[Live webinar] Leveraging AI for inclusive learning
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Embracing AI to personalize online and hybrid learning for student success

Nhi Nguyen
|
June 28, 2024
Using
DOMAIN
Social Sciences
Class Size
Instructor Workload
Learner Workload
LMS
ABOUT THE INSTITUTION

The University of Akron, is the region’s most influential public research university, contributing to the resurgence of the local economy, providing a workforce highly trained in diverse disciplines, and known for an innovative approach to higher education.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR(S)

Wendy Lampner is the Director of Online, Continuing, and Professional Education at the University of Akron. She provides strategic leadership for online learning initiatives, including degree programs, workforce development, and continuing education. With a track record of success, Wendy has directed various departments, including Design & Development Services and Learning Technology Development, demonstrating expertise in planning, designing, and developing effective instructional materials and courses. 

Robert Terry is currently the MSW Coordinator in the School of Social Work and Family Sciences. He began his career as a social worker in 1988 when he accepted employment at Sandusky County Department of Job and Family Services in Fremont, Ohio as a caseworker with the JOBS program. After nearly two years working with clients through the welfare-to-work program, Rob accepted a position as an intake social worker with Summit County Children Service in Akron, Ohio. In addition, he was an adjunct professor at the University of Akron’s School of Social Work where he taught BSW and MSW social work courses. In 2016 Rob joined the University of Akron full-time.

ABOUT THE INSTITUTION

The University of Akron, is the region’s most influential public research university, contributing to the resurgence of the local economy, providing a workforce highly trained in diverse disciplines, and known for an innovative approach to higher education.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR(S)

Wendy Lampner is the Director of Online, Continuing, and Professional Education at the University of Akron. She provides strategic leadership for online learning initiatives, including degree programs, workforce development, and continuing education. With a track record of success, Wendy has directed various departments, including Design & Development Services and Learning Technology Development, demonstrating expertise in planning, designing, and developing effective instructional materials and courses. 

Robert Terry is currently the MSW Coordinator in the School of Social Work and Family Sciences. He began his career as a social worker in 1988 when he accepted employment at Sandusky County Department of Job and Family Services in Fremont, Ohio as a caseworker with the JOBS program. After nearly two years working with clients through the welfare-to-work program, Rob accepted a position as an intake social worker with Summit County Children Service in Akron, Ohio. In addition, he was an adjunct professor at the University of Akron’s School of Social Work where he taught BSW and MSW social work courses. In 2016 Rob joined the University of Akron full-time.

Context

In the use case, we will explore the University of Akron’s journey with AI, focusing on personalized online and hybrid learning, through a discussion with Wendy and Robert about their experience with FeedbackFruits.

Constructive alignment

Advancing Education through Personalized Learning with AI at the University of Akron

The University of Akron, a distinguished R2: Doctoral institution, is renowned for its dedication to innovative education and practical research. Serving over 15,000 students across 200 undergraduate and 100 graduate programs, many of which are nationally recognized, the university fosters a dynamic and diverse learning environment. This commitment to quality education ensures that students are well-prepared to meet the challenges of the modern workforce.

The university's success hinges on its ability to adapt to the evolving educational landscape. For over a decade, Akron has been at the forefront of online course development, adhering to rigorous, research-based standards. Currently, over 40 of its online courses meet national quality standards. One of the latest frontiers the university has ventured into is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance personalized learning, particularly in online and hybrid formats.

To navigate this AI wave, the University of Akron leverages FeedbackFruits Teaching and Learning System, specifically Peer Review, Group Member Evaluation, and Automated Feedback, all solutions incorporate AI to enhance the learning and assessment experiences.

Wendy Lamper, Director of Online, Continuing and Professional Education at the University of Akron, and Robert Terry, MSW Coordinator, Social Work and Family Science, are instrumental in integrating these technologies. Their extensive experience and commitment to educational innovation lend significant credibility to the university's approach.

Wendy emphasized the transformative potential of AI:

"My hope when I use a new tool is that it can improve some of the challenges I face when trying to teach multiple people at one time [...] The fact that technology has become so powerful is huge. It gives us so much information and puts it right at our fingertips, making it much more visual than it ever was before."

In the following sections, we will explore the University of Akron’s journey with AI, focusing on personalized online and hybrid learning, through a discussion with Wendy and Robert about their experience with FeedbackFruits.

An Overview of AI and Personalized Learning

Artificial Intelligence has revolutionized numerous sectors and education is no exception. In the context of higher education, AI offers the potential to transform traditional teaching methods by personalizing the learning experience, and enabling adaptive learning pathways tailored to individual student needs to enhance engagement, academic performance, and retention.

At the University of Akron, the integration of AI across its curriculum aims to create a more responsive online and hybrid learning environment. In these settings, where face-to-face interaction is limited, it can be challenging for instructors to gauge student engagement and identify those who may be struggling. To address this, educators at the university use AI to analyze data on student performance and engagement. This approach provides them with timely insights, allowing them to tailor their instruction to meet the specific needs of each learner effectively. 

Wendy explained the importance of personalized and adaptive learning for effective education:

"We all have different learning paths; some people don't like logical challenges and might learn artistic things more quickly. This is normal. In the past, if we examined the routes our students take through learning in our classrooms, we’d probably see diverse paths."

Addressing the Challenges of AI Adoption 

Ethical Use of AI

Despite its benefits, integrating AI into higher education poses some challenges. Wendy stressed the critical need for ethics in AI, underscoring the importance of ensuring that "the output is equal, representative, and unbiased." She believes that without a strong ethical framework, AI could perpetuate existing biases and inequalities.

A notable example is the case of predictive analytics used by some universities to identify students at risk of dropping out. These systems, while designed to help allocate resources and support to struggling students, have raised concerns about potential bias. For instance, a study by the New America Foundation found that predictive algorithms could disproportionately flag students from marginalized groups as high-risk, not necessarily due to their individual academic performance but because of historical data trends.

Equal Access to AI Tools

Another significant challenge that Wendy highlighted is the digital divide. Not all students have equal access to the technology required to benefit from AI-powered learning tools, which can exacerbate existing inequalities in education. She stressed that universities must address this issue by providing adequate resources and support to ensure all students can participate in AI-enhanced learning. 

Given that AI is now an integral part of the world students are entering, Wendy believes that it is also the duty of educators to ensure they learn to use it appropriately:

"We have an obligation. Students have entered a world where AI is prevalent, and it's our responsibility to help them use it effectively, ethically, and correctly. If we don't do it, who will?”

Overcoming Resistance

Additionally, there is often resistance to change among faculty and students. Adopting new technologies requires a cultural shift and a willingness to learn and adapt. To navigate these challenges, the University of Akron began its AI journey by forming a dedicated cross-departmental team to explore the potential of AI in education. This team included representatives from the Office of Academic Affairs, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, and various faculty members with expertise in AI and educational technology. Commenting on the team's efforts, Wendy said:

"We actually got a classroom policy through the faculty senate faster than I've ever seen us be able to do before. We developed a very fair and balanced policy regarding the use of AI by students […] From that perspective, I think we've seen a significant shift in viewpoints across campus."

Integrating AI for Personalized Learning at the University of Akron

1-Early Intervention with AI Alerts

Detecting issues in a timely manner can be particularly challenging for instructors in online and hybrid learning environments, where the lack of physical presence makes it harder to notice when a student is struggling or disengaged. The University of Akron uses FeedbackFruits' Automated Feedback Coach, which guides students in providing high-quality, constructive feedback to their peers. This feature helps ensure that peer evaluations are specific, actionable, and aligned with the assignment criteria. Moreover, by monitoring student engagement and performance, it provides insights that can identify and alert instructors to potential issues early on. 

Screenshot: Automated Feedback Coach helps guide students through the feedback delivery process
Automated Feedback Coach helps guide students through the feedback delivery process

Wendy Lampner highlighted this benefit, noting:

"I used to spend a lot of time trying to find out if my students were doing okay, if anyone had disappeared, especially when you teach online that can happen. Now, with AI tools, we can get alerts when a student hasn't engaged for a period of time. This helps ensure that no one falls through the cracks."

Additionally, Wendy emphasized the importance of tools like FeedbackFruits solutions in providing compassionate guidance, highlighting that they help faculty offer more support to students, ensuring no one is left behind. 

"I've never taught a class where I didn't think about a student I could have helped just a little bit more if I had a bit more time with them."

2-AI-Powered Course Mapping

AI-powered tools have significantly eased the process of course mapping, particularly for online and hybrid learning environments at the University of Akron. Faculty members utilize AI tools, such as ChatGPT and Google Gemini, to create comprehensive course plans that align objectives, content, and assessments. By automating routine tasks, these tools allow educators to focus on enhancing the quality of instruction.

This is how AI can assist in course mapping, according to Wendy: 

  • Automated Course Design Maps, by analyzing course objectives, student demographics, and learning outcomes, AI can generate customized course design maps as a starting point.
  • Content Curation and Recommendation, based on course topics and learning objectives. 
  • Learning Analytics and Insights: By analyzing past student engagement, performance, and learning behaviors AI Can help us make data-informed adjustments
  • Adaptive Course Mapping: AI-powered adaptive learning platforms can dynamically adjust the course map based on student learning trajectories.  (2-sigma)
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithms can analyze course syllabi, learning objectives, and instructional materials to identify gaps, redundancies, and opportunities
Screenshot: An example of course development with AI support
An example of course development with AI support

Robert Terry shared his experience with using AI for course mapping:

“For example, during our process, we built a module description, which is a section of a course. Typically, a module in our case is a week's activities. We have a description of what the module will be about, learning objectives according to Bloom's taxonomy, and competencies for our profession. We use techniques like discussions, quizzes, exams, and rubrics for grading papers. AI can help get the professor from a blank page to generating ideas and sample content, which can then be modified and finalized.”
Robert’s example of AI prompt to generate module description
Robert’s example of AI prompt to generate module description

Furthermore, with FeedbackFruits solutions faculty at the university can make data-driven insights that inform continuous improvement of course content and teaching methods. They can adjust the course map based on student progress and use natural language processing to analyze objectives and materials, quickly identifying gaps, redundancies, and opportunities. This allows faculty to identify the most effective parts of the curriculum and areas that may need revision, ensuring that educational materials remain relevant and impactful. This capability is significant, and even a single exercise in course mapping can increase faculty's willingness to embrace AI.

"We're moving our MSW courses fully online, and that really means taking courses that have been previously taught in person and moving them fully online asynchronous, and there's a lot to develop in that. AI is a tool like any other tool that might aid a professional in bringing the pieces together to build, in this case, for example, an online course or online courses."
Easy access to student learning analytics within FeedbackFruits solutions allow instructors to make timely data-driven decisions
Easy access to student learning analytics within FeedbackFruits solutions allow instructors to make timely data-driven decisions

3-Personalized Learning Paths

As AI at the University of Akron analyzes various aspects of student engagement, it also identifies individual learning patterns, strengths, and weaknesses, providing a foundation for personalized learning paths. Wendy noted that with FeedbackFruits they can determine exactly where a student is in their learning journey and what they need to do next. It can identify which students have been most effective in learning, and the ability to give those students immediate feedback could make a huge difference between giving up and continuing. 

“That immediacy of the feedback is another capability where I see that AI can really help."

4-Collaboration and Engagement

Additionally, FeedbackFruits enhances student engagement and collaboration through its Peer Review mechanisms, fostering a more interactive and engaging learning environment, which is crucial for both online and hybrid formats. Wendy was particularly impressed with the Group Member Evaluation tool, which enables structured peer assessments within group projects. Group projects present significant challenges in an online class due to various factors, such as students not being online at the same time and the difficulties that arise from not seeing each other in person as they work.

Streamline group assessment process in Group Member Evaluation tool
Streamline group assessment process in Group Member Evaluation tool

“One of the benefits of FeedbackFruits is the Group Member Evaluation feature, which helps ensure that peer evaluations are effective and constructive. This tool guides students on how to provide meaningful feedback, improving the overall group work experience."

Group Member Evaluation also allows faculty to detect outliers. It helps identify students who might be over-confident about their contributions compared to their peers' perceptions or those who are under-confident and need more encouragement. The system can highlight these discrepancies and provide insights to address them. 

Detect outliers feature within FeedbackFruits Group Member Evaluation tool helps identify students who are overconfident or underperforming. 
Detect outliers feature within FeedbackFruits Group Member Evaluation tool helps identify students who are overconfident or underperforming. 

Additionally, the Group Member Evaluation tool offers feedback suggestions to improve student responses.

“One of the things I like is the tool's ability to say, 'Hey, that response could be a little bit better.' It can suggest improvements like, 'What do you mean by this?' or 'Could you say something positive in addition to your constructive feedback?' The tool helps guide students through writing effective peer evaluations, which is something you typically won't find in the learning outcomes of a class."

Navigating AI in Higher Education with FeedbackFruits

Here at FeedbackFruits, we understand that AI is here to stay. As the University of Akron continues to embrace AI, FeedbackFruits stands as a key partner, helping to maintain a positive learning experience in both hybrid and online formats.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to Wendy Lampne and Robert Terry for sharing their valuable insights and experiences.

Wendy and Robert also delivered an insightful presentation on this topic, watch the full session here

Nice to read 

2023 EDUCAUSE Horizon Action Plan: Generative AI

The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring

Assessment of learning outcomes

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