Reflections on Teaching in the Age of AI
by Stacey M. Johnson, Assistant Director for Educational Technology
Later today, several of us from the Center for Teaching will be in Alumni Hall with colleagues from The Writing Studio and the A&S AI Grand Challenge Initiative to co-host a workshop about the future of teaching writing in the age of AI. Space is limited, but if you want to join us, the workshop will be held February 3rd in Alumni Hall, room 201, from noon to 1:00pm. (Register in advance here.)
As we all prepare for this workshop, we are also working on a teaching guide resource on AI tools and specifically ChatGPT. ChaptGPT is an AI tool that can be used to generate very human-like writing, answer math problems, and even produce computer code (learn more here). Our resource will be released after the workshop and include answers to key questions about how to use this tool well. Keep an eye on this blog and on our social media to get access to that resource when it is ready!
ChatGPT and other AI-based digital tools are the topic of many conversations on campus and all over media headlines. In between the doomsayers and the early-adopters, there are the more moderate voices (like this and these) who remind us that new, transformative digital tools have disrupted classrooms many times in the history of higher ed. Take calculators, Google translate, Wikipedia, and so many other before ChatGPT. Every new leap forward in technology requires higher education to learn, adapt, reflect, and rediscover how to incorporate new possibilities into what we know about how students learn and how people reach their potential.
When faced with a new digital tool that upends our plans, how should we react? My default position is to start with learning objectives. What exactly do I want my students to learn? For example, if students have to write a term paper as part of a class, what is the point of writing that paper? What should students actually get out of the experience? Is learning to write good term papers the whole point? Or is writing the term paper just a vehicle for students to demonstrate knowledge and an ability to analyze texts through a particular disciplinary lens? Or are there other learning goals at play that we need to identify and explicitly name?
Once I have identified what I expect students to actually learn, those learning objectives become the framework that allows me to make decisions about how to incorporate new digital tools. In other words, I want to create class structures that encourage student progress towards learning goals and minimize distractions from learning goals. What might that look like?
1- Minimize distractions from learning goals.
In what ways might ChatGPT prevent your students from reaching the learning goals? Can it be applied in ways that short-circuit the learning path you have laid out for them? I want to be clear with my students: here is how this tool can help, but here is how it can hurt. Then, I want to communicate clear expectations for tool use and also set up some structures that make learning almost inevitable.
If you want to explore this path further and reduce students’ use of AI tools, here are some resources:
- This guide from Georgetown’s CNDLS explores how to talk to your students and how to set up structures to prevent misuse
- Mondschein tackles the topic of cheating by AI in this post with suggestions on making assignments AI-proof
- This short guide from the University of Michigan also discusses how to limit the use of ChatGPT, but also provides some useful words of warning for those considering relying exclusively on in-class, hand-written assignments
2- Encourage progress towards learning goals.
The potential for positive uses of ChatGPT is truly exciting. ChatGPT and other AI-based tools are marvels of technology that we can bring into our classrooms to support and inspire student work. How can we embrace tool that help students meet learning objectives?
- Lametti gives some specific examples of how tools like ChatGPT might help students as they learn to write.
- In this NY Times article, Roose describes how several teachers are using ChatGPT to improve their teaching and students’ learning
I am imagining how this might play out in classes I often teach, lower-level Spanish courses and graduate level seminars on language teaching. I am also talking with colleagues from different disciplines to learn more about how others imagine using this tool productively. The CFT’s forthcoming guide will include as many of these examples as possible. If you have ideas or resources you want to share, please leave a comment on this post! And, if you have examples from your own classes about how you are either using or preventing the use of AI-based tools in your own teaching, we would love to hear from you below as well.
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