Intentional Teaching with Derek Bruff

AI learning assistants, new AI resources, and a bit of astronomy

Published about 1 month ago • 4 min read

AI-Powered Learning Assistants with Sravanti Kantheti

It’s been 16 months since ChatGPT was released and all of higher education had to start figuring out what to do with generative artificial intelligence. One thread of that very lively conversation has focused on the potential for AI to serve as a kind of learning assistant for students. We know that having students go to the free version of ChatGPT and ask it questions about course content can lead to some... inaccurate answers. But what if we could send students to an AI chatbot that was actually trained on our course content? Might that be a useful tool for learning?

These are no longer hypothetical questions. Top Hat has rolled out a new AI tool called Ace that students can use to ask questions about course materials. You may know Top Hat as a classroom response system, with a variety of live polling tools, but Top Hat is also a robust asynchronous learning platform where instructors can share text and video and other learning resources with students. Ace is an AI chatbot that responds to student queries using those resources, so that students who want help with course materials get answers based on those very same materials.

How well does Top Hat Ace work? I reached out to Top Hat super-user Sravanti Kantheti to find out. Sravanti is the program director for anatomy and physiology at Lanier Technical College in Georgia, as well as an adjunct biology professor at Georgia State University. She started using Top Hat during the COVID-19 pandemic and recently introduced the AI tool Ace to her students. In this week's Intentional Teaching podcast episode, Sravanti shares how her students have been using Ace and what they think of it and we talk about how a tool like Ace can help students succeed in a challenging course like anatomy and physiology.

You can listen to my conversation with Sravanti Kantheti here, or you can search "Intentional Teaching" in your podcast app.

Twice in a Lifetime

Earlier this week, I experienced a total solar eclipse for the second time in my life. Living in Nashville, I was fortunate to be in the path of totality for the 2017 solar eclipse. I was not prepared for how amazing that experience would be. I had seen partial solar eclipses (through protective eyewear, of course), but those didn't prepare me for a total eclipse. It's a few minutes of evening in the middle of the day, complete with skies dark enough for stars to come out, a ten-degree temperature drop in no time at all, and the songs of night insets. Plus there's the incredible visual of the moon blocking the sun, with only a glowing corona to be seen. It really was the coolest thing I had ever experienced. (The sand dunes of White Sands National Park in New Mexico is a solid second place on my list.)

When I realized I had another opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse, I had no reservations about driving 2.5 hours up the road to Metropolis, Illinois, to see it! Emily and I packed the kids in the minivan and hit the road Monday morning. We weren't alone, of course, and that 2.5 hours trip slowed to 4 hours. We managed to park at a McDonald's just outside downtown Metropolis just in time to get set up and experience the eclipse. The older kids were old enough to really appreciate it this time around, while the younger kid (who was too young to have been around for the 2017 eclipse) was completely freaked out by the sun going away. "All done sun!" he kept saying, followed by "Car!" (Translation: He was done with the eclipse and wanted to get back in the car.)

I don't have a teaching and learning takeaway from this week's eclipse, other than perhaps a reminder that sometimes it's perfectly okay to put your to-do list on hold for a day and experience something unique and marvelous. And if you missed this eclipse, I hear there's another one happening in Iceland in 2026. That's more than 2.5 hour drive for me, but, hey, I've always wanted to visit Iceland!

Around the Web (AI Edition)

This is the part of the newsletter where I link to things that I find interesting in the hopes that you do, too. This week I presented a workshop on AI for academic deans at the American Association of Veterinary Medical Centers conference and sat on an Inside Higher Ed panel on AI and learning, so I have a bumper crop of AI-related resources to share.

  • Generative AI in First-Year Writing: An Early Analysis of Affordances, Limitations, and a Framework for the Future - My colleagues at the University of Mississippi Department of Writing and Rhetoric have been ahead of the curve when it comes to generative AI and writing instruction. They started experimenting with a variety of AI tools before ChatGPT became available to the world in November 2022. Robert Cummings, Stephen Monroe, and Marc Watkins have written up their findings in a new articles in Computers and Composition, and it's a must read. It's full of thoughtful feedback on using generative AI by students, and it puts forward a very practical framework for instructors considering the use of AI in writing instruction.
  • University Policies on Generative AI - Looking for examples of AI policies adopted at other institutions? Then you'll want to check out this Padlet put together by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Western University of Health Sciences. You'll find brief summaries and links to dozens of policies statements. Many concern student use of AI in their coursework, but some go in different directions by providing guidelines for faculty use of AI in teaching and research, as well as staff use of AI in things like marketing and communications with students.
  • How and Why the University of Michigan Built Its Own Closed Generative AI Tool - If you ask your students to submit, say, an essay draft to ChatGPT for feedback, you or your students might have some reasonable worries about what OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, will do with that essay draft. The University of Michigan had this concern about all kinds of generative AI use by its faculty, staff, and students, so they decided to build their own generative AI chatbot! The new tool, called U-M GPT, has the added benefit of being as good as the "Plus" version of ChatGPT but free to use by those working or studying at UM. It's also screen-reader friendly, a feature that some commercial AI tools lack. This EDUCAUSE Review article details the entire initiative. Might your college or university build its own AI system? Maybe not, but I can see higher ed consortia moving in this direction for the same reasons Michigan did.

Thanks for reading!

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Intentional Teaching with Derek Bruff

Welcome to the Intentional Teaching newsletter! I'm Derek Bruff, educator and author. The name of this newsletter is a reminder that we should be intentional in how we teach, but also in how we develop as teachers over time. I hope this newsletter will be a valuable part of your professional development as an educator.

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