Providing an opportunity to discover innovative teaching approaches, generate alternative teaching practices, learn about innovative student work, and focus on the pedagogical challenges presented by AI and ChatGPT was the aim of the first Teaching Incubator hosted by SC&I.
Held on November 10, 2023, and attended by over 50 SC&I faculty members and lecturers, the event was created and organized by Assistant Dean for Programs and Assessment Sharon Stoerger in collaboration with SC&I Interim Dean Dafna Lemish and Assistant Dean for Programs Susan Keith.
“We launched today a new tradition in the school – an annual Teaching Incubator which will take place each fall (following our already established Scholarly Incubator that takes place in the spring),” said Lemish. “It is a special opportunity to come together and become informed, reinvigorated, inspired, and recommitted to the important mission of educating our students.”
Stoerger said she organized the event “to celebrate the innovation SC&I instructors bring to the classroom, and create a space to highlight the efforts of a few of our colleagues. In addition to celebrating the instructors, I also wanted to put a spotlight on our students and the ways in which they ‘interpret’ our assignments. I feel very strongly about including the student voice in our work.”
The day began with presentations by a panel of SC&I faculty members who discussed their experiences as educators. Associate Professor of Professional Practice Mary D’Ambrosio’s presentation covered global education; Associate Teaching Professor of Communication Nikolaos Linardopoulos addressed student engagement; Assistant Professor of Library and Information Britt Paris discussed multimedia projects and her class Disinformation Detox; and Assistant Professor of Communication Sarah Shugars’ presentation focused on inclusive teaching.
Following the faculty presentations, a panel of students shared their classroom perspectives. The students (and the faculty members who recommended them as panel participants) included: Rachel Brill (Linardopoulos); Dicky Chen (Paris); Lillianna (Lilli) Shields (Shugars); and Sophia Slade (D’Ambrosio).
During the afternoon session, Stoergers presented “The Three Faces of ChatGPT” which focused on teaching during the age of AI/ChatGPT. While Stoerger said her idea for including this subject originally arose from a mini-ChatGPT workshop held during the SC&I Deans, Chairs, and Directors retreat in August, she added, “A lot has changed with generative AI since that time, and instructors have questions and are looking for guidance. Much of the rhetoric in the popular press focuses on the negative aspects of this technology, such as cheating, so I wanted to give attendees a taste of some of the productive ways they might use ChatGPT in their courses. This session provided a way to help instructors get the creative juices flowing. To be honest, we could have had a full-day event that focused on ChatGPT alone.”
Commenting upon her presentation and its reception by the attendees, Paris said, “It was nice to be able to hear everyone’s kind comments on the class and field some tougher questions about course design from the SC&I teaching community. It serves as a helpful sort of gut check to see what other experts think of the teaching work we’re doing here at SC&I, both as a group, and for me personally, on the aspects of teaching I presented. For faculty this event was refreshing and welcome because we have fewer venues where we are focused solely on discussions around teaching and learning. I also thought it was great to hear reflections from students on what they learned in the spotlighted classes, on the whole. So often we are only able extrapolate how we are doing as instructors from course evaluations. The student presentations add new and interesting dimensions for evaluating teaching and learning outcomes.”
"Many of our students are struggling with very real personal and family challenges, and too often students honestly don’t know that support is available for extraordinary circumstances. At the teaching incubator, I reflected on how to create a classroom of care in ways that are both time-efficient for instructors and maintain academic rigor.” – Assistant Professor of Communication Sarah Shugars
Shugars said, “It was an incredible honor to join my colleagues at SC&I’s inaugural teaching incubator. I greatly valued the opportunity to learn from my colleague’s innovations in engaged teaching and to share my expertise with inclusive teaching. As a first-generation-to-college student, I reflected on how hard it can be for students to ask for help – or to even know when it is appropriate to ask for help. As instructors, we have an obligation to create welcoming, supportive learning environments. While there are many aspects to doing this holistically – such as including diverse voices and perspectives in course readings and activities – it is also important for instructors to provide clear guidance on course norms and expectations and to reach out to students who seem to be falling behind. Many of our students are struggling with very real personal and family challenges, and too often students honestly don’t know that support is available for extraordinary circumstances. At the teaching incubator, I reflected on how to create a classroom of care in ways that are both time-efficient for instructors and maintain academic rigor.”
The plan to include the student’s perspectives in the incubator, Stoerger said, stemmed “from the talks our IDTS team (Instructional Design and Technology Specialist Emre Dogan, Assistant Director of Instructional Design and Technology Services Erica Lucci, and I) often have with instructors about different pedagogical approaches. I wanted to give instructors an opportunity to see what these approaches look like in practices, and the way students bring those to life. On a personal level, I believe it is important to include the voice of our students and use that to inform our efforts and directions. This was a way to begin those conversations with the goal of providing more opportunities for students to engage with us in the future. What’s more, the students really enjoyed being able to see the instructor side of the learning experience.”
After the event, the students who participated reflected upon the many ways they benefitted from presenting and attending. Dicky Chen ITI’25 said, “Being a part of the student panel allowed me to share my insights and experiences as a student at Rutgers University and share them with our educators and industry professionals. It was an excellent platform for me to contribute my collective knowledge and offer a student's perspective on the future of the teaching landscape. I was able to share my work from the Disinformation Detox class that I took last spring and highlight the importance of media literacy in today's digital age. The course delved into crucial aspects of identifying misinformation, equipping us with vital skills to responsibly navigate the vast digital information ecosystem. Participating in the panel enabled me to showcase the practical applications of these skills and underscore the significance of integrating such courses into future curricula. The knowledge wasn't one-directional either; through presentations done by the administration, I was able to learn about the various ways ChatGPT can be positively used in today's classroom environment and how some professors are evolving their teaching strategies to help further us efficiently learn how to use the technologies that we now have in our future job prospects.
“Furthermore, many of the presentations spoke to me as more than just a student, an individual. A professor delivered a presentation on cultivating an inclusive learning environment during one particular presentation. This experience truly resonated with me, shedding light on the profound role our professors play in not just imparting knowledge but also in providing a supportive and nurturing space akin to a home away from home. It made me recognize that they strive to establish personal connections beyond teaching the subject matter, reassuring us of their availability and support as mentors and individuals. They want to help you feel like you're at home when you're away from home, and it truly made me see my professors as more than just educators.”
Rachel Brill COM’24, MCM’25, said, “I learned so much from participating on the student panel. I entered the event thinking that I would perhaps meet some new people, learn about some new publications, learn new things about ChatGPT, etc., but I left the SC&I Teaching Incubator with a whole new perspective on higher education. I was recommended to speak on the student panel by Dr. Nick Linardopoulos; I have taken two courses with him at Rutgers and have worked as a tutor for him as well. Thus, I have seen firsthand how passionate he is about learning, and how much he truly cares for students.
“I hope the event drove home that we are providing excellent and innovative learning experiences for students here at SC&I. I left the event feeling inspired and invigorated around teaching.” – Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Britt Paris
“Dr. Nick has always inspired me to be the best student I can be, and I was so happy to see that at SC&I, there are so many professors that I haven't met yet that feel similar about learning. At the event, I not only heard how much SC&I professors care for their students, I felt it also. Many instructors were eager to hear from the students that were present, and I felt so happy to comprehend that my student perspective was so valued. I was quite nervous to participate on the student panel, but I'm very grateful I did. To speak about an assignment that was very meaningful to me to an audience of distinguished faculty that was eager to listen is an experience I'll never forget. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Nick for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts, and to Dr. Sharon Stoerger for organizing the amazing event.”
Lillianne (Lilli) Shields MHCI’24, said, "I learned that the strong community of SC&I at Rutgers is diligently working to enhance the learning opportunities of their students through empathetic teaching, open conversations, and collaborative student projects. I was humbled to hear my colleagues speak about their current work and how their professors are encouraging them to pursue their academic interests."
Paris added, “I hope the event drove home that we are providing excellent and innovative learning experiences for students here at SC&I. I left the event feeling inspired and invigorated around teaching.”
Delivering closing remarks at the end of the afternoon, Lemish said, “I wish to thank all of you who participated live and online and demonstrated once again your dedication to teaching. I thank the faculty and students who were generous in sharing their expertise and experiences, and Chandu Dondeti for the technical support. And special gratitude goes to Sharon Stoerger for planning and leading this meaningful event! I am already looking forward to the next Teaching Incubator in the Fall of 2024!”
Learn more about the Rutgers School of Communication and Information on the website.
Top image: Sharon Stoerger
Photos: Middle: The faculty panelists. Bottom: Undergraduate Dicky Chen presenting. Credit: SC&I Associate Dean for Administration Karen Novick