Presentations powered by A.I – Gamma.app Review

Gamma.app is an A.I-based tool which generates presentations, documents, and webpages. It’s focus on presentations makes it of potential interest to those involved in teaching and learning. https://gamma.app

Quick Look:

In ‘guided mode’, I gave a title ‘history of Newcastle upon Tyne’, and Gamma provided a choice of templates and then generated a suggested presentation structure within a few seconds. It then generated a deck of 8 slides in about 1 minute. The slide deck included relevant images and could be exported as Powerpoint or PDF. Additionally, Gamma allows for the import of custom text, which it adapts and converts into a slide deck or document. The ‘AI editor’ provides options, such as “Suggest a professional theme”, “Give more detail”, “Give me a more exciting way to say this” etc.

The Gamma app in use showing chat interaction with AI and the 3 slides generated.
Cost:

Gamma currently (October 2023) has a three tier model:

  1. Free limited use – you get a one-off 400 ‘AI Credits’ (credits used each time you generate a document), exported slides and documents are branded
  2. ‘Plus’ – £78/year, 400 ‘AI Credits’ per month
  3. ‘Pro’ – £147/year, unlimted credits and extra features
Thoughts:

Gamma is a powerful tool which can quickly generate slide decks and documents which are ‘usable’ with little modification. With all the focus on the tools of the ‘big players’, such as Microsoft/Chat-GPT and Google, it is refreshing to see a tool from a seemingly independent company (though, like many other A.I. apps, it may well be using the back-end services of Chat-GPT ).

Of course, to use A.I. generated materials, it is important to have grounded subject knowledge and critically review and adapt outputs, to avoid mistakes. It is also important to carefully word the prompts which you provide to the A.I.; for example, a presentation generated for me by Gamma, about “Newcastle University”, included accurate information about the 19th century pre-cursors of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, but then mentioned a merger with UCL in 2002, and included a photo of Newcastle University in Australia.

There are obvious plagiarism and academic integrity issues to consider. In common with most other A.I. apps, there is no acknowledgement of the source materials used in training of the A.I. As such it may be part-based on copyrighted materials and licenced content such as Wikipedia, which has an Attribution-Share-Alike licence. Likewise, the source of images aren’t acknowledged – though the ‘A.I. Editor’ does give the option of ‘all images’ (even if licencing unknown), ‘Free to use’ (which seem ‘loose’, by including sources which don’t generally display image licence information, such as Facebook and Twitter) and ‘Free to use commercially’ – and you can click through to the source of the image. The pricing model for Gamma is similar to that of other A.I. tools, all of which lead the universal problem of inequality of access, giving advantage to students from more well-off backgrounds. But these tools are widely available now, and this is the new reality that H.E. needs to adapt to.

Scaffolding Reflection

This article outlines the rationale for scaffolding reflection and describes the developments, which will be available across the University by September 2022.

Structured reflective templates are currently being piloted in NU Reflect. This article outlines the rationale for scaffolding reflection and describes the developments, which will be available across the University by September 2022.

Scaffolding

A picture containing scaffolding, roof. Royalty free image from Pixabay

Scaffolding provides a great metaphor in Education. In the construction industry, scaffolding provides temporary support and helps shape the developing building. Scaffolding was first used as an educational concept, by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976) to describe the support given by an expert in one-to-one tutorials – something akin to a semi-structured interview.

Scaffolding is also a useful metaphor in reflective practice. A series of questions or prompts can provide the learner with a structure to reflect on. There are many structured frameworks which can be used to scaffold reflection. Perhaps the best known are Gibb’s reflective cycle (Fig 1). This involves 6 stages, each with questions to encourage the learner to go beyond purely descriptive accounts, to incorporate reflective self-evaluation and also make plans to improve future performance.

Overview of Gibb’s Reflective Cycle

Over time, it is hoped that the use of such frameworks will progressively increase learners’ reflective capabilities. This may be enhanced by sharing, discussion and guidance from educators, particularly in the early stages of developing reflective skills. However, like the use of scaffolding in construction – eventually that structure and support may no longer be needed, after developing as an independent reflective practitioner.

Structure can be a double-edged sword though. Too much structure can reduce engagement (everything else being equal) and long ‘forms’ may be potentially intimidating or off-putting to some. Motivation is key. Aside from the obvious use of summative assessment (itself bringing challenges to ‘authentic’ reflection) – learners need to perceive value and purpose to developing reflective practice. Is reflective practice seen to be valued by the course – is it embedded in the module/programme and referred to by teachers and in course documentation?

In some contexts, particularly many vocational subjects, reflective practice is explicitly required by professional bodies, with clearly defined process which have reflective elements, such as annual appraisals and CPD. In other contexts, without this driver, there are challenges to avoid reflection remaining an ‘abstract’ concept, particularly if there are limited ‘practical’ activities to reflect on. Obviously, clarity of purpose is important. Reflective frameworks can be used (or adapted) for a range of purposes, such as reflecting on an assessment, perhaps before and after feedback, with actions to prepare for the next assignment.

Sharing and discussion of reflection is another dimension – in some contexts, reflection may be purely private, in other contexts sharing with a mentor may be mandatory. Where shared, fostering a ‘safe’ environment for sharing and discussing reflections is particularly important for younger students, whist many (but not all) mature students are more comfortable with this.

Reflective Templates in NU Reflect

NU Reflect https://reflect.ncl.ac.uk is developed and maintained by FMS-TEL, has pedagogic support from LTDS, with academic lead (Patrick Rosenkranz / Katie Wray) and governance via DEC. NU Reflect was launched in September 2021 following a strategic review of ePortfolio. The redesign and rebranding was intended to help promote its core purpose of supporting reflective practice and transferable skills after may years of prioritising developments to support Personal Tutoring. As part of the strategic review, a recurring theme in the staff consultation was the desire for a prospective system to support reflective frameworks. Gibbs reflective cycle was the most widely used framework, used in contexts across all 3 Faculties – though often with minor adaptions for specific courses.

As such reflective templates were developed in NU Reflect and are being piloted in Semester 2 this year, with a view to being made available University-wide for 2022/3. The pilots have three ‘global’ templates available:

  • Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle
  • Driscoll Model of Reflection
  • Four Fs of Active Reviewing

Also, staff can create new templates to meet their particular module or programme requirements.

Pilot of structured templates in NU Reflect

Structured templates are nothing new, and were common in paper-based portfolios. However, there are some key advantages to integrating them in NU Reflect. For example, the reflections can be linked to skill(s) or competency(s) (either the Graduate Framework or programme-level frameworks), which integrates them in the ‘My Skills’ section of the Website . Reflections can also be tagged with course-specified or personal categories. The tools support longitudinal use throughout the student journey, rather than been restricted to an episodic learning event or being compartmentalised in a particular module. As such a learner can accumulate reflections and achievements against skills/categories over time. They also provide choice in sharing (or not).

The pilots are ongoing, but feel free to get in touch if you want to try them out.

References

Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 17(2), 89–100. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x

Gibbs G (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.

A Vision for University Education

Summative and exploratory review of Paul Ashwin’s keynote address at NU Learning & Teaching Conference 2022.

The keynote at this year’s Learning and Teaching Conference at Newcastle University was Paul Ashwin, who is Professor of Higher Education at Lancaster University.

Paul Ashwin presenting at Newcastle University – photo by Eleanor Gordon

It was a good feeling being at a present-in-person conference and catching up with colleagues face-to-face for the first time since the start of the Pandemic. But would the keynote offer something inspiring and thought provoking? In my view – yes!

Paul Ashwin put forward the argument for an inclusive and transformative vision for H.E. vs. the status quo which is elitist and reproductive (of social inequalities). Current political drivers focus on the role of H.E. in developing employable students, but are predicated on a vision of H.E. which mistake social advantage with ability.

It would be hard to miss how much Newcastle University does to promote inclusivity, social justice, and contributing to the community (ok you can always do more!) – but there was still maybe some parts of Paul Ashwin’s keynote which made you reflect on what NU is as an institution and maybe a slight feeling of discomfort considering our position as an ‘advantaged’ Russel Group University. In particular, Paul talked about the ‘games’ H.E. play around Rankings and Generic Graduate Attributes. Paul’s research found that there was no relationship between educational quality and rankings. Few within in H.E. see the value of rankings and league tables, yet when we do well in them, ‘double-think’ (George Orwell) kicks in and we publicise them at every available opportunity! He didn’t mention what is probably the biggest ‘game’ of all in H.E. – the Research Excellence Framework! I guess, the issue is that regardless of whether you see and value in rankings, attributes, REF etc, as effective quality indicators – few H.E.I.s could afford not to play these ‘games’, given their impacts on student recruitment and funding.

Paul, gave a savaging critique of generic competencies – nearly all HEIs have adopted graduate attributes frameworks, but he argues these are often over-simplified and the focus on employability outcomes may distort how we measure quality in education. He spoke about creating a shopping list as an example of how almost any task can be shown to meet generic skills (time management, sustainability etc.). For me personally, that’s may be throwing out the baby with the bath water. True, if engaged with in a superficial manor, graduate attributes may have limited value. However, if meaningfully linked with the rich knowledge and capabilities developed at University (and other life-wide experiences), then they can have value; particularly as we need to build, recognise and continually develop transferable skills, in a world where our graduates will likely go on to have multiple careers.  

The overall vision Paul put forward was one of inclusivity and the role of H.E. being custodians of knowledge and the role of teaching in making knowledge accessible to all. Our course and assessment designs need to provide exciting engagement with a structured body of knowledge. The backdrop to all this (perhaps ‘taken as read’ by the speaker) is the politics / government policy, including the impact of student fees and marketisation – and the view of the student purely as a “customer”. There are those who question why fees are so high, given that subject information is freely available on the Internet (making no distinction between information and knowledge). Also, there is a narrow focus on measuring employability outcomes and graduate incomes. Paul’s critique of this vision is that it strongly reinforces the reproductive role of H.E. in perpetuating social privilege. He was arguing that as a sector we need to invest time in the collective redesign of education for the more inclusive vison of H.E. which supports transformative learning, accessible by all.

Paul Ashwin provided a thought-provoking keynote, which was very apt for the conference, this year titled as “Education for All: Learning Together”.