Academic Director’s September Update – Starting the Academic Year

The article highlights the importance of flexibility and accommodation in the wake of the Okanagan fires as the academic year begins. It also discusses the impact of AI, particularly ChatGPT, on students and instructors in the context of learning and assessment. 

As we stand on the threshold of another academic year set to commence in September, the usual energy and enthusiasm that herald the start of classes are tinged with a profound acknowledgment of recent events. The wildfires that swept through the Okanagan region have left an indelible mark on our community, affecting both new and returning students. While the journey back to normalcy continues, classes are poised to begin as scheduled, albeit with a recognition that this year’s experience may diverge from the familiar. The echoes of disruption, displacement, and loss are still resonating, underscoring the need for empathy and understanding.  

Instructors might encounter challenges in delivering in-person classes or preparing course materials, given the prevailing circumstances. The demand for assistance with hybrid or online classes, including the utilization of tools like Zoom and Canvas, is likely to rise. The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) stands ready to provide aid through its diverse range of workshops, drop-in sessions, and one-on-one consultations. These resources are aimed at supporting instructors as they navigate the transition back to the classroom. 

Equally important to note are the substantial hurdles that students face. Instructors should be mindful of these challenges, encompassing difficulties related to attending in-person classes, travel limitations, housing woes exacerbated by the fires, and, for newcomers, acclimating to the expectations of a university classroom. Instructors can greatly assist students by effectively communicating expectations and providing necessary materials, all the while offering accommodations to cater to individual needs. 

Beyond the context specific to UBCO, this academic year is marked by a resounding theme: artificial intelligence (AI) and its profound influence on education. Generative AI, exemplified by tools like ChatGPT, represents a notable technological advancement, with the capability of excelling in university courses and standardized exams. Students are aware of ChatGPT’s capabilities and will leverage it for assignments and projects. Potential employers expect graduates to possess competence in AI-related knowledge and skills. This presents instructors with the challenge of integrating AI into their courses, while gauging its implications for both learning and assessment.  

UBC recognizes and supports instructors’ utilization of AI in their courses, while acknowledging the associated concerns of bias, privacy, and security. ChatGPT, with its proficiency in crafting quality essays, forming opinion pieces, and addressing diverse topics, has implications for assessment methods. Research underscores the unreliability and biases inherent in tools designed to detect AI-generated content. Instructors are encouraged to articulate the permissible uses of AI within their courses and refine their materials and assessments over time, with AI integration in mind. This process need not be overwhelming; rather, it can be approached gradually, evolving course content as deemed necessary. As you contemplate midterm and final exam formats, we encourage you to consider the recommendations regarding computer-based exams. 

The CTL is a valuable resource for discussing course planning related to learning objectives and assessment adaptations. Additionally, the CTLT in Vancouver and the CTL offer an array of resources related to AI, accessible at Online sessions are available to augment your understanding of ChatGPT and the integration of AI in instructional settings. 

Wishing you a rewarding and enriching fall semester ahead. Take moments to relish and value the UBCO experience and the vibrant community of learners we embody. 

Credit: Written and edited in collaboration with ChatGPT.