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Conversation #116: ChatGPT interviews Mark Gstohl

A conversation between ChatGPT and Mark Gstohl on teaching, learning, and artificial intelligence.

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot developed by OpenAI. It's been in the news a lot since its launch in late 2022.

Dr. Mark Gstohl is CAT+FD's Associate Director for Programming. He's also an associate professor in the Theology Department who has taught at Xavier since 2000.

Links for this episode:


Bart Everson: You may remember way back in episode #114, I interviewed ChatGPT, and we had quite an interesting conversation. We thought we'd turn the tables now and have ChatGPT ask the questions. So, without further ado, here's an interview between ChatGPT and our own Associate Director, Dr. Mark Gstohl.

ChatGPT: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of "Teaching, Learning, and Everything Else." Today, we have the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Mark Gstohl, an associate professor in the Theology Department at Xavier University of Louisiana. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Gstohl. Could you please tell us a bit about your teaching background and some of the unique initiatives you've been involved in during your career?

Mark Gstohl: First of all, let me say that your outfit is stunning. Too bad we're on a podcast, and our listeners can't see it. I've been teaching at Xavier for 23 years. I've taught in the theology department throughout this time, as well as classes for the core curriculum in quite a few freshman seminar classes. Throughout my career, I've tried to help my students understand how they can fulfill the mission of Xavier, which is to create a more just and humane society. I've done this in a variety of ways. Service learning has always been a passion of mine. And as a result of this, I've taught quite a few courses in which students got to work with community leaders and have made our community and world a better place. Because of this work, I became the Faculty-in-Residence for Service Learning at Xavier's Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development, and served in that position from 2010 to 2013. Probably my favorite experience with my students was during service learning activities in which we created Little Free Libraries and placed them throughout the city. If you're not familiar with Little Free Libraries, they're these small boxes that are placed usually at somebody's residence, or a public place, that contain books. And that way, those who live around the Little Free Library can have access to free books. Another experience that I really enjoyed, which was service-learning-related, was when I partnered with Jackie Inglefield, a local artist. And we received a fellowship from an entity in New Orleans called A Studio in the Woods. And our project involved creating a large art piece that incorporated art that represented animals native to Louisiana. And this art piece was composed of recycled plastic. My students then created posters explaining how the various world religions approach the ecological world and their connection to the world. We presented this research and project at the Fall Festival of A Studio in the Woods. And it was quite successful. Because of my work with service learning, and this work with a local artist, I was awarded the Top 100 Leaders in Education by the Global Forum for Education and Learning in 2021, in recognition of my contribution to the field of education, and then recently, I've become the Associate Director for Programming at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development. So that's a brief summary of my teaching experience.

ChatGPT: Thank you, Dr. Gstohl, for sharing your inspiring journey in education and service-learning. Your dedication to creating a more just and humane society through your teaching is truly commendable. The Little Free Libraries and the art project with Jackie Inglefield sound fascinating and impactful.

Could you elaborate more on the role of service-learning in your courses and how it has enriched the educational experience for your students? Additionally, how has your work as the Faculty-in-Residence for Service Learning and your partnership with the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development contributed to fostering a culture of service and community engagement at Xavier University?

Please take your time to share your insights, and we're eager to learn more about your experiences.

MG: One of the challenges that faculty are faced when doing service learning is to focus on the service aspect, and not emphasize or focus on the learning aspect. What I tried to do was to tie the activities into a learning objective. And that way, I became much more effective in encouraging students to actually learn from the experience. There are so many advantages to service learning, it's really hard to narrow it down. One of the greatest aspects is that students get to know each other better and spend time outside the classroom with me and each other. And that is very rewarding for me. And I think it's fun for them to be engaged in an activity where they have to problem-solve and work together and struggle together. And then they feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the semester. I always, as a part of my learning process, require students to reflect on the activity with a brief essay at the end of the semester. In terms of my role as a Faculty-in-Residence for Service Learning, I was able to help faculty understand how to do service learning well, and again, focus on the learning aspect rather than simply on the service aspect. I led several workshops in order to accomplish that goal. But I was also responsible for reading their syllabi and approving their service learning projects, when faculty were beginning to engage in a service learning project in their courses. This was a great opportunity for me to learn from the faculty and also provide some input on how they might make the service learning activities really align with their course goals and objective. I think that engaging in service learning really is its own best advertisement, if you will. I think sharing with faculty what was being done by other faculty members in their courses really helped to promote service learning. And it's a fun, exciting, but difficult process, but I found it most rewarding.

ChatGPT: Your approach to service-learning, focusing on the learning aspect and tying activities to specific objectives, is commendable. It's evident that your dedication to service and community engagement has had a positive impact on your students. As you continue to serve as the Associate Director for Programming at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development, could you share some of the innovative programming and initiatives you're currently working on? How do you envision these efforts further contributing to the growth of impactful teaching practices and fostering a culture of continuous learning at Xavier University?

MG: Well, the great thing about working at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development is that this is a collaborative effort. So we might have a good idea. But my awesome colleagues are always willing to jump in and tweak or highlight an idea that we come up with. So it's really difficult for me to take credit or talk about certain initiatives that I've started. However, I do have two that I did come up with. And I think they're going to be really fun this coming semester. One is that I've decided that we need to have a space in CAT for faculty to come and sit down and talk with the staff at the Center, and in a relaxed atmosphere. So we've set up a coffee station and a tea station. And we're still working on the logistics about how we're going to schedule that. But I'm really excited about it. And I want everybody to keep an eye out for this because I think it's going to be really fun. The second thing that I've talked about for the fall with my colleagues was what we're going to call Throwback Thursday. We have some excellent resources on our wiki and on our blog, and on our website that I just don't believe faculty are taking complete advantage of, so I want to kind of highlight that this semester. And so what I'm doing is I will have a Thursday evening 100% online workshop in which we will review a previous workshop from last semester or the semester before. And that way, if a faculty member has missed a workshop, they can enjoy looking at it from a fresh perspective. And I'll be commenting on it. And you never know we might actually have something that we come up with in the Thursday Throwback time that we can add to the wiki. So I'm looking forward to that. And so I want everybody to keep their eyes open for the CAT calendar for these events.

ChatGPT: Thank you, Dr. Gstohl, for sharing those exciting initiatives you're working on at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development. The collaborative nature of your work and the supportive environment you've described are truly valuable for fostering innovation and continuous improvement in teaching practices.

The idea of having a relaxed space with a coffee and tea station at CAT sounds wonderful and inviting. Could you elaborate on how you envision this space benefiting faculty members? How do you think this casual setting will enhance communication and collaboration between faculty and the staff at the Center, and what are your expectations for this initiative in terms of building a strong sense of community among the faculty at Xavier University?

MG: So our theme this year at CAT is reengagement. I think after the COVID issues and other events and issues that we faced in the recent past, have shown us that we need to reconnect with our faculty, ourselves, and also with students. I think this initiative will provide an opportunity for faculty to do that, to take advantage of a space that's safe, nonjudgmental, and confidential. I'm not really sure what the conversations will be like, but my hope is that this initiative makes faculty more aware that we at CAT are willing to help outside of our regular workshops, and that we care about their struggles and their successes and also want to hear from them. I know this is an ambitious goal, but I think it would be great if this eventually led to a regular coffee meeting among faculty, just so that they can get together and share their complaints and also their struggles and also their successes, so that we can help each other be better at serving our students." Please generate another question to keep the conversation going, perhaps in a slightly different or unexpected direction.

ChatGPT: Thank you for sharing the theme of reengagement at CAT, Dr. Gstohl. It's evident that fostering a sense of community and support is a key focus for the Center, especially in light of the challenges faced in recent times.

Building on the idea of creating a safe and supportive space for faculty to connect, I'm curious about your thoughts on interdisciplinary collaboration. As a theology professor with a passion for service-learning, you've experienced the value of interdisciplinary approaches. How do you see initiatives like the coffee and tea station encouraging faculty from different departments to come together and collaborate? Can you envision opportunities for interdisciplinary projects or discussions arising from these casual gatherings, and how might this enrich the educational experience for both faculty and students at Xavier University?

Additionally, you mentioned the importance of hearing from faculty and understanding their struggles and successes. In the spirit of open communication, how do you envision implementing feedback mechanisms or platforms where faculty can share their thoughts and ideas with CAT beyond the coffee and tea station? How might this feedback loop further strengthen the partnership between faculty and CAT in shaping meaningful and impactful programming for the university community?

MG: Wow, those are quite a few questions. Thanks for sharing these with me. And I'll try to answer them all, if I can. So the first one is how do I see initiatives like the coffee and tea station, encouraging faculty to come together and collaborate. I think having an open place, semi private place, but a welcoming place to gather and drink some coffee and tea and sit down with a cat staff member, or even having the ability to run into another faculty member who's doing the same thing, taking advantage of the spot, the location, anytime we get together, I think there's an opportunity for us to collaborate or think about some things that we can work together on. Obviously, if you have faculty from different disciplines, and they talk about similar things in a casual context, I think there'll be they'll be more open to working together as we get to know each other better. I teach two courses that are interdisciplinary courses. And it's because I knew these faculty well that I teach these courses with, I knew that I would get along with them. And I knew they were great teachers. And I thought I would make great partners that comes from having conversations. This has been a really exciting course of events for me, because I enjoy those courses immensely. The next major question was about feedback and mechanisms or platforms where faculty can share their thoughts or ideas. Beyond this, coffee and tea station, we have other opportunities. For example, we with every workshop, we create, we ask participants to fill out an evaluation form. And they're encouraged through that to offer us critiques or to offer us other ideas for workshops they might want to take. And that's been a very fruitful exercise for us. Also, as the Associate Director of programming. At the end of the academic year, I send out emails to some of the chairs or department heads, faculty leaders, and I asked, ask them what they might need, what we might need to do in order to create workshops for needs that they've seen that have been had a rhythm throughout the academic year, and what their faculty might need. And then in the summer, we plan our calendar for the next year and we base it on this feedback. So we do have a feedback loop from the faculty in a couple of ways, and we're also faculty members ourselves. Dr. Hammer is a faculty member and I'm a faculty member and we interact with faculty and other ways and other committees. And so I know that the faculty is open to reaching out to us and asking for advice and they do so quite often.

ChatGPT: It's clear that you and the faculty at Xavier University are dedicated to education and fostering a supportive community. Now, for a light-hearted question: If you could have any superpower to aid you in your work at CAT, what would it be and why? How do you think this superpower might enhance your role as the Associate Director for Programming and your interactions with faculty and staff?

MG: Wow, that is an interesting question. At first, I think it would be cool to be able to fly everywhere. I'm not sure that that would help my help me in my job as Associate Director. But maybe, I don't know, if a superpower like persuasion, like Jedis, you know, they, they influence persons to do what they want them to do. And I think I could, I would love to use that and persuade more faculty members to attend our workshops and events, because there was a workshop we did a couple of weeks ago, and 90% of the faculty would have benefited by attending and doing, you know, there were a couple of ideas that other faculty shared about how they help create more interactive teaching, and make their teaching better. And all three had great ideas. And I think being able to persuade faculty to come to all of our events because they are so valuable, I think would help me out a lot. But that's a big responsibility. So I'm kind of glad I don't have it. Thanks for the interview. Take care.

ChatGPT: That sounds like a fantastic superpower, Dr. Gstohl, and a creative choice! Your enthusiasm for encouraging faculty engagement shines through. I'm sure your passion and dedication alone work wonders in getting people excited about the workshops and events you offer.

Thank you for this insightful conversation. It's been a pleasure discussing your work, initiatives, and even some superpower fantasies. Take care, and all the best with your endeavors at Xavier University!

About Bart Everson

Creative Generalist in the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development at Xavier University of Louisiana

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