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Dean blog: Understanding AI, the bigger picture, and ourselves

What does it take to make a learning community thrive? A sense of curiosity? Truly valuing diverse perspectives? A spirit of innovation and constant improvement. Its vibrancy and an ability to effectively collaborate? Yes to all of these things.  

The Stearns Learning Center at George Mason University creates many opportunities for our vibrant learning community to come together. This week, at the 15th annual Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference events, more than 200 of our Mason community will come together to discuss teaching in an AI world among many other topics (they are offering more than 25 in-person sessions).

I encourage our community to attend and for those who do, to bring back ideas and takeaways. Learn from each other. Come up with new ways to collaborate, engage, challenge each other, and grow. Perhaps share your thoughts at the weekly Mason Science open to all Friday afternoon coffee on the second floor of Exploratory Hall. Or at the next faculty non-agenda meeting on October 24 from noon to 1:30 p.m. or the next Mason Science Community of Scientists lunch (check the faculty teams chat or recent meeting minutes for details). Or even the all-staff meeting on October 5 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. (for classified staff and non-student wage workers). Vibrant learning communities discuss new ideas and spur creative learning and there are many opportunities to come together and connect.

Our college motto Understand. Innovate. Succeed. starts with a word that most people don't expect. Innovation has been a buzz word for years and it's one of Mason's defining traits responsible for our rise. Success is something we strive for, self-explanatory. But Understand… Why pick that word? Some may say ‘understanding’ is a critical foundation for scientific thinking and collaboration. 

Stephen Covey, a well-known author and speaker, when referencing his ‘Seven habits of highly effective people' actually encourages folks to first understand others' points of view or a situation at large before pushing to make themselves understood. Listening and asking question first to better understand before sharing what you think should be done or changed is a necessary component of the Compassionate Conversations we are working to bring into practice. 

In our case, 'Understand' could also mean understanding a scientific discipline, theory or learning opportunity. We work to help our students 'Understand' how to perform research, policies in a given domain, or ways to solve problems. Let's take AI for example. Rather than rush to judgement, let's share concerns and opportunities in a forum like ITL or in a multidisciplinary faculty conversation and better understand its opportunities and challenges.  

When we create and foster a learning environment that gives people the ability to understand not just their field, not just these topics that we teach them in class, but also, themselves, while also including other points of view that might be counter to their own, (along with the impacts of their actions, ideas, and decisions), that's when thriving can occur.

As educators, it's up to us to create vibrant communities where such understanding can take place. This doesn't happen overnight. We rely on our hard work, dedication, creativity, flexibility, and willingness to go beyond what we each know, putting ourselves out there to try something different. To be or do something better. That is how we best understand ourselves and create space for understanding  others.