can undoubtedly enhance efficiency and accuracy, yet it lacks the essence of human intelligence and personal interaction. As we explore the integration of AI into our teaching, we must ask ourselves pivotal questions and consider strategies that align with human-centered pedagogy.

      1. Set Clear Learning Objectives for AI Assignments

      Teacher leaning on a desk, surrounded by students in a dialogue about AI.

      What strategies can you employ to communicate the learning objectives of AI assignments effectively, fostering a shared understanding among students and promoting engagement?

      In the dynamic landscape of AI and education, a foundational step is to set crystal-clear learning objectives. Begin by delineating explicit learning outcomes and objectives for your AI assignments. What specific knowledge and skills do you want your students to acquire? The answer lies in the details of these objectives. This transparency provides a road map for students.

      In a creative writing class, the learning objective is to introduce students to the possibilities of AI in enhancing storytelling. The clear objective is for students to explore and understand how AI tools can be used as creative partners in the storytelling process. The assignment involves creating a short story where students use AI-generated prompts or characters to add unique elements to their narratives. By setting this clear learning objective, you can guide students to appreciate the synergy between human creativity and AI assistance in storytelling.

      Have students collaborate to define the learning objectives collectively; this will not only deepen their understanding but also build connections that mirror real-world collaboration.

      2. Choose the Right AI Tool for the Job

      Close image of a woman typing onto her keyboard.

      How can you thoughtfully integrate a diverse array of AI tools into your curriculum, providing students with the tools needed to innovate, deepen their understanding of content, and generate new ideas?

      The integration of AI tools into the educational landscape demands strategic decision-making. It’s not just about incorporating technology for the sake of it; it’s about selecting the right tool for the right purpose. As educators, our choices should align with the overarching goal of empowering students to innovate, comprehend content deeply, and spark creative ideas. When contemplating the integration of AI tools, consider the assignment’s complexity and purpose. For example, is the goal to enhance storytelling, generate visual art, or optimize code creation? Depending on the desired learning outcomes, select tools that resonate with the learning objectives. This thoughtful approach ensures that AI becomes a dynamic, purposeful component of the learning experience.

      Introduce Adobe Firefly, an AI image-generation model, into a literature or art class. The objective is not only to showcase the capabilities of the tool but to explore creativity in visual storytelling. Students could use DALL-E to bring to life characters from literature or generate unique visual interpretations of a given theme. By aligning the tool with the curriculum’s learning outcomes, students not only engage with AI but also deepen their understanding of literature and art through a fresh lens.

      To infuse authenticity into the AI learning experience, connect the concepts to real-world challenges. Foster a sense of purpose beyond the classroom by encouraging students to explore how the chosen AI tool can address broader societal issues. For instance, prompt discussions on how AI-generated art can be used to communicate complex ideas or evoke emotions on topics such as social justice or environmental sustainability. By grounding AI exploration in real-world relevance, students are not only learning about technology but are also contributing to meaningful conversations and solutions.

      3. Encourage Experimentation and Play

      How can you foster curiosity and ignite a spirit of innovation in AI assignments, turning the learning process into an exploration of creativity and play?

      The landscape of AI offers a playground of possibilities, and as educators, our challenge is to turn assignments into avenues for experimentation and discovery. We can empower students to delve into the world of AI, sparking curiosity and encouraging a playful approach to learning. To achieve this, provide students with opportunities to explore and experiment with AI tools. This not only nurtures a sense of play but also opens doors to unexpected discoveries and innovative thinking. By allowing room for experimentation, we enable students to tap into their creativity and uncover unique applications of AI that extend beyond initial expectations.

      Rather than confining students to a rigid assignment, encourage them to play with the tools, experimenting with language, genres, and prompts. The goal is not just to complete a task but to explore the nuances of AI in crafting narratives. This playfulness can spark creativity and a sense of ownership over their work.

      To partner with students in their AI learning journey, guide them intentionally in using AI tools with creativity. Encourage thoughtful exploration rather than aimless experimentation. By providing guidance and framing the exploration within a learning context, you can ensure that students purposefully engage with AI. This partnership transforms the learning process into a collaborative venture, where both educators and students contribute to the discovery and application of AI in innovative ways.

      4. Acknowledge and Teach Voice, Representation, Access, and Data Privacy

      Male on a computer looking at an AI data privacy screen.

      How can you cultivate a culture of ethical and responsible use of AI in your assignments, ensuring that students not only understand the technology but also its profound implications on voice, representation, access, and data privacy?

      In the age of AI, understanding the ethical considerations surrounding its use is not just a prerequisite, it’s an imperative responsibility. As educators, our role goes beyond teaching the technical aspects of AI; we must instill in our students a deep awareness of the societal impact their creations may have. This best practice involves providing comprehensive background information on AI concepts while placing a strong emphasis on ethical considerations, including issues related to bias, privacy, and algorithmic fairness. To ensure the ethical and responsible use of AI, begin by offering a thorough understanding of its concepts. Place a spotlight on the ethical dimensions, discussing the potential biases that may emerge from data, the importance of privacy in AI-driven applications, and the broader implications of algorithmic decision-making on society.

      Take, for instance, a class discussion that focuses on the impact of biased data on AI algorithms and its implications for society. By examining real-world cases where biased algorithms have perpetuated inequalities, students gain insight into the profound consequences of seemingly neutral technologies. This example serves as a gateway to exploring the ethical dimensions of AI in a tangible and relatable context.

      To foster ethical use, extend the educational focus beyond the technical aspects. Cultivate digital citizenship skills by educating students on the broader societal impact of AI. Encourage critical thinking by prompting discussions on the ethical implications of AI technologies, emphasizing the importance of responsible decision-making.

      5. Infuse Collaboration and Critical Thinking

      Three college students sitting at a computer in a lab, pointing and smiling at an AI project on the screen.

      What strategies can you employ to communicate the learning objectives of AI assignments effectively, fostering a shared understanding among students and promoting engagement?

      Beyond technical proficiency, we should craft assignments that stimulate critical thinking, encourage collaboration, and inspire the generation of new ideas. Start by creating assignments that prompt students to evaluate the strengths and limitations of AI approaches, fostering a deeper understanding of the technology. This goes beyond surface-level comprehension, challenging students to engage in thoughtful analysis and consider the broader implications of their work.

      Consider a scenario where students collaborate on a project to develop an AI-driven solution for a community issue. This could involve analyzing datasets related to local challenges, discussing ethical considerations, and collectively designing an application that addresses a real-world problem. This hands-on, collaborative approach not only sharpens technical skills but also encourages critical thinking and fosters a sense of collaboration.

      Emphasize deep learning principles and the building of relationships among students. Provide opportunities for students to engage with information, synthesize it, and think critically about it, creating dynamic and enriching learning experiences. By fostering autonomy and creativity, educators empower students to generate their own ideas and content, transforming them from passive learners to active contributors in the learning process.

      6. Personalized and Differentiated Learning

      Male working on an AI project on a laptop, pausing before writing something down with a pari of headphones on.

      In what ways can you create AI assignments that accommodate various learning styles, ensuring an inclusive and engaging experience for all students?

      One of the powers of AI lies in its ability to adapt and differentiate content for students. Begin by recognizing the unique strengths and challenges present among students. Tailor AI assignments to accommodate this spectrum, providing resources and support that cater to both novices and those with advanced skills and knowledge. This approach ensures that every student can actively engage with the material and learning experiences.

      Consider an AI assignment where students are given the freedom to choose different formats for their work. This might include options such as written reports, presentations, or creative projects. By allowing this flexibility, students can align the assignment with their strengths and preferences. Beginners might find comfort in written reports, while those with advanced skills can showcase their proficiency through more complex creative projects. This adaptable framework not only accommodates diverse skill levels but also nurtures a sense of ownership over the learning process.

      Go beyond adaptation and embrace co-creation. Encourage students to be active co-creators of their educational experience, providing opportunities for them to shape the direction of their learning. By promoting autonomy and creativity, educators enable students to take ownership of their education, transforming the classroom into a collaborative space.

      7. Integrate with the Existing Curriculum . . . and Start Small

      Instructor standing in front of seven students, who are sitting around him in a half circle, as they talk about AI instruction.

      How might you identify the low-hanging fruit within your curriculum, pinpointing areas where AI integration can be introduced gradually and effectively?

      Embarking on the integration of AI into the curriculum is a transformative journey that necessitates a thoughtful and gradual approach. The key is to start small, with one assignment, one idea, in one course, during one semester. This deliberate approach allows you to gauge impact, fine-tune strategies, and gradually expand the integration of AI into your teaching repertoire. Begin by exploring ways to align AI assignments with course topics and learning objectives.

      In a literature course, start small by introducing a single AI assignment focused on creative writing. Students could use AI-generated prompts or tools to explore new narrative styles or even co-create stories with AI assistance. This limited yet impactful integration not only emphasizes storytelling but also serves as a gateway for students to witness the potential of AI in a familiar writing context.

      Consider incorporating a feedback loop within the “start small” approach. Create channels for open communication with students, gathering their insights and experiences as they engage with the AI assignment. This feedback loop not only provides valuable information for fine-tuning future implementations but also fosters a collaborative and supportive learning environment.

      8. Balance Theory and Practical Application

      Instructor standing in front of a classroom of her students sitting in front of computers, talking about AI

      In what ways can assignments be designed to encourage students to analyze the strengths and limitations of AI approaches critically, fostering a comprehensive understanding that goes beyond theoretical knowledge?

      The integration of theoretical knowledge and practical application is the cornerstone of preparing students for the dynamic opportunities that lie ahead. To achieve this balance, we need to go beyond traditional teaching methods, designing assignments that prompt critical thinking and foster a deep understanding of AI principles through hands-on experiences. Begin by weaving theoretical knowledge into hands-on applications, creating assignments that serve as bridges between abstract concepts and real-world scenarios. This dynamic approach not only enhances students’ theoretical understanding but also equips them with the skills needed to apply this knowledge in practical settings.

      Incorporating Socratic Seminars into the curriculum, creating a space for deep learning and critical thinking about the ethical aspects of AI. This method encourages students to engage in thoughtful discussion, challenging each other’s perspectives and promoting a deeper understanding of the ethical considerations surrounding AI. By integrating this theoretical exploration with practical discussions, students not only grasp theoretical concepts but also develop the analytical skills needed to navigate the ethical dimensions of technology.

      To enhance the human aspect within the AI learning experience, emphasize deep learning principles and the building of relationships among students. Foster collaborative and enriching learning experiences by incorporating group activities or discussions that prompt students to engage with AI from diverse perspectives. By creating a collaborative atmosphere, we reinforce theoretical principles and nurture a sense of community and shared exploration among students, enriching their learning journey.

      9. Connect to Future Careers and Professional Opportunities

      Student sitting in a window looking at something on his laptop.

      How might AI assignments be framed to encourage students to envision the real-world applications of their skills, fostering a sense of purpose and relevance beyond the classroom?

      The integration of AI into education goes beyond the classroom; it’s about preparing students for the challenges and opportunities they’ll encounter in their future careers. To achieve this, connect AI assignments to relevant course topics, learning objectives, and the broader landscape of industry applications. Begin by guiding students to leverage digital technologies in addressing genuine problems, mirroring the challenges they are likely to face in their future professional experiences. Emphasize that AI tools extend beyond the classroom, showcasing their utility in tackling real-world issues. Frame assignments around authentic problems to enhance engagement and practicality, demonstrating the immediate applicability of AI concepts.

      Consider designing an assignment that requires students to apply AI in addressing a current industry challenge, such as optimizing supply chain processes using predictive analytics. By connecting AI concepts to real-world applications, students not only gain practical experience but also understand the transferability of these skills to their future careers.

      Provide opportunities for students to share their career goals and expectations, fostering a sense of individuality. This allows us to tailor assignments to students’ unique career paths and create a supportive environment that values and respects each student’s professional goals.

      10. Emphasize Human-AI Interaction

      How can you guide students to view AI tools not as replacements for critical thinking and independent research but as creative partners, fostering collaborative learning and interdisciplinary perspectives in the process?

      The integration of AI into education is an opportunity to emphasize the symbiotic relationship between humans and AI. Rather than relegating AI as a tool or resource, guide students to perceive AI as a creative partner, augmenting their capabilities and inspiring collaborative problem-solving. Encourage students to recognize that AI is not a substitute for critical thinking but a catalyst for it. Design assignments that create moments for collaboration. This approach enhances students’ ability to approach problems from different angles and mirrors the collaborative dynamics they are likely to encounter in professional settings.

      Picture a marketing class in which the focus is on emphasizing the collaborative relationship between students and AI in crafting effective marketing campaigns. The objective is for students to leverage AI tools to enhance their marketing strategies rather than relying on them exclusively. Have students create a marketing campaign using AI-generated insights to refine their target audience, messaging, and content strategy. By framing the learning objective in this way, we can guide students to see AI as a valuable partner in the marketing process, amplifying their strategic thinking.

      Facilitate open dialogue that explores students’ perceptions and concerns regarding the collaboration between humans and AI. Acknowledge the emotional and ethical dimensions of working with AI and create a space for students to express their thoughts. By incorporating their perspectives, we can co-create an environment that recognizes and respects the human side of the AI-human connection.

      In conclusion, the potential of AI in education is vast, and as faculty, our responsibility is paramount in guiding students through this transformative journey. By aligning AI assignments with human-centered pedagogy, we not only prepare students for an AI-infused world but also enrich their skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and reflection. As we explore these strategies, let’s remain innovative, brave, and humble, recognizing that the integration of AI allows us to be more human, more connected, and more creative in our teaching practices. The key lies in continual exploration, fostering curiosity, and embracing the symbiotic relationship between humans and AI to create a future of possibilities we can only imagine.

      About the Author

      Author picture

      Stephanie Speicher teaches courses that focus on instructional planning, assessment and curriculum theory. Throughout her career, she has had the opportunity to work in a variety of educational settings from traditional schools as a social studies teacher to a backpacking/rock climbing instructor for Outward Bound and most recently as a public charter school principal. For over twenty years, she has assisted teachers, administrators and other educational professionals to enhance their teaching, leadership and collaborative skills. Specifically, her research interests include preservice teacher agency development, the implementation of learning communities in the classroom and the bridging of social justice ideology into experiential education methodology. Stephanie lives in North Ogden, Utah with her husband, 2 daughters and a growing flock of backyard chickens.

      Learn More

      Learn more about ACUE’s AI Series, which equips educators with the foundational knowledge and skills needed to efficiently utilize AI.

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      CCA Annual Convening December 2023 Photos

      ACUE at the 2023 Complete College America Annual Convening

      ACUE Co-Founder and President Jonathan Gyurko attended Complete College America’s Annual Convening on December 10-12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

      CCA shared this was their most ambitious annual convening to date.

      “We dived into the biggest opportunities and challenges in our field. We heard from trailblazers and iconoclasts at colleges across the country who inspired and equipped us for the work ahead.”

      Fostering a Culture of Belonging: How Mutual Respect and Collaboration Led to Faculty Productivity and Student Success

      Fostering a Culture of Belonging:

      How Mutual Respect and Collaboration Led to Faculty Productivity and Student Success

      Belonging is the feeling of connection, respect, acceptance, support, and inclusion that students or employees experience in their school or work environment (Arslan, 2021; Baumeister & Leary, 1995).

      I was excited to cofacilitate the Fostering a Culture of Belonging (FCB) course after helping two faculty cohorts successfully complete ACUE’s Effective Teaching Practices course.

      I knew that the course content would be relevant for all employees because the course addresses critical issues such as implicit bias, microaggression, imposter syndrome, and inclusivity, all which impact both student success and employee productivity and retention.  

      Badge for the Fostering a Culture of Belonging course

      Empowering Belonging Through Collaborative Initiatives

      Now that the cohort has successfully completed the FCB course, I have had the opportunity to reflect on what I learned from the course material and from the biweekly cohort meetings.

      Like others in the cohort, I have experienced bias, microaggressions, and inequitable treatment at various times during my 16-year tenure at the institution–experiences that left me feeling unappreciated and disconnected from colleagues. But I want to share an experience that embodies many of the research-based practices discussed in the FCB course on how to ensure colleagues feel seen, heard, and valued, thereby fostering a sense of belonging.

      Three instructors posing for a photo standing in front of a pull-down projector screen.
      Dr. Anita Polk-Conley (left), April Crenshaw (center), Harsh Patel (right)

      My junior colleague, Assistant Professor Harsh Patel, had been considering a redesign of the introductory statistics course for several years.

      Last year, Professor Patel shared his idea with my senior colleague, Dr. Anita Polk-Conley. She encouraged him to apply for a new grant that offered faculty the opportunity to complete a redesign using Open Educational Resources (OER).

      The two colleagues decided to partner and requested information for completing the grant together. Once they received the grant information, Dr. Polk-Conley reached out to share the information with me. My two colleagues had both taught introductory statistics for many years.

      They each had their own unique approach to instruction, and Dr. Polk-Conley had previous experience successfully writing grants. It is important to note that Dr. Polk-Conley and Professor Patel did not need me to join them on this journey, but they wanted me to be a part of their team.

      I politely declined when Dr. Polk-Conley extended an invitation to join her and Professor Patel in their endeavor to redesign the introductory statistics course. I had previously served for many years as lead teacher for Calculus I and Calculus II, and I am presently serving as lead teacher for Precalculus I. Calculus was my favorite course both as an undergraduate and as an instructor, while statistics was my least favorite.

      Moreover, I had not taught the course in 8 years and simply was not interested. But Dr. Polk-Conley gently insisted, assuring me that she and Professor Patel would do the “heavy lifting” with the statistics content. She wanted me to lend my expertise with inclusive course design, culturally relevant pedagogy, and inclusive teaching practices. Professor Patel echoed Dr. Polk-Conley’s sentiments. My two colleaguesone senior and one juniorinvited me to be a part of their team because they felt I had something valuable to offer.

      Colleague Support that Fostered a Sense of Belonging

      I accepted the offer under the condition that I would lead the course design. When they agreed, we submitted the grant and were approved to proceed with our Microsoft Excel-based redesign. Although I believed my statistical knowledge was not as strong as my colleagues, I was determined to make up for that perceived weakness in other ways.

      So, I restudied statistics. I took an OER course, attended conferences, designed instructional presentations, created handouts, reached out to colleagues at other institutions, reviewed textbooks, combed through hundreds of MyOpenMath problems to generate a large pool for online homework and quizzes, gathered data sets for the final project, and worked tirelessly to help ensure this pilot would be successful. This is a real-life example of a familiar quote: “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.”

      My colleagues’ invitation made me feel appreciated, valued, and respected, and I did not want to let them down.

      Cultivating a Productive and Enriching Learning Environment Through Gratitude and Respect

      Our students had the opportunity to learn statistics using real-world, culturally relevant data and research studies. They learned through individual reflection, in-class collaborative assignments, and homework and quizzes assigned using an online platform.

      Furthermore, students worked in teams to research topics such as gun violence, obesity, student debt, affordable housing, and more, and then gave a presentation on their results. At the end of the semester, students reported an increase in their knowledge of statistics and proficiency with Excel. To celebrate the team’s success, Professor Patel treated Dr. Polk-Conley and me to lunch during final exam week.  

      This experience led me to reflect on the importance of gratitude, respect, and appreciation in the workplace.

      Three students sitting side by side at a table, smiling and looking at a laptop screen, fostering a sense of belongin

      A recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated,” suggests that when employees experience “gratitude” from their leaders, they are more productive. Additionally, teams tend to function more effectively when there is “respect and appreciation” amongst colleagues (Gibson et al., 2020). I share this experience to highlight how a supportive environment built on trust and mutual respect led to productivity within our team but, more importantly, led to a more enriching learning experience for our introductory statistics students. 

      Course Redesign Strategies

      Connecting this experience to the FCB course, I was able to identify the following strategies my colleagues unknowingly employed to create a sense of belonging for my course redesign: 

      1. Get to know your
      colleagues

      Having worked together for many years, my colleagues and I have engaged in countless conversations that have allowed us to build strong personal connections and trust within the team. 

      2. View others through an
      asset-based mindset

      By getting to know me beyond a superficial level, my colleagues recognized my strengths and areas of growth. They invited me to collaborate with them in the redesign process, acknowledging my skills as an asset that could contribute to a successful pilot. 

      3. Establish peer-to-peer support

      Although I did not consider myself as strong a statistics instructor as my colleagues, they always reassured me of their support. We functioned as a cohesive unit. For instance, when I missed 2 days due to illness, they covered for me without hesitation to keep my students on track with that week’s lessons.  

      This incredible experience has deepened my connection with my colleagues, boosted my confidence, and renewed my sense of belonging. I am sincerely grateful to them both.   

      About the Author

      Picture of April Crenshaw

      April Crenshaw

      April Crenshaw is a full-time Associate Professor of Mathematics at Chattanooga State Community College, where her interests include open pedagogical practices and improving student academic help-seeking. She is also a doctoral candidate in the Leadership and Learning in Organizations program at Vanderbilt University. She earned the Association of College and University Educators’ (ACUE) Effective Teaching Practice Framework certification in Fall 2021 and completed the Fostering a Culture of Belonging course in February 2023.