Combining his background in instructional design with an understanding of diversity and inclusion, Universal Design for Learning, and artificial intelligence, Jacques Safari Mwayaona G’22 is making a name for himself in the field of educational development.
A Faculty Development Fellow in Syracuse University’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) and a graduate of the School of Education’s master’s degree program in Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation, recently Mwayaona received double recognition from The Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, or POD Network. He also presented two sessions on student-faculty partnerships at the November 2023 POD Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.
Mwayaona’s first award is the Donald H. Wulff Diversity Fellowship, named for a former POD Network president and awarded to educational development professionals for “their accomplishments to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work” and for promoting the integration of DEI into teaching strategies.
Mwayaona humbly suggested his second award—a Graduate Student, Professional Student, and Postdoctoral Scholar Development (GPPD) Career Development Grant, with similar membership and stipend benefits as the fellowship—be offered to someone else. The committee suggested a compromise. Mwayaona would keep his award, but the benefits could go to another: “Keeping me on the award list allows me to mentor new GPPD awardees for years to come.”
The POD Network awards committees had noticed and rewarded Mwayaona’s work with CTLE that is helping students become active participants in their learning process, an initiative known as Students Consulting on Teaching.
“My work is about building faculty-student partnerships that empower students to share their perspectives,” Mwayaona explains. “Normally, a professor has all the power when producing knowledge, but when students have a say, they can participate in the knowledge creation process by actively sharing with the faculty what is helping them learn and what is not.” For instance, Mwayaona says, students may suggest new strategies that motivate them to learn that the faculty can try out.
Moreover, empowering students and establishing a power-sharing dynamic in the classroom is an equitable practice that increases diversity and inclusion because it allows every student the opportunity to share their perspectives and be heard, “making it easier for faculty to include everyone and make the classroom cultural responsive,” Mwayaona says.
Harnessing the Power
Mwayaona observes that his master’s degree in instructional design was a strong launching pad for his burgeoning career in educational development: “It helped me learn how to integrate technology to improve learning effectively.”
“My work is about building faculty-student partnerships that empower students to share their perspectives.”
The latest technology that is changing the educational landscape is artificial intelligence (AI), which Mwayaona and his CTLE colleagues are introducing to faculty through workshops, dialogue, and collaborative projects: “We are helping faculty embrace AI, harnessing the power of the tool but at the same time not putting the learning process in danger.”
Understanding AI is its own learning process for instructors, observes Mwayaona, who recently earned a Certificate in Designing and Building AI from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“As AI was being introduced, people were afraid of it, mostly because they didn’t understand it and because media coverage fueled fear,” Mwayaona says. “Now some professors are integrating AI fully into their classrooms, but others are still cautious about the harm it can do. They really want to understand how it works. If we continue to have these interdisciplinary conversations on AI across campus, I think it will help to lower anxiety.”
Mwayaona says there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to integrating AI: “Its use depends on the subject you are teaching or the domain you are in. Literature professors won’t use AI the same way as those in architecture.”
“Our suggestion to faculty is to focus on and adapt the learning objectives and students’ learning process rather than the final results.,” Mwayaona continues, adding that one way AI is disrupting college learning is through its ability to produce quick results from a short prompt.
In other words, AI is getting better at producing a final result.
Instead, Mwayaona suggests, AI could be embraced as a starting point of inquiry: “Say you are writing a paper on the French Revolution—multiple authors and texts can be summarized by AI so that the student can then go on to generate their own ideas.”
AI Is Not Magic
Turning to another of his professional interests, Mwayaona says one benefit of AI is its potential to promote Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
UDL takes into account multiple ways people learn, engage, and express themselves. “It can be difficult for instructors to account for all students,” says Mwayaona. “If you really want learning to get better, it should be adapted to the needs of each student. AI can help build that adaptive content.”
“We still need controls on what AI produces, as well as people to check it, on top of other opportunities AI brings.”
At the same time, Mwayaona urges caution: “AI is not magic. We must build guardrails so it does not harm the student.”
One of AI’s notable flaws is bias, which has been described as AI’s “diversity crisis” or even “algorithmic oppression.” “AI brings a lot of bias along with it because of the way it consumes available training data ,” says Mwayaona. “We know that data contains a lot of bias, and when AI learns from a biased dataset, it can include it in its algorithm.”
Because AI can throw out unexpected—even patently false—results, its work and the data it relies on must be well-curated: “So when people ask me if AI is replacing jobs, one answer is to say that we still need controls on what AI produces, as well as people to check it, on top of other opportunities AI brings.”
Learn more about the School of Education’s master’s degree and certificate in Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation, or contact Professor Moon-Heum Cho at email@example.com or 315.443.5259.