AI in Higher Ed: Teaching in an Era of ChatGPT and other AI Tools

What Guidance and Resources are Available to Me at Northeastern?

What is ChatGPT?

Human hand shaking hands with blue network of nodes in the shape of a handChatGPT is an Artificial Intelligence online tool created by OpenAI that can be prompted by a user to produce novel, substantive written work or code that can be indistinguishable from that produced by humans. Additional tools created by OpenAI and other organizations can also produce original artwork and music. ChatGPT has already been shown to successfully pass an MBA exam at Wharton and “hack” the assignments in a graduate level course on learning and cognition. These AI tools are being met with both intrigue and consternation in higher education. Despite significant and understandable concern about inappropriate use, educators such as Northeastern’s Laura Huang observe that “There are going to be huge, huge opportunities for people who know how to write prompts, …massage, and analyze what comes out of things like ChatGPT or the next generation of ChatGPT.”

How is Higher Education Responding?

Recent advances in AI are so new that educators are just beginning to consider what these new tools might mean for their teaching and their students’ learning. While it may be tempting to focus on potential negative consequences, AI also presents an opportunity to make modifications in our teaching that will improve and personalize student learning, and even to make creative use of the tools that will help prepare students to thrive in the technology enhanced world in which they will live and work.

Six CATLR Tips

  • Address your concerns with positive intention. Phrases like “integrity,” “honesty,” and “cheating” can suggest a stance of suspicion and punishment in relation to students. Talking with students about the benefits of “originality” and your hopes for how their work in your class will help them personally will help them understand your motivation for discouraging inappropriate use of AI.
  • Consider revising your assignments to emphasize the work development process, and include an in person or recorded component. Set interim deliverables for major assignments that include rounds of instructor and peer feedback (e.g., brainstorming questions/ideas, finding and annotating sources, outline/draft, final written product/presentation). Have students include a written explanation of how they used the feedback they received to improve their work, citing specific changes.
  • Tap into the uniqueness of students’ lives. Have students share their prior experiences and goals for the future, then ask them to personalize their project work according to those interests. Consider taking a students-as-makers approach. Students will be more engaged because they see the relevance of what they are doing to their lives, and it will be much more difficult to get AI to do their work!
  • Avoid generic assignments such as term papers that are easy to create with AI, and consider having students present their work in several formats, such as a digital poster in place of or in addition to a written component. Consider adopting an I-Search format in which students get to identify questions that are personally interesting to them, tell the story of what sparked their curiosity, and document their process of finding answers that leverage their interests to address pressing concerns in the world.
  • Emphasize the importance of questions. The ability to identify and refine compelling questions will become increasingly essential in a world where previously-identified answers can be accessed in a matter of seconds. The Right Question Institute has developed a process for question formulation that is relevant to cutting edge work in most contexts and disciplines. If you choose to lean into AI, this could be a preliminary step to prompting ChatGPT or another AI tool for a response.
  • Lean into technology by “learning with” AI. ChatGPT and other AI tools challenge us to understand, access, prompt, corroborate, and incorporate information in new ways. Educational experiences that help students develop these capabilities will equip them to use AI effectively. For example, have students generate an AI response to a prompt, then critique and fact check the product. What questions can the tool answer adequately? What are its limitations? In what aspects is the response flat-out wrong? Another option is to have students develop successive drafts of a piece with ChatGPT, documenting how they refined prompts for each draft and reflecting on the strengths or limitations of the prompt in light of the output. They will increase their understanding and critical thinking about the topic while also developing key technology and information literacy skills.

Do you have ideas or tips for teaching and learning with ChatGPT that you would like to share with other educators? Please use this form to contribute to Educator Insights: AI for Learning!