Torrey Trust

Torrey Trust

Torrey Trust’s research on teaching, learning, and technology is shared with educators around the world to improve student learning and encourage the design of more accessible and inclusive learning environments.

Shortly after its release in late 2022, the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT began creating quite a stir in the social media communities of educators.  

Torrey Trust, a professor of learning technology at the UMass Amherst College of Education who frequents such online communities as part of her work, was concerned by the knee-jerk reactions she saw to ChatGPT and similar generative AI tools. Some teachers felt compelled to ban technology in the classroom and return to earlier modes of teaching like oral exams and handwritten essays, while others were excited to start using the AI tools without knowing much about them. In both cases, Trust worried about issues around student privacy, accessibility, and inclusivity, especially for students with disabilities and English language learners.

Trust, a global leader in educational technology, stepped up to educate teachers on this new tool. “Because teachers don’t have the time to critically interrogate new technological tools as they emerge, I dove into understanding the terms of use and privacy policy of ChatGPT and put together a slide deck on its implications for education,” she said. "I wanted to share important things for teachers to know, such as that it’s not meant to be used by children under 13, and that it can generate hallucinations and produce harmful and biased information. I wanted teachers to think critically about how this tool could impact their teaching and their students’ learning.”

The slide deck received hundreds of thousands of views on Twitter and was widely shared in the educational community. Trust was invited to give presentations and keynote speeches on the topic, and was interviewed in media outlets such as The Hill, Wired, and U.S. News & World Report. In early 2023, she went on to publish one of the very first articles examining the implications of ChatGPT for teacher education.

Over her career at UMass Amherst, Trust has often witnessed a "huge need for translating research to practice and providing evidence-based guidance—especially around the critical interrogation of technologies, since teachers rarely have time or support to do this themselves.” Her work is dedicated to bridging this gap through qualitative research to build a more complex, multi-faceted understanding of teaching, learning, and technology.

Trust has authored or co-authored over 100 publications, including peer-reviewed journal articles, conference proceedings, books, editor-reviewed book chapters, practitioner articles, and blog posts. Her publications have been cited a combined 12,796 times, indicating that her work is well-read in the field. Her work also has been featured in many high-profile media outlets and has earned her numerous prestigious awards, including the Making IT Happen Award from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 2018; the Annual Achievement Award from the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) in 2020, and the UMass Amherst Distinguished Teaching Award in 2023.

Inspired by UMass Amherst’s open education initiatives, Trust has created a variety of open educational resources—from slide decks to e-books to open online courses—to disseminate evidence-based knowledge on teaching and technology. She credits her distinctive background in visual arts and film (the subject of her B.A. from the University of California San Diego) and the expertise she developed in instructional design while earning an M.A. in educational technology from San Diego State University with helping her share this information in creative and accessible ways. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in education from the University of California Santa Barbara.  

A huge goal of mine is to help teachers think more critically about how to use technology in their practice to create more accessible and inclusive learning experiences.

Torrey Trust

Over her years of doing research, but also in her personal life, Trust has seen first-hand the challenges facing teachers. Both of her parents were teachers; her sister and her husband are also teachers.

“Teaching is one of the hardest professions in the entire world. Things are constantly changing for teachers; they are working with an increasingly diverse student population; they have to manage attacks from parents and organizations on what they are allowed to say and do in their classrooms; they have to keep up with new curriculum[s], standards, and technologies; and they don’t have a lot of support or training,” she said.

Trust herself worked for a year—in between her master’s and doctoral programs—as a paraprofessional in one of the country’s lowest-performing elementary schools in Washington, D.C. There, she saw a lot of frustration and burnout among the teachers; she also witnessed the power of technology to engage students and help them learn.

In the years since that formative experience, Trust’s research at UMass Amherst has explored ways to use emerging technologies to improve teaching and learning, including 3D printers, makerspaces, generative AI, and hyperdocs—interactive digital lesson plans that promote student-centered teaching.

Trust considers generative AI programs to be one of the most consequentially disruptive technologies in education—today and into the future.  

“This is going to be one of these influential technologies throughout educational history that’s going to strongly nudge educators to rethink their practices,” she said. “Teachers must question, 'What is my role in the classroom? Why am I asking students to write an essay or post in a discussion forum? Is there a different way I can assess student knowledge?'”

Trust has also studied AI text detectors, which many teachers use to catch students cheating with generative AI. “These tools really can’t detect AI-generated content that well,” she explained. “And they’re biased against certain kinds of students, like English language learners.”

Trust created a slide deck and wrote articles for teachers with guidance on redesigning teaching in the era of generative AI so that teachers focus on improving learning experiences rather than catching students cheating. “It boils down to this: If teachers are designing student-centered, hands-on and minds-on projects and learning activities, students will be less motivated to turn to generative AI technologies to skirt their way through an assignment,” she explained.

The emergence of generative AI tools is not the first time in recent years that Trust has witnessed educators’ “panic and fear” relating to technology. Shutdowns at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced teachers to pivot virtually overnight to emergency online teaching, marked another major upheaval in education.

At that time, Trust drew on her deep knowledge of technology-facilitated learning to help. She developed an open-access slide deck called “Teaching Remotely in Times of Need” with resources for educators. It was shared widely, garnering half a million views in just a few weeks. Educators around the world contacted Trust seeking permission to use, translate, and re-mix the content in the slide deck to support teacher professional learning in their schools and districts during the pandemic. Trust followed up with a one-pager offering guidance on using webcams for online teaching in ways that supported equity, inclusivity, and accessibility, which also reached several million educators and was featured in The New York Times.  

As a teacher herself, Trust also engages her students at UMass Amherst in creating open educational resources to help educators critically investigate and make informed decisions about the use of technology for teaching and learning. In her EDUC 612: Educational Web Design course, students have created several open online courses that serve as free professional development for educators. One of the courses, “Designing Digital Media for Teaching and Learning,” won an ISTE Online Learning Network Award and the AECT Crystal Award, Second Place.

Trust’s students also contribute to a rich online database of educational technologies that aims to inform teachers about a host of tools available for use in the classroom and help them critically evaluate issues such as privacy policies and accessibility concerns. Originally started as a UMass blog, it garnered about two million views in five years. More recently, Trust transitioned the resource into an e-book, which has had 250,000 views since its publication in 2022.  

Like all her work, Trust hopes this resource will help make teachers’ lives easier while improving student learning.

“I think there’s so much potential to use technology in education. There are also a lot of scary downsides,” she said. “A huge goal of mine is to help teachers think more critically about how to use technology in their practice to create more accessible and inclusive learning experiences."

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