It’s finals week on campus and students are completing their culminating assignments for their coursework. For some students, this weekend will mark the end of their educational journeys. My institution holds its commencement ceremonies on Friday and Saturday, which will officially serve as a final celebration of their achievements as students and scholars. Some will continue on to further their studies in other programs and possibly other institutions. For others, this will mark the end of their formal classroom learning for their lives. It’s a rite of passage that deserves to be celebrated.

If you’re privileged to attend a commencement ceremony in the coming weeks (or months), I urge you to look beyond the long lists of names that appear in the program. I attended large, public universities for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. In one case, the list of names was almost a thousand graduates long. Seeing those names, it is easy to lose sight of individual students and the journeys they’ve taken to graduation. While we’re celebrating their achievements as a group, we also need to recognize that the individual paths may have been filled with hardships and challenges. And that’s what I want to write about today.

At this weekend’s commencements, three students with whom I’ve worked are graduating in their respective programs. Each of these students are unique in their experiences, but they all faced great challenges that they had to persevere. I’m not going to use their names to offer them anonymity and privacy but trust me that their journeys have been harrowing. In each case, their academic work took a back seat to the real-life challenges they were experiencing. They stepped away from their coursework. They missed assignments and deadlines. They went weeks (or months) without logging into their classes. They didn’t respond to emails I had sent. They essentially checked out.

The easy thing for a teacher to do in those instances is to fail the student. But the easy thing is rarely the right thing to do. With each of these students, patience and support was the better route. Maybe it helps that I myself have experienced loss or that I have family members who have been in therapy for mental health issues. It probably also helped that I’d worked with these students before and recognized their absence from work as being out of the ordinary. I knew these were exceptional individuals who, for some reason, were not able to focus on their academics. Each just needed some time and help. What they didn’t need is someone labeling them as failures.

I want to make sure you, the reader, recognize that I’m not patting myself on the back for the amazing resilience and success that these students displayed. They’re the ones who did the work. They’re the ones who navigated their great personal challenges and then regrouped and reconnected with their schoolwork. They’re the ones whose names will appear in the commencement programs this weekend.

Instead, this post is intended to serve as reminder that teaching fundamentally is relational work. As teachers, we work with human beings who are living lives that we know very little about. Sometimes, the human beings we work with need some humanity, empathy, and benevolence. These students did. And other students will, too.

As we celebrate the achievements of these graduates, let us recognize the importance of kindness, patience, and support in our students’ educational journeys. We must remember that students are not just names on a list, but human beings with unique experiences and challenges that can impact their academic performance. As teachers, we have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives by extending empathy and understanding, and giving them the support and patience they need to succeed.

Congratulations to all the graduates and best wishes for their future endeavors.


Being Stupid?

I’ve been swimming under a sea of papers to grade so I pulled this post from June 2021 to offer as a rerun. I’ll be back with some fresh musings next week!

As a parent, I have encouraged my children to avoid using several words when they’re at home. The list includes the big curse words, the adverb “actually,” and the word “stupid.” That last word might surprise some readers, but if you’ve ever taught in a K-12 setting, you probably understand it. For a lot of the adolescents with whom I worked, everything was “stupid.” Doing homework was “stupid.” Rules were “stupid.” Using vector math was “stupid.” After hearing “that’s stupid” so often in my classroom, I decided I’d do my best to regulate the use of the word at home when I became a parent. I won’t say that it’s been 100% effective, but I don’t hear the word used that frequently by my children. I’ll claim that as a minor success.

But recently, I began to rethink this lexical prohibition. As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I’m reading The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You About College Teaching by David Gooblar (2019) with some colleagues. The book is a great primer on the ins and outs of being an effective instructor in collegiate environments. In a chapter on emphasizing process in our classrooms, Gooblar encourages college instructors to “model stupidity.” The phrase is intended to serve as a guide when instructors don’t know the answer to a student’s question. Gooblar draws on a 2008 essay from the Journal of Cell Research which addresses the problem more directly. In the essay, the author, Martin Schwartz, writes:

The crucial lesson was that the scope of things I didn’t know wasn’t merely vast; it was, for all practical purposes, infinite. That realization, instead of being discouraging, was liberating. If our ignorance is infinite, the only possible course of action is to muddle through as best we can. (p. 1771)

That’s some pretty humbling and empowering stuff. Gooblar’s book includes another quote from Schwartz’s essay that honestly was the catalyst for this whole post and my reflection on my homegrown “stop the stupid” campaign. Schwartz writes:

“The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries.” (p. 1771)

As I’ve been rethinking my ban on the word “stupid,” I reflected on what Schwartz and Gooblar are really asking us to do as teachers. They’re not prompting teachers to “be stupid” or even “model stupidity” (despite Gooblar’s direct use of the phrase). They’re encouraging us to model intellectual humility and curiosity. I would argue that we shouldn’t just apply these practices when encountering difficult student questions, but more regularly with our teaching in general. Think about it. We will all have lessons that don’t work the way we planned. We’ll all have semesters where our student evaluations are lower than we had expected. We will all have assessments where the students will underperform. Modeling intellectual humility and curiosity means that we need to explore all of the possible reasons and solutions for those situations, including our own instructional decisions. Embracing this mindset goes beyond “being stupid.” It means being pedagogically humble. And the more we embrace humility and curiosity about our teaching, the more likely we are to make “big discoveries” about what we’re capable of becoming as teachers.

So, for now, the ban on the word “stupid” has been reaffirmed at the homestead. I’m sure I’ll revisit this decision again down the road. But that comes with the territory.


Gooblar, D. (2019). The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You About College Teaching. Harvard University Press.

Schwartz, M. A. (2008). The importance of stupidity in scientific research. Journal of Cell Science, 121(11), 1771-1771.

ChatGPT’s AI Cousins

The artificial intelligence (AI) conversation has been dominated by ChatGPT. After being released last fall, it has become the poster child for all things AI. Some of this attention is warranted. The ChatGPT interface makes it easy for the everyday user to provide a prompt and get immediate responses. The tool also stores every response so folks can go back to some response that was generated days or weeks ago. Factoring in the media attention the tool has received, it’s not really surprising that millions of people have signed up to use ChatGPT over the last six months. In fact, ChatGPT acquired 1 million users just 5 days after launching in November 2022. By comparison, it took Instagram approximately 2.5 months to reach 1 million downloads. Netflix had to wait around 3.5 years to reach 1 million users.

But ChatGPT isn’t the only game in town. There are other tools that educators should know about. Here are a few that I found interesting.

Elicit: Elicit labels itself as an “AI research assistant.” Designed primarily for students and researchers in academic settings, the tool allows users to ask targeted research questions. Based on the research questions, Elicit mines research databases and finds eight relevant research articles based on the question. Besides providing links to the articles, Elicit summarizes the articles and provides a critique of the methodology. Users can also filter for specific methodologies (randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, ethnographies, etc.) and can use filters and starring together to find papers that were cited in systematic reviews. Users can also save their starred results so they can review them later. People can also download a CSV or .bib file to import into reference managers like Zotero. Elicit is currently free to use, but I suspect it will eventually add a subscription tier.

Otter.ai: Otter.ai is a one stop location for all things transcription related. Attending a virtual meeting? Otter.ai can record and transcribe the meeting and summarize the important points. Interviewing someone? Otter.ai can take imported audio files and create a transcript of the discussion. It will also generate word clouds and summarize the discussion. Using an iOS or Android device? Otter is available on smartphone and web-based platforms. While different subscription tiers are available, Otter offers a free tier where users can get 300 monthly transcription minutes with no more than 30 minutes per conversation.

QuillBot: This one blows my mind. Technically it’s not AI-based, but if you’re worried about plagiarism in your classroom, you should know about this tool. QuillBot allows users to insert text and the tool will paraphrase or summarize the passage automatically. You can also have it translate passages or check for plagiarized sections. The free version allows up to 120 words in pasted text, but the pay version a lot more functionality and features. With the pay version, users can paste longer passages, control the voice and creativity of the paraphraser. There’s also Chrome and Word extensions available.

Bard: Bard is Google’s AI chat bot. It’s currently in beta and available by invitation only, but my initial experiments with the tool were impressive. While it functions similar to ChatGPT, the tools are a little different. They use different AI models and were “trained” differently. Bard is trained on a vast text and code dataset that includes the most recent news, research, and information. ChatGPT was trained on a text and code dataset collected up to 2021. This means that Bard is more likely to have up-to-date information and can provide more accurate answers to your inquiries.

Reflecting on ‘Audible Reckoning’

A couple of months ago, the Brookings Institute released an exhaustive study examining the false claims, misleading claims and unsubstantiated claims that are shared in political podcasts. The researcher, Valerie Wirtschafter, shared her rationale for this focus, writing:

Once written off as a dying medium, podcasting has undergone rapid growth and monetization, while largely avoiding content moderation and regulatory debates. Today, nearly 41% of Americans listen to podcasts monthly, and almost one in four Americans look to podcasts for their news. Globally, the medium is projected to reach an audience of 504.9 million by 2024, while ad revenue in the United States is expected to double between 2022 and 2024, jumping from $2 billion to $4 billion.

As an avid podcast listener (and working podcast host), I was honestly surprised by the listener data. 41% of Americans listen to podcasts monthly? That means a lot of the people you know are probably listening to some podcast regularly. But how trustworthy and accurate is the information being shared in those podcasts? To investigate this question, Wirstschafter collected over thousands of episodes of prominent political podcasts series in January 2022. After collecting transcripts for each of the episodes, Wirstschafter fact checked claims made in the podcasts by looking at PolitiFact, Snopes, and other reliable news sources. Reporting on the findings, Wirstschafter wrote:

“Drawing on data from 36,603 episodes produced by 79 prominent political podcasters, 17,061 evaluations, and 184 key terms and phrases, this research documented the spread of unsubstantiated or false claims across the political podcasting ecosystem. The analysis found that:

  • One out of every 20 episodes (1,863 episodes) in the dataset shared at least one unsubstantiated or false claim. 
  • More than 70% of all the podcasters (56 series) in the sample shared at least one unsubstantiated or false claim; 15% (12 series) shared 50 or more such claims.”

Before anyone starts pointing their fingers at their strange Aunt Betty and the outrageous beliefs she shared at a holiday dinner, it is important to note that the spread of misinformation and unsubstantiated claims is happening across the political spectrum. It’s happening in popular conservative and liberal podcasts alike. The data, however, showed that it happens more frequently on one end of the political divide than the other, but I’ll let folks read and interpret that stuff on their own. Instead, I’d like to focus on what this means for educators and teacher educators. Before I do that, let me take a slight detour.

In a recent episode of Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell interviewed Michael Specter, the author of the upcoming book Higher Animals: Vaccines, Synthetic Biology, and the Future of Life. In the episode, Specter discussed the potential smallpox outbreak that happened in 1947 in New York City. After discovering that a person infected with smallpox had recently traveled on public transportation, city officials lodged a massive campaign to vaccinate millions of people before the disease could spread out of control. In the end, only two people passed away from smallpox, averting a city-wide epidemic. Specter credits the health campaign’s success with the fact that New Yorkers in 1947 didn’t have “to deal with the type of misinformation that has now become so familiar.”

The challenge is clear. We’re being bombarded by false claims, unsubstantiated claims, and misinformation daily. While the Brookings Institute focused on podcasts, I’m confident that misinformation is being spread on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, or wherever else that our students (and Aunt Betty) get their media. We need to better prepare our students (and ourselves) for navigating the misinformation onslaught they’re experiencing, regardless of the media platform they’re using or the political .

I don’t necessarily have the solution, but I know that teachers need to play a role. We need to model critical thinking and offer opportunities for our students to evaluate claims and examine evidence. While science classrooms seem like a logical place for this to happen, it needs to happen in other classrooms, too. We need to figure this out. The fate of humanity may depend on it.

Healthy Dissent

I received a number of emails and comments from last week’s post on successful collaborations. I guess the concept of providing space for other contributors to share their ideas resonated with readers. I got some great feedback from Vicky Morgan, who is the Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, Nebraska. Vicky and I have worked together a bunch of times over the last decade, and she emailed to say:

I wanted to comment on the issue of being able to disagree in order to move ahead. A colleague of mine at Illinois State and I started to use the phrase ‘healthy dissent’ to describe that. It worked pretty well, especially in more difficult groups.

Vicky captures the most salient point of last week’s post. We need to provide space for our colleagues and their ideas, but we also have to do it in a way to that’s healthy for the group. In my post, I drew on the old adage about being able to disagree without being disagreeable, but I like Vicky’s term better. Healthy dissent.

One of the collaborative projects I didn’t include in last week’s post is my ongoing podcasting project with Scott McDonald from Penn State University. It’s not that I didn’t view this as a successful collaboration or anything. Scott and I have been recording Science in Between for almost three years now, so it’s not really a new collaboration or anything. I also think the longevity of the project also provides strong evidence that the collaboration is successful. I also know that our collaboration is a place where “healthy dissent” can occur, which was on display in an episode we recently recorded.

Scott and I were discussing dispositions in teacher preparation programs. I won’t bore you with the details of the discussion, but Scott and I didn’t agree on much in that conversation. And while we both passionately believed in our own perspectives and communicated our points of view with vigor, I don’t believe we ever entered a point where I would qualify our discussion as “unhealthy dissent.” Sure, we disagreed, but in the end, we’re still colleagues and friends.

At the end of our discussion, we joked about whether we’d ever record episode 138. While we titled episode 137 as “Dispositional Throwdown,” I’m certain there are many more Science in Between episodes to come.

If you’re curious, you’ll be able to download episode 137 on April 20th wherever you listen to podcasts.