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Using Generative AI to make language more accessible

Educators can use generative AI to transform dense, technical material into clear, easily understandable content. This improves students’ comprehension and makes the learning experience more inclusive to a wider audience. While students are growing in their knowledge of complex academic topics, sometimes academic terminology can be a barrier. Particularly early in the course, students may not yet be familiar with the jargon and language of your subject matter. In addition, you may have learners in your course with a wide range of educational and cultural backgrounds. Some of your students may be from countries outside of the United States, and English may not be their first language. By demystifying complex concepts, jargon, and metaphors with generative AI, educators are empowered to create more equitable and effective learning environments for our diverse array of learners. 

For example, you can use the following example prompt to get started: 

In this prompt, we are asking ChatGPT to rewrite text to an 8-10th-grade reading level on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Scale. This is the reading level recommended for a general adult lay audience. Feel free to adjust this to fit your target audience. 

Example: An Online Course on Neuroscience

Drafting

Now imagine that you are a renowned neuroscientist and a highly regarded faculty member at Michigan Medicine. You are interested in developing an online course that will bring neuroscience concepts to a lay audience. You are excited to get started, but as you begin to develop content, you quickly realize that your typical content is aimed at seasoned medical students and filled with jargon that may be daunting to those without prior knowledge. You realize that generative AI may be able to assist you in breaking down concepts into simpler terms. 

You fill in the example prompt with some of the text from one of your old in-person presentations with key concepts that you would like to include in this online course: 

In response to your input, ChatGPT gives you the following output: 

In this example, ChatGPT keeps all of the main concepts intact while using simpler language, providing definitions of terminology used (rather than removing it entirely), and breaking the large paragraph into more digestible, smaller paragraphs or chunks. 

Refining 

As a content expert, it is important to read through the output and ensure that all key concepts remain intact. It is also up to you to determine whether the revisions are sufficient and appropriate for your audience. You may choose to ask for stylistic revisions as well. For example, ChatGPT wrote the text as though the course is currently happening. However, you plan on delivering this information at the beginning of the course to talk about what the learner will learn. This is your preference. 

You can ask ChatGPT to revise with the following: 

ChatGPT will then go through and make the requested revisions to the text using the appropriate tense that you indicated in your input: 

Continue to refine as needed. Consider feeding into the chat examples of your tone of voice so that the content is not only accessible for learners but also contains a human element. In addition, you can increase your expectation of language understanding as your students grow in their knowledge and your expectations of understanding increase.

Generative AI can be a valuable asset to instructors looking for assistance with creating various aspects of course design. For example, generative AI, such as ChatGPT, can be a valuable tool for educators in drafting learning objectives. Using GenAI in any setting is usually a process of drafting and then refining prompts until the desired result is achieved. In this article, we will outline some ways to generate and refine learning objectives for a course.

Learning objectives are concise statements that articulate what students are expected to learn or achieve in a course. They play a crucial role in guiding both teaching strategies and assessment methods, ensuring that educational experiences are focused and effective. Clear and well-defined learning objectives are essential for aligning educational activities with desired learning outcomes. By analyzing a vast array of educational content and pedagogical methods in its training data, AI can offer a wide range of learning objective recommendations, which educators can then build off of, using their knowledge as experts in the field. 

Articles

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Generative AI for Course Design: The Basics

Learn more foundational information about Generative AI
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Learning objectives and outcomes

How to craft good learning objectives for instruction

Using your preferred GenAI tool, here is an example prompt that you can use to get started: 

This example prompt can be modified to fit your needs. For example, you may choose to add more ideas and give additional context about the course. The more detail and context you provide in your input, the better the AI output will be. So please feel free to add in outlines, syllabi, or any other materials that may help your GenAI assistant better understand your vision. 

Example: An Online Course on the Cold War

Drafting Objectives

Now that we have our example prompt, let’s see an example of it in action. Imagine you are an instructor for an introductory online course on the Cold War. You plan to use ChatGPT to generate some ideas on potential learning objectives to get you started and guide your curriculum creation. You already have some general ideas on what you want to cover: causes, major events, and overall impact. You fill in the prompt as so: 

You press enter and ChatGPT provides you with the following learning objectives: 

Refining

It is now up to you as the expert to determine which learning objectives are the most relevant and how you should go about revising them. For example, you may look at the list and notice that there are no learning objectives that ask the learners to create something with the knowledge they’ve acquired throughout the course (e.g., a final project). You return to ChatGPT and ask the following: 

In response, ChatGPT provides you with the following: 

If you disagree with this suggestion, you can reply with “More?” to get additional ideas. ChatGPT will then provide you with a longer list: 

You can repeat this process as often as you’d like – adjusting the prompt and adding additional context (e.g., outlines, key ideas, information about your teaching style) to get better responses. When formulating responses for you, ChatGPT looks at the entire chat log so it is recommended that you continue to add to the same chat for best results.

In our next article, we’ll explore how to use Generative AI to improve accessible language in your course.

Introduction

Education is undergoing a significant transformation as generative artificial intelligence continues to develop at a rapid pace. It is now easier than ever for educators to experiment with generative AI in their practice and see for themselves how generative AI can be leveraged during the course development process to brainstorm, synthesize, and draft everything from communications to students to learning objectives.

Generative AI: The Basics

Before experimenting with Generative AI (GenAI), it is helpful to have some high level foundational knowledge of how GenAI works. Essentially, GenAI functions using advanced machine learning algorithms, specifically neural networks, which emulate human brain processing. These networks are trained with large datasets, enabling them to learn language patterns, nuances, and structures. As a result, GenAI can produce contextually relevant and coherent content, a capability exemplified in tools like ChatGPT. 

To better understand how GenAI tools like ChatGPT work, let’s look at a breakdown of the acronym “GPT”: 

GPT stands for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer.” It is a type of artificial intelligence model designed for natural language processing tasks. “Generative” refers to its ability to generate text based on a combination of the data it was trained on and your inputs. It can compose sentences, answer questions, and create coherent and contextually relevant paragraphs. 

The term “Pre-trained” indicates that the model has undergone extensive training on a vast dataset of text before it is fine-tuned for specific tasks. This pre-training enables the model to understand and generate human-like text. 

Finally, “Transformer” is the name of the underlying architecture used by GPT. Transformers are a type of neural network architecture that has proven especially effective for tasks involving understanding and generating human language due to their ability to handle sequences of data, such as sentences, and their capacity for parallel processing, which speeds up the learning process. 

The GPT series, developed by OpenAI, has seen several iterations, with each new version showing significant improvements in language understanding and generation capabilities. Many of these improvements are due to the model continuously training on user inputs. OpenAI has made it transparent that your data is being used to improve model performance and you can choose to opt out by following the steps that will be outlined in the upcoming articles on how to use GenAI tools for course design, learning objectives and more.

Does it matter which GenAI Tool I use?

Not really. Individuals may find preferences for one tool or another based on response speed or comfort with the interface. You may wish to use a tool that can opt out of using personal data for training purposes. Most of the GenAI tools are generally similar.

Next Steps and Considerations

In educational contexts, the incorporation of GenAI tools, such as ChatGPT, will potentially reshape our approach to content creation and improve efficiency for educators who often find themselves pressed for time. However, it is important to note the importance of acknowledging the technology’s limitations, such as potential biases, outdated information due to insufficient training data, and incorrect information – often referred to as “hallucinations.” It is vital that you always fact-check and revise GenAI outputs to maintain the integrity and high quality of your content.

In conclusion, by leveraging GenAI tools like ChatGPT, educators can navigate course design with greater ease and efficiency. From drafting learning objectives and engaging course titles to simplifying complex academic language and brainstorming assessments, GenAI has the potential to be an invaluable asset to your design work. However, it is critical to remember that these tools come with limitations, including potential biases and inaccuracies. By combining the strengths of GenAI with the expertise and critical oversight of educators, we can efficiently create new experiences for our learners.

You may hear different terminology as you begin online teaching. The following are some working definitions to help differentiate the terms used when discussing teaching leveraging technology.

University of Michigan Registrar defined instruction-mode definitions:

In-Person: Indicated by a (P) on the course listing, in-person classes are the traditional face-to-face classes. Instructors and students meet at a designated time in a designated place each week.

Online: Indicated by a (D) by the registrar, online classes do not meet in person. All learning activities take place online.  Online classes can be:

  • Synchronous: There are at least some designated times for students and instructors to meet simultaneously in a tool like Zoom. Synchronous classes will specify the day and time for meetings in the registrar. Online synchronous classes are generally structured more like an in-person class, except in a video conference format, however, there is often more asynchronous work as well. 
  • Asynchronous: There is no requirement for simultaneous meetings. Most of the interactions between students and instructors happen through other communication tools. Lectures may be pre-recorded. While video conferencing may be utilized, it is generally an optional component.

Hybrid: Indicted by an M by the registrar (for Mixed), these classes have both a required in-person component as well as an online component. Hybrid classes could meet once a month (rather than once a week), or have one class online and one class in person each week. Meeting days/times need to be specified.

Other Online Teaching Definitions:

  • Hy-flex: A course where students can choose on a day-by-day basis whether to attend class in person or via a synchronous videoconference session. Because Hyflex classes need to account for room capacity, they would be considered in-person. Currently, the University of Michigan does not have a specific indicator for hy-flex classes. 
  • Blended learning: While some people use “hybrid” and “blended” interchangeably, generally blended learning includes any kind of online component to supplement instruction. Even if a course does not reduce face-to-face meetings, maintaining and utilizing a Canvas course to extend the classroom indicates a blended learning experience. Blended learning takes advantage of online technology to enhance in-person classrooms.
  • Emergency Remote Teaching: Suddenly altering teaching modalities from in-person to online due to an emergency. Emergency remote teaching is a type of online teaching, however, it generally does not involve careful planning of instruction specifically for that modality.

Introducing Extended Reality (XR)

Extended Reality (XR) allows learners to reach beyond the classroom into another setting through 360 videos and other simulations that can be used on different platforms whether that is headsets, web browsers, or mobile devices. Creating these learning activities in XR allows learners to practice needed skills in a simulated environment.  These low-stakes practices enable students to try and fail, get feedback, and try again without the usual costs of in-person scenarios. Courses such as First Aid, electric wiring, and public speaking could be augmented with opportunities to practice the necessary skills and behaviors in a low-stakes environment. All courses could integrate XR whether in a classroom with headsets or online with mobile devices or web-based browsing. Digital accessibility considerations are not always at the forefront in design such as the visual, auditory, cognitive, and motor needs of learners. Yet they are necessary requirements to make sure all learners can participate in learning and not be left out as new technology is integrated into online classrooms. Thus questions such as these can arise amidst excitement – What are the accessibility considerations in the XR space? How accessible is XR?

There are research groups and associations such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and XR Access that focus their work on XR and accessibility to build collective knowledge and practice. Here at the University of Michigan, the Center of Academic Innovation has experts in XR and accessibility such as Pamela Saca, the learning experience designer for accessibility. She will provide insights into these questions along with the resources to dig into to make sure as innovation expands, so does access for all.

How XR makes learning experiences more accessible

While many immediately think of the accessibility limitations inherent in XR technology, there are accessibility benefits as well. XR promises great potential for communicating and engaging more effectively in a remote, immersive environment for many learners who may not have had the opportunity before the integration of XR. The aspects of XR allow for engagement in both technical and humanistic fields of study and in allowing practice for skills such as wiring. It is poised to impact any discipline where objects of study are spatially relevant, allow students to gain confidence in analytic skills, and increase access to things that would cost time, money, or safety (Cook and Lischer-Katz).

There are also specific tools that increase accessibility. When thinking about the 1 in 4 people in the United States with a disability (CDC), these benefits can allow students to be more active participants in the classroom while also enhancing the learning experience of content. XR features can increase accessibility by enhancing surround sound from one side of the body over the other, using a technology that allows a virtual reality headset to dynamically highlight sharp contrasts of picture quality in peripheral vision for visually impaired users and enabling walkability for those confined in a wheelchair through movements similar to walking around a boardroom table. XR tools support students to engage and change the tools so that they fit their needs and fulfill the vision of building the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors for their course.

Accessibility challenges with the use of XR

However, there are accessibility challenges with the use of XR, that can affect all learners, even without disabilities. Students working in noisy spaces may also have challenges hearing. Some students struggle with new technologies or have motion sickness when using a headset. Some XR tools like 360 degree videos or first person perspective movement depend heavily on motion controls. The technology requires the user to manipulate their body to control their movements and placements which forces the challenges in accessibility when there are learners who have difficulties with motion controls.

Planning for Accessibility

Although Pamela Saca, the Learning Experience Designer for Accessibility at the Center for Academic Innovation, believes that extended reality could support many people in their learning, she knows nothing can be 100% accessible because one thing that “works for one person will be in direct conflict for what might work for another person.” In her work in design teams, a change made to help one type of learner and their specific accessibility needs may make it more difficult for another. Therefore, she suggests the following considerations that can help design teams and instructors make more inclusive choices.

  1. Consider accessibility from the beginning. The XR collaborative recommends planning XR experiences explicitly considering accessibility at the start of your project. It’s more efficient and less expensive than having to remediate. Think about the types of learners you may have in your course and what kind of needs they may have. This could include captioning audio or providing alternatives for physical movements. There are resources for testing accessibility whether that be through user testing before launch, XR Guidelines, or the W3C amongst others that need to be implemented throughout the design process from ideation to implementation. 
  2. Build with an audience in mind that is as inclusive as possible, or better yet, involve people with disabilities as members of the course design, managers, and testers. You may find challenges you hadn’t anticipated due to your own design bias.
  3. Test the learning activity with a diverse group of people to ensure ample feedback and to be able to build in alternative activities if it is not 100% accessible. During one set of user testing, what designers thought to be a great design instead had a lot of challenges. The XR experience had to be changed to accommodate the broad population that would be using it, even if it didn’t align with the originally planned experience.

Extended reality is a tool that can be used to enhance learning through low-stakes practice, continuous feedback, and real-life situations. It, like many other learning technologies, has limitations and introduces the possibilities for exclusion whether that be because of technological difficulties, inaccessibility, or other issues unknown to the designer. Extended reality, like many technological innovations, is exciting but should also be used for expanding learning for all.    

References

CDC: 1 in 4 US adults live with a disability | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC. (2019, April 10). https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0816-disability.html

Cook, M., & Lischer-Katz, Z. (2020). Practical steps for an effective virtual reality course integration. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 27(2–4), 210–226. https://doi.org/10.1080/10691316.2021.1923603

Additional Resources

XR Access: A community committed to making virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (XR) accessible to people with disabilities

World Wide Web Consortium: The W3C mission is to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the We

NameCoach for Canvas – a tool for building community in the classroom.

NameCoach is a new tool introduced in Canvas in Fall 2021. It allows students and instructors to record their preferred way to audibly speak their name, as well as provide a phonetic pronunciation.

In Canvas, NameCoach is automatically enabled on the left-hand navigation bar. Selecting it will bring up the list of students’ names and preferred pronunciations.

Being able to call students by their name, with the correct pronunciation is a powerful tool in both the online and face-to-face classroom. Research supports that even small measures, like calling students by name, builds rapport, may increase participation, and increases students’ feelings of engagement with the class.

For more information about NameCoach, see the ITS Teaching and Learning page.

Learn more about NameCoach and all the Canvas tools offered through ITS Teaching & Learning.

How this will help:

Find online resources available from the University of Michigan Museums to include in your course

The Basics

The museums and special library collections of the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor support online teaching with a wide range of digital collection and exhibition resources. Many have educational staff dedicated to hosting and crafting synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences with their digital resources. By clicking on the links to specific museums below, you can learn more about each institution’s materials and support for online learning.

Please click on the link for resources from the various museums: 

University of Michigan Museum of Art

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology

Papyrology Collection (University of Michigan Library)

Special Collections Research Center (University of Michigan Library)

University of Michigan Herbarium

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum

William L. Clements Library

Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments

University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry

Bentley Historical Library

University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology

Clark Library of Maps and Atlases

How this will help:

Discover tools to help plan an online course using design strategies

The basics

If you do any search for “online course design” or read any book on online design, just about every resource emphasizes the importance of planning for online course design. However, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you are considering moving a course online, even if you have support from others. Many instructors new to online struggle to engage with the planning for an online course in the recommended timeline (several weeks or months in advance). 

If you need help planning, this comprehensive course planning blueprint tool can help you reflect and guide your design process (want something simpler? Keep reading for additional options).

The blueprint is a spreadsheet is rooted in a backward design process. While by no means comprehensive (meaning that you still may have more work to do if there are media or instructional designers involved), it can give you a structure for planning your online course. It can also be a place to have conversations with others with your strategy already mapped out, cutting down on orientation time to your course.  Feel free to make a copy of it for your own use.

Our planning blueprint is made up of six parts:

  1. Course information
    Course name, number of students, etc.
  2. Course goals
    4-5 goals for the course overall – not specific to particular lessons. 
  3. Learner analysis
    Some questions to reflect on what your learners might be bringing to the class
  4. Learning Objectives and Content
    Breakdown of learning objectives by week, and what content is needed to support it
  5. Activities and assessments
    What are the assessments and activities that support your learning objectives?
  6. Instructor engagement plan
    What will your plan be to engage with students each week?

There are other tools available to help you plan, so feel free to find one that may align with your teaching. Ultimately, most design tools are going to walk you through a similar process, so what is most important is to find a tool that resonates with your teaching style.

Resources

University of Michigan

CAI – Online Blueprint Planning Guide

How this will help:

Understand the most basic tools for recording video/lecture content.

The basics

Once you have decided to record some of your own content, it’s time to make some decisions on how to record them. Recording lecture content can be on a spectrum from incredibly simple (and cheap) to a substantial investment in time and materials that could produce re-usable materials for years to come. How do you decide where you fit in that spectrum?

First, consider your time and willingness to learn new technologies. There are some very simple solutions to recording content that use tools you may already be implementing now in your class, but may also not produce the most polished end product or has limited usefulness beyond the current semester. If time is short or your patience for technology is short right now, use what you know.

Regardless of technology, make sure you are using the right tool for the job.

Remember that not everything needs a recording. Wherever you can, lean more heavily into low-tech solutions (like readings). Make sure you are familiar with best practices for recording – shorter chunks, have an agenda or script, have optimized your home studio as best possible, as well as thought about ways to make your recording re-usable and accessible to all. 

Not much time? Not much patience for technology?

Both Zoom and BlueJeans, while technically videoconference tools, can be used for recording screen-cast lectures. To get started, you would enter into an empty conference room, deliver your lecture, and then post the recording. It’s not ideal – editing is exceptionally limited, and there may be limits on how long your content will last. Because there is limited editing capability, you will be recording in real-time – make sure you have a clear agenda and a distraction-free zone. In addition, keep in mind that the video quality of these recordings is generally poor.

Zoom

A next step up – Screencasting in Kaltura and PowerPoint

The next step up would be to use Kaltura (in Canvas) or Powerpoint to record screen-cast lectures. Kaltura will allow both a webcam (view of your face) and/or capture of your screen (screencast). PowerPoint allows you to create short narratives that attach to each slide, rather than having to record the entire presentation at once.

Kaltura (Canvas)
Kaltura has additional tools like in-video quizzes that can make your lectures more interactive.

PowerPoint

This is fine, but I think I want more,

The methods listed above are by no means the best ways to record a screencast. You may find yourself wishing for higher quality audio or video, more editing capability, or the ability to make things more professional looking. This is all possible with little to no investment. 

If you are ready to take the next step, learn more about advanced video capture, production strategy, budget for tools and software.

Resources

University of Michigan

CAI- Spectrum of Options for Home Recording
CAI- Home Recording Accessibility Considerations
CAI- Home Recording Equipment Recommendations

How this will help:

Understand the most basic tools for recording video/lecture content.

The basics

Recording lecture content can be on a spectrum from incredibly simple (and cheap) to an investment in time and materials that could produce re-usable materials for years to come. How do you decide where you fit in that spectrum?

First, consider your time and willingness to learn new technologies. There are some very simple solutions to recording content that use tools you may already be implementing now in your class, but may also not produce the most polished end product or has limited

Kaltura (Canvas)

UM-ITS- Creating a lecture capture with Kaltura

PowerPoint

University of Tennessee Knoxville- Create online lectures with PowerPoint

How-to Geek- How to record voiceover narration in PowerPoint

Zoom

Tufts University- Basic pre-recording with Zoom

Southern Methodist University- Creating a lecture with Zoom

UM-ITS- Common Zoom topics

BlueJeans

UM-ITS- Using BlueJeans in Canvas

More advanced tools 

CRLT- Resources on lecture capture and podcasting