Two professors at Heartland Community College have received grants to research effects of different technologies on education.
The grant program is funded by Course Hero, an online learning platform. Fifty-two educators researching aspects of the implementation of new technology in school settings were chosen by a panel of former educators to receive the grants.
English professor Stephanie Kratz is one of the recipients. Her research focuses on faculty burnout, a common struggle for staff members, according to Kratz, who’s been an educator for over 20 years. On her own experience with burnout, she said, “I’ve gotten to the place where I feel like, ‘Am I in the right place? Is this really what I’m meant to be doing and for so many years?”
Kratz said feelings of burnout can make teachers feel like they’re not doing enough for their students, and it can carry over into the classroom.
“If the teacher is flat and having a difficult time getting excited and enthusiastic, that’s going to impact the students and it can have all kinds of repercussions on them and their education, on their success, on their progress towards their degree, on their mental health, lots of different things. There’s a real relationship between the students and the faculty member, for sure,” Kratz said.
Kratz’s project isn’t conducted in a lab. Rather, she calls it “a new approach to professional development.” She began by researching faculty burnout, and eventually constructed “micro-lessons” which are learning tools designed to be “short, five minutes or less, a sort of snapshot of here’s one thing you can learn today.”
Burnout is known to cause elevated stress and anxiety levels, and often leaves those suffering from it feeling overwhelmed. Kratz has this fact in mind and hopes the accessibility of these exercises is helpful for staff members who might feel like they’re treading water.
“It’s there for faculty who might be experiencing burnout, who are feeling too overwhelmed with tasks to go to a full workshop, but they can still get reminded of, yes, it’s important for me to take care of myself, or, oh yes, it’s important for me to communicate my expectations to students and let them know my boundaries. Let them know that even though I’m teaching an online class, I’m not available twenty-four hours a day, and so that’s what we’re doing,” Kratz said.
The goals that Kratz has for her project include getting a better understanding of what burnout actually is, what causes it in education professionals, and how to better prevent and treat it in the future.
New technology being introduced to classrooms is often cited as a source for extra stress on educators, Kratz said.
“As disciplines change and faculty are asked to do new things, we need to be able to support ourselves. We need to be able to take care of ourselves … and for me that’s an important reason why I’m researching faculty burnout. As time goes on, we’re asked to do new things, we’re asked to do more things, they might be things we never expected to be asked to do.”
AI in math education
One of these newer technologies, generative artificial intelligence (AI), has been a focal point of educational policymaking.
Heartland mathematics professor Kim McHale is using the grant to research the effects of the emerging technology on students’ ability to learn math in a classroom.
“AI is a big hot topic right now in higher education in all kinds of fields, but particularly in mathematics for about the past eight to 10 years, there have been more and more programs online that a student could just type in a problem, and it wouldn’t just shoot out an answer. It would give a step-by-step explanation, which I can’t imagine having when I learned mathematics,” McHale said. “It sounds wonderful if you use it correctly.”
McHale’s Calculus 1 students will take part in the study, working in teams to investigate the effects of the free and paid versions of different AI math problem solving tools on education and a student’s ability to learn.
McHale conceded a concern that AI creates ethical concerns and whether students are actually learning.
She theorized student learning with AI in a class can be similar to problem solving they will encounter in the professional world.
“They can’t rely on just getting the answer from artificial intelligence. I’m fine with them critically analyzing a solution, but they also must be able to reproduce the solution from step one on their own.”
McHale compares AI coming into classrooms to other new technologies that have been introduced in the past like the computer or calculator.
“I want to go back to (Texas Instruments) TI-84 calculators because they have now over twenty years in the classroom, but when they were introduced, same argument. We cannot have these in our classrooms, they do everything for the student. Students won’t learn anymore, and TI came up with an education platform. They have classroom activities to do with the calculators, all integrated through mathematics. Now we have not seen bridges falling because of this, and I think it’s how we write our questions,” McHale said.
Kratz isn’t researching AI right now, but does teach a unit on the subject in her English 101 class, and she added about AI from an education standpoint, “We need to maybe question, what are my values? What’s my mission statement? What’s my teaching philosophy? Those kinds of questions come up when you’re working really hard and doing something that’s difficult.”
She said understanding the impact new technologies like AI can have on educators was part of why researching burnout was so important to her.
The findings from both research projects will be made available after the studies conclude.
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