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OpenAI announced ChatGPT Edu as an AI enterprise-level tool for higher education institutions.

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OpenAI unveiled a new version of ChatGPT focused on universities on Thursday, building on work with a handful of higher education institutions that partnered with the tech giant.

The ChatGPT Edu product, expected to start rolling out this summer, is a platform for institutions intended to give students free access. OpenAI said the artificial intelligence (AI) toolset could be used for an array of education applications, including tutoring, writing grant applications and reviewing résumés.

Addressing concerns about privacy and user data, OpenAI said the Edu platform allows for the creation of personalized large language models to power the AI tools, instead of using the publicly available ChatGPT. An OpenAI spokesperson also told Inside Higher Ed that ChatGPT Edu conversations and data are not used to train OpenAI models.

Inara Scott, senior associate dean for Oregon State University’s College of Business, noted the concerns with using custom AI tools while keeping data private, saying “I don’t know enough about [ChatGPT Edu] yet to say whether it will be [safer]. It sounds like that’s the intention of it, which is great and something we would look into further.”

The announcement of ChatGPT Edu comes only a couple of weeks after the launch of GPT-4o, or Omni. That new ChatGPT version, with a more realistic voice and quicker verbal response time, brought mixed feelings from educators. Many in academia have struggled to keep up with the rapid advances in artificial intelligence tools.

“This has been like a firehose and it’s not settling down,” said Marc Watkins, director of the AI Summer Institute for Teachers of Writing at the University of Mississippi. “There’s a level of both fatigue and wondering when things are going to stabilize, because … we like to take our time before we adopt things. It’s another thing to worry about.”

The fatigue comes as there is more focus than ever on student and faculty data privacy.

“I do think everything is changing, and it opens up conversations about data privacy issues, student data issues,” said Rob Moore, assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Florida. He was among the 100 AI-focused hires made by the university in 2021. “That will open up another set of conversations that higher ed has not always been the best about having.”

OpenAI said it built ChatGPT Edu after success at universities that used the enterprise version of the AI tool. Those partners included Arizona State University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Oxford and the University of Texas at Austin.

ASU kicked off the partnerships in January, and the other institutions were added throughout the spring semester.

On how much input those universities had on ChatGPT Edu, ASU deputy chief information officer Kyle Bowen said “it’s hard to draw a line around what is direct feedback.”

“It’s understanding where the technology is evolving, and what the real world experience is on the ground with the faculty and staff,” he said. “It’s very much the give and take of the relationship, saying, ‘Here’s how we can help evolve; here’s what we're running into.’”

Bowen said the university’s work with the enterprise platform allowed them to create workrooms where documents could be shared in private workspaces. That can be expected for others using the new platform.

“As we engaged with faculty and staff, there needed to be a point where privacy was a part of it, where the information being shared was kept inside of ASU,” he said.

One of the biggest benefits of the platform, Bowen said, was using it across departments, faculty and staff. The university sought out proposals from faculty and, later students, on ways to use the technology.

That work can be replicated across other institutions, whether or not they have an aptitude for innovation, Bowen said.

“We’ve definitely had conversations with a range of institutions, asking ‘How do you introduce this technology to your community,’” he said. “And how to approach it to pursue ideas people have and evaluate how to support good outcomes in those scenarios.”

Other tech giants are pushing hard into AI. Days after OpenAI launched GPT4-o, Google launched new versions of its AI model, Gemini. Microsoft is also a large AI player and has long-standing relationships with universities.

But this AI frenzy must come with caution, Moore said.

“Everyone wants to get in where they can and unfortunately technology is big business; I’m always seeing companies that want to make money off this newest and greatest technology,” he said. “I think it’s going to be an arms race. So we really need to teach students and teachers to go back to digital literacy skills to understand how to pick tools and understand that all things aren’t the same.”

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