With Microsoft’s Copilot AI tool available to all Blazers, faculty prepare for fall 2024

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Summer is the time to prepare courses for the fall semester. UAB faculty looking to add exercises and content related to generative AI to their syllabi are taking advantage of a new series of “Using AI in the Classroom” workshops from the UAB Center for Teaching and Learning.

The series began with three hands-on sessions in June on effective AI prompting strategies, experimentation and course design, led by CTL director Amy Chatham, Ph.D. Two more workshops will follow in July:

  • 12:30 p.m. Monday, July 22 - Conducting a Systematic Review
  • 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 23 - Effective Use in Online Courses

Previous “Using AI in the Classroom” series in fall 2023 and spring 2024 drew sizable audiences, Chatham notes. “You would think that in summer we would see attendance drop off, but our registrations have been very strong,” she said.

These workshops are the first following the April 26 announcement that several generative AI tools are now approved for use at UAB, including Microsoft Copilot with Data Protection, a browser-based AI text generator powered by OpenAI.

"Feeling more comfortable"

“Faculty are feeling more comfortable with these tools,” Chatham said. The UAB-approved Copilot access “has freed people up” to experiment and explore the possibilities, she said. The workshops will be very experiential and give faculty opportunities to share their learnings with each other. “They talk about what they are doing, how they are seeing it, what they thought was going to happen versus the response they got,” Chatham said.

Chatham also has been speaking with students about their AI attitudes and experiences. “They continue to find a lot of ways of using AI to bolster their own learning — creating study guides and anticipating test questions, for example,” Chatham said. “These are top students, and they are impressed with it. They are also impressed by faculty who have made the effort to incorporate AI in their classrooms.”

Chatham brought three leading-edge faculty to the CTL in March to share their experiences: Brandon Blankenship, J.D., who has his pre-law students use generative AI tools to research legal cases; Amber Wagner, Ph.D., who says AI coding tools are allowing her to accelerate the learning of students starting out in computer science; and Jonan Donaldson, Ph.D., who has integrated AI “into almost every assignment” in his courses in the Master’s in Instructional Design program, Chatham said. Donaldson will be leading the July 22 workshop on using generative AI to assist with literature reviews. (Articles on the AI-enabled teaching of each of these faculty members are coming soon in the UAB Reporter.)

Getting the most out of generative AI

Chatham recommends a new book called “Teaching with AI: A Practical Guide to a New Era of Human Learning” by José Antonio Bowen and C. Edward Watson, vice president for Digital Innovation for the American Association of Colleges and Universities. A recent AACU webinar led by Watson had more than 1,000 attendees, Chatham notes. “He has great examples of prompts that you can adapt for your own teaching specialty,” she said.

As she works with faculty, Chatham has several pieces of advice on getting the most out of generative AI.

  1. It’s a conversation, not a search: “When people first start playing around with them, they think of these generative AI tools like Google,” Chatham said. “I tell faculty, ‘You really want this to be a conversation, a back-and-forth.’ As it gives you responses, ask it to go deeper.”
  2. Go deeper: “Instead of saying ‘Can you design a course in environmental justice?’ you will get closer to what you need by being very specific,” Chatham said. “You can say, ‘Create a 14-week service learning course on environmental justice for undergraduates’ and keep on adding details.”
  3. Personalize your prompts: “If you are brainstorming topics for a course on genetic counseling, you might say, ‘You are a graduate student in genetic counseling at UAB. Brainstorm for a research project on cleft lip,’” Chatham said.
  4. Provide examples: “If you have something that has inspired you, you can give the AI a URL to use as an example,” Chatham said. “Instead of saying, ‘Write a brief article about Birmingham,’ you can say, ‘Write an article about Birmingham in the style of this article on Atlanta’ and paste in the link.”

Chatham says the CTL is still available to speak to departments and schools about using generative AI tools in teaching at UAB. “We want people to come here and see all that CTL has to offer, but sometimes it is better if we go to a school or department, and we are glad to do that,” Chatham said.

Across the university, faculty are expressing a desire “to feel more confident while teaching with AI,” Chatham said. “We are here to help meet that need.”