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PAUSE for Pedagogy
Reflective Insights, Ethics, & Critical Thinking: A ChatGPT Experiment in Leadership Education

By Dan Jenkins, Lauren Cornelio, and Tracey Jowett



Every other summer since 2015, I (Jenkins) have taught a seven-week graduate elective titled “LOS 651 Technology in Society” for Master of Leadership Studies students. The course explores the social implications, values, and policy decisions surrounding technological change. Students analyze arguments about how technology affects our lives and leadership. Learning activities include studying Society and Technological Change (Volti, 2017) and examining technological impacts on leadership and humanity. Major activities involve knowledge acquisition, guided reflections, and a learning project. From 2015-2021, 50% of the final grade was based on the “New Technology – Learn and Share Project,” where students selected a technology, documented their learning journey, and created a final video. 

In 2023, I changed the learning project to focus on ChatGPT and titled it “Navigating Artificial Intelligence in Leadership & Organizations.” Students were directed to learn and apply ChatGPT, exploring its potential disruption. The activity had three steps: (a) Learn and apply ChatGPT to specific contexts, enhancing proficiency; (b) Maintain a reflective journal on the learning journey; and (c) Write a Harvard Business Review-style article summarizing ChatGPT’s application in their context. Students explored topics from virtual reality to dental hygiene, sharing insights on teaching others about the technology. Two graduate students, Lauren Cornelio and Tracey Jowett, co-authored this PAUSE for Pedagogy, contributing insights on pedagogical approaches in the primary learning project. 

Learning Outcomes and Connected Pedagogical Approaches

The learning outcomes for the semester-long “Navigating Artificial Intelligence in Leadership & Organizations” learning project are listed below. 

Students who complete this assignment will: 

  1.  Apply ChatGPT in their specific contexts by performing practical tasks and demonstrating its utility in their industries or career aspirations.
  2.  Engage in reflective practices, documenting their learning journey and addressing encountered challenges while using ChatGPT, fostering self-awareness and critical thinking.
  3.  Enhance their communication and writing skills through the composition of a Harvard Business Review-style article summarizing their ChatGPT applications, conveying complex technological concepts effectively.
  4.  Analyze and evaluate the potential impact and benefits of ChatGPT applications in various fields, fostering critical thinking and practical problem-solving.
  5.  Develop strategies for teaching and sharing knowledge about ChatGPT, considering diverse audiences and the significance of knowledge dissemination in their chosen contexts.

To meet and undergo assessment for these learning outcomes, students engaged in a variety of mini-activities that incorporated various pedagogical approaches and culminated with reflection to encourage meaning-making. The learning activities were intentionally scaffolded (Renninger & List, 2012) across the semester, beginning with introductory activities adapted from Bischoff (2023) and building up to more complex and relevant applications of ChatGPT. (Also, check out Bischoff’s guest appearance on the Leadership Educator Podcast, “Mapping Out Your Leadership Education Courses With Innovative Teaching Strategies,” hosted by myself (Dan Jenkins) and Lauren Bullock, where we discuss this in depth.) For example, in the first week of the class students were asked to prompt the chatbot with the following:  

  1.  "Please write a 3-paragraph essay on an important topic related to leadership, society, and technological change." (Please stick to this wording. You are priming the system.) Hit enter.
  2.  Read over what the system generates. Ask yourself the following questions:
    1.  What did ChatGPT leave out?
    2.  What can you push at to make the output better?
    3.  Can you find an error in ChatGPT’s logic?
  3.  Write a response to ChatGPT using one of the following openings:
    1.  "Thank you. But what do you think about…?"
    2.  "Thank you. Please try writing this again, but make this change…"
    3.  "I disagree. Here’s why…"
  4.  See what ChatGPT produces.
  5.  Keep performing steps 3-4 until you feel good about the output.
    1.  This should take a bare minimum of 3 tries. Once you feel comfortable with the chatbot’s output, save it as a PDF and post it to our discussion board.

The following quotes from Tracey and Lauren provide insights from the student experience and are coupled with brief descriptions of pedagogical approaches employed in learning activities scaffolded across the course.

The bridge from learning about AI to applying it on real projects and activities significantly helped to demystify the process. It was interesting to harness the value of ChatGPT with interactive use, particularly as an editing or brainstorming tool. Using a didactic teaching approach with a more hands-on laboratory-type experience was engaging and empowering for students. -Tracey

As described in the introductory activity above, students were provided with several mini-exercises designed to develop their capacity to use ChatGPT and apply it not only to their work in our course but also in their own contexts.

By engaging students through the modeled application of ChatGPT on various projects, we were able to gain an understanding of the functionality of ChatGPT, highlighting its capabilities as well as its potential. -Tracey

Throughout the course, I (Jenkins) never asked students to do something I hadn’t tried. For example, I shared some ways I had used ChatGPT in my work both as a faculty member (e.g., developing grading rubrics) and from my consulting practice (e.g., summarizing open-ended survey data).

Reflection allowed for growth through peer sharing and was immensely beneficial, facilitating a comprehensive understanding of the concepts of ChatGPT, its value, and ethical implications from various perspectives. -Tracey

Throughout this learning activity, students were asked to provide peer feedback (Liu & Carless, 2006) by responding to their classmates’ discussion board posts at each stage of the learning process. For example, students were asked to share additional ideas for how their classmates could utilize ChatGPT based on some of their own experiences and experimentation. Additionally, students found it particularly helpful when the discussion prompt asked them to share how they might dissent from what their classmates posted regarding ethical dilemmas run through the chatbot as well as solicited advice.

In an asynchronous online course, it can be challenging to foster connections between students, but the use of weekly discussion boards provided us with a platform to create dialogue and learn from one another. Having the expectation that discussion posts and responses must be a certain length and must include relevant sources made the content rich and worth the effort. Oftentimes discussion boards can facilitate groupthink, but I did not find that to be true in this course, especially with everyone focusing on their own individual context. -Lauren

LOS 651 was an asynchronous online course and many of the learning activities were facilitated through the discussion board feature in our university’s LMS. These included prompts for various ChatGPT activities as well as writing and reflection activities paired with TED talks, podcast episodes, and related articles, in addition to relevant course material. Despite being asynchronous, students found this approach to be engaging.

The module reflections facilitated application to real life by encouraging the transfer of knowledge from the (digital) classroom to real, practical applications of the knowledge. By providing brief prompts to guide the reflections, we were encouraged to think critically about how the concepts learned throughout the course related to our own lives and the world at large. For example, my experience with technology is vastly different from someone from a third-world country, and one of my reflections explained how the course materials changed my perspective on implementing these technologies to help poor nations because I learned it could actually hurt them. -Lauren

Reflection was a central tenet of each learning activity. Students engaged in reflective practices, documenting their learning journeys, highlighting enjoyable aspects, and addressing challenges encountered while acquiring knowledge about ChatGPT.

Having had the opportunity to try the use of ChatGPT in generating and organizing information as part of my field experience project involving dental hygiene licensure, it was quick to output relevant concepts. Though the concepts were vague, requiring professional review and refinement, it was surprising to recognize ChatGPT’s understanding of the specific process despite the vague nature of the text. -Tracey

In one learning activity, students were asked to review articles that featured examples of ChatGPT replacing workers and create a 350-500-word blog post that integrated course material and included at least five well-defined arguments supporting the need for human involvement in specific jobs. Students were also encouraged to engage ChatGPT for counterarguments and to integrate this in their posts. Finally, in responses to peers, they were asked to discuss new ideas, suggest omitted arguments, and provide counter-rebuttals to ChatGPT's responses. Students shared that they continue to use this method to make their academic papers stronger and that the approach has strengthened their writing as well.

Final Steps

As mentioned in the opening section, the final step of the “Navigating Artificial Intelligence in Leadership & Organizations” learning project was to develop a Harvard Business Review-style article summarizing ChatGPT’s application in their chosen context, and its usefulness for specific groups or organizations. In doing so, they were asked to:

(a) Have fun and do not overthink the project.

(b) Use ChatGPT. Seriously. Specifically, once you've completed an outline, ask ChatGPT to literally take that info and write you a Harvard Business Review-style article based on your topic and then edit it to your liking.

(c) Make sure that at least 50% of their content is original and, in doing so, highlight any text in their article that was generated by ChatGPT. Lauren shared that this approach has helped her with other writing projects both in her graduate program and in her job. Here is an excerpt from her final paper. The bolded parts were written by ChatGPT.

On another note, certain AI-powered predictive analytics facilitate demand forecasting and inventory optimization, which allows businesses to provide consumers with the right amount of supply to fit the demand. Furthermore, products can be delivered using AI, such as by using autonomous vehicles and drones equipped with AI algorithms to streamline transportation and delivery processes, with the bonus of reducing costs and enhancing efficiency. Real-time tracking and monitoring systems provide visibility across the supply chain, minimizing delays and improving overall logistics performance.

Implications for Future Practice & Lessons Learned

Using ChatGPT, students enhanced their leadership capacities by gaining a comprehensive understanding of ChatGPT's functionality and potential, emphasizing critical thinking and communication skills crucial for effective leadership. The incorporation of reflective practices enabled students to apply knowledge to real-life scenarios, fostering a deeper awareness of the ethical implications and societal impact of technology, and enhancing their capacity for ethical leadership in an evolving world. Specifically, students were empowered to improve their capacity in the following areas:

  • Applied Use of ChatGPT: Students gained practical experience in using ChatGPT and applying it to their specific contexts, such as industries or career aspirations. This involved hands-on activities to enhance proficiency in utilizing ChatGPT for various purposes.
  • Reflective Learning: Through the maintenance of a learning journal, students engaged in reflective practices. They documented their learning journey, highlighting enjoyable aspects and addressing challenges encountered while acquiring knowledge about this new technology.
  • Communication and Writing Skills: The assignment aimed to improve students' communication and writing skills. By requiring them to write a Harvard Business Review-style article, students summarized ChatGPT’s applications in their chosen contexts. This exercise honed their ability to convey complex technological concepts effectively.
  • Critical Thinking and Application: Students demonstrated critical thinking by exploring the usefulness of ChatGPT for specific groups or organizations within their chosen contexts. This involved analyzing the potential impact and benefits of ChatGPT applications in various fields, such as VR in learning and education, dental hygiene, college admissions, hospital patient experience, rural poverty, and international trade.
  • Teaching and Knowledge Sharing: The assignment encouraged students to share their insights and knowledge about ChatGPT with others. This included considerations on how to teach and introduce this technology to different audiences, fostering an understanding of the importance of knowledge dissemination.

Some of our lessons learned include the following:

  1.  The sky's the limit with learning potential for AI. Like the tool itself, using AI as a human requires generative learning, trial and error, and developing comfort with the interface. However, there’s no doubt it can cause a bit of the “creeps,” or what is sometimes referred to as the “uncanny valley phenomenon” (Wang et al., 2015) applied in this case to a chatbot versus a robot.
  2.  Leadership education should prioritize AI's safe, ethical use, as emphasized by Crawford et al. (2023). (Also, check out Crawford’s guest appearance on the Leadership Educator Podcast, “Ethical Uses of ChatGPT in Leadership Classes and Programs,” hosted by myself (Dan Jenkins) and Lauren Bullock, where we discuss this in depth.) Guided exploration of ChatGPT lowered barriers for students, highlighting AI's value when used thoughtfully. Promoting public awareness of AI's existence and ethical application is essential. One student noted that learning about AI's rapid future growth was both astonishing and concerning, raising ethical awareness through TED Talks, articles, and podcasts.
  3.  Specific resources, such as books on artificial intelligence, could have been supplemented to guide students through the project. Tracey shared that she was not knowledgeable about artificial intelligence and ChatGPT before taking this course, and, since we did not meet in person to have rich discussions on the course material, additional resources would have helped her understand the project better.
  4.  Garbage in, garbage out.
    As described by Lauren:

    Through our “Navigating AI in Leaderships & Organizations” semester-long project, students were instructed to utilize ChatGPT and apply it to a specific context relevant to us, which was incredibly interesting with a class full of people from a wide range of educational backgrounds. It taught us that this is a tool that needs human judgment to be effective, as it can only work with the information you input into it. Therefore, being able to understand its strengths and weaknesses by applying it to something tangible in our lives was incredibly helpful. For example, when we created five well-defined arguments that the job in our chosen context required a human. Then, we asked ChatGPT to rebut each of these arguments. Understanding that ChatGPT can configure arguments for each side, we learn that we need to use human judgments to make informed decisions about what ChatGPT outputs.
  5.  Leadership education is somewhat insulated from cheating with AI because of the emphasis on reflection-based activities.

In conclusion, our experience using ChatGPT in a graduate course on society and technological change empowered students in several key areas, enhancing their practical skills and fostering reflective learning, communication, and critical thinking. It is evident that AI offers vast learning potential, requiring generative learning and comfort with the interface. However, promoting its safe and ethical use is paramount. While additional resources on artificial intelligence could have further enriched the learning experience, our endeavor highlighted the need for human judgment when working with AI tools. Leadership education, with its emphasis on reflection-based activities, provides a valuable avenue for learning and exploring AI's impact on society and technological change. 


Bischoff, L. (2023, May 9). Integrating artificial intelligence [Symposium session]. 2023 University of Southern Maine Teaching & Learning Symposium, Portland, ME, United States.

Crawford, J., Cowling, M., & Allen, K. (2023). Leadership is needed for ethical ChatGPT: Character, assessment, and learning using artificial intelligence (AI). Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 20(3).

Liu, N.-F., & Carless, D. (2006). Peer feedback: The learning element of peer assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), 279–290.

Renninger, K. A., & List, A. (2012). Scaffolding for Learning. In: Seel, N. M. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer.

Volti, R. (2017). Society and Technological Change. Worth Publishers

Wang, S., Lilienfeld, S. O., & Rochat, P. (2015). The uncanny valley: Existence and Explanations. Review of General Psychology, 19(4), 393–407.



Dan JenkinsDan Jenkins is Professor of Leadership & Organizational Studies at the University of Southern Maine. He received his doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction with an emphasis in Higher Education Administration from the University of South Florida. Dan has published more than 40 articles and book chapters on leadership education and is the co-author of The Role of Leadership Educators: Transforming Learning. As an award-winning international speaker and facilitator, Dan has engaged thousands of leadership educators, students, and professionals on topics such as leadership pedagogy, followership, and curriculum and course design. Dan is also a past Chair of the ILA Leadership Education MIG, Co-Founder of the ILA Leadership Education Academy, Co-Host of The Leadership Educator Podcast, Vice-Chair of the Collegiate Leadership Competition, and Co-Lead of the Association of Leadership Educators Teaching & Pedagogy/Andragogy Focus Area Network. Follow Dan @Dr_Leadership.


Lauren Lauren Cornelio is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine and is working towards earning her master’s degree in Leadership Studies. She recently received a bachelor’s degree in Communications with a minor in Psychology. Passionate about leadership, Lauren has been an active member of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute (OSWLI) since she was selected in the program’s inaugural group in 2015. A founding member of the OSWLI alumni council, she is currently serving her second term and is passionate about sharing the value of the program with others.


TraceyTracey Jowett is an Assistant Professor of Dental Health at the University of Maine at Augusta, Bangor Campus teaching didactic, laboratory, and clinical courses. Throughout her career as a dental hygienist, she has served multiple organizations, committees, and stakeholder groups including serving the State of Maine as Chair of the Maine Board of Dental Practice. Tracey is passionate about dental public health, serves as President of the non-profit Saving Smiles of Maine, and is completing her Master of Public Health degree at the University of Southern Maine.

About PAUSE for Pedagogy

PAUSE for Pedagogy aims to connect leadership education theory to practice and seeks to take lessons learned in the classroom to expand our theoretical knowledge of teaching and learning. Written for both the experienced educator and those new to the profession, this column will add tools to readers’ pedagogical toolboxes. The series is edited by Drs. Lisa Endersby and Dan Jenkins, members of ILA’s Leadership Education Member Interest Group. Have you implemented an innovative practice in your leadership education?