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Professors navigate use of artificial intelligence in the classroom

September 13, 2023

The growing presence of generative artificial intelligence, or AI, a technology that uses algorithms to create content based on the data that it’s trained on, is no longer avoidable on college campuses. As the number of students who use AI, like ChatGPT, for assignments continues to increase, professors face the challenge of adapting to it. 

Before fall semester began, Michigan State University sent a broad guideline on AI use in the classroom to professors

The guideline stated that departments should take into account MSU's values and mission statement, along with the honor code and pledge, as they develop their own guidance in approaching generative AI in classes. MSU recommended that academic units seek ways to work with — not in opposition to — generative AI, and shared the university would release more information in the future.

"Further guidance regarding more specific needs like handling generative AI in teaching and learning activities, selecting and adopting AI tools, creating sample syllabus language, and more will follow in the coming months as MSU continues to explore how most effectively to leverage these new tools in a way that meets the university’s needs while keeping our data and users safe," the guideline said

With no clear-cut policy in place, MSU has essentially given their faculty free rein in determining whether or not to let students access and use AI in the classroom

MSU Assistant Professor of Advertising and Public Relations Edward Timke said he thinks a lack of policy could be “chaotic for faculty."

One of the reasons creating an AI policy is difficult is that it can be hard to know and prove which students are using it. Because of this, Timke decided that in his classroom, he is open to a “nuanced approach." 

“I would hate for the environment to be where professors feel like they are police officers, so I think they need to get creative about engaging in discussions on how and when to use it,” Timke said. 

Timke allows students to engage in artificial intelligence in his classroom, saying that “it would be a disservice to students to completely ban it from classes.” 

Some professors also use AI to assist with their own work. MSU director of Experience Architecture Casey McArdle enjoys having AI around for his research purposes. McArdle saying that it can help with research and can introduce him to different lines of research that he hasn't considered.

McArdle also sees a brightside to generative AI when it comes to working with students.

“We must work with students so that it’s being used in ethical and responsible ways," McArdle said. "Otherwise it’s going to be just another unchecked technology that spins out of control, and we’ll just overlook the potential good things that it can do.” 

In the future, McArdle wants to see a positive side to the world of artificial intelligence. He thinks that as long as people can have “honest conversations” and “understand the inputs and outputs of technology," everyone can benefit from using generative AI. 

These talks of “honest conversations” that McArdle speaks of are already coming into fruition, as the MSU Museum has planned an AI and Academic use Roundtable to take place on Sept. 22. This event will allow students and faculty to discuss the usage of AI and the pros and cons to the technology.

Communications Assistant Professor Jacob Fisher had chosen not to ban AI in his classes, but he does require students to disclose when they use it.

“You jump into very ambiguous waters when it comes to the ethical and moral implications of these tools," Fisher said. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I personally don’t ban it in my classes because I don’t see strong enough evidence in my particular context in the classes that I teach, but I do require disclosure." 

According to Fisher, the current usage of artificial intelligence “requires an almost complete rethinking of how education works.” Fisher stated that if his job as a professor is to prepare the students for the real world, then they must know the tools they have access to.  

"These are tools that aren’t going to go away, and they’re gonna be tools that are gonna be used in the workplace a lot," Fisher said. "Hindering or banning this sort of technology doesn’t strike me as a super good move."

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