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ChatGPT dropped like a bomb last November, sending educators—and students—scrambling to understand its utility and shortcomings.
The reactions from college faculty varied. Some embraced it. Some forbade it. Others took a wait-and-see approach. We don’t yet know the extent to which ChatGPT will change how we learn and work. Nor can we predict what other technologies and factors will shape education or industry going forward. But we don’t have the luxury of waiting for answers.
As educators, we have a responsibility to prepare our students for a world in which ChatGPT and its competitors are widespread. To do that, we need to teach them how to use it expertly and creatively—incorporating it into their learning in ways that will make them better critical thinkers and problem solvers. This means thinking beyond guardrails like cheat-proof assignments and digging into AI’s real power to increase the skill sets and employability of our graduates. Approaching AI as an opportunity rather than a threat to academic honesty or job security can be a helpful framing. That doesn’t mean ignoring the threats or vulnerabilities altogether. But our energy is better spent, and we ultimately serve our students better, when we accept the realities of AI—including the fact that some people will use it to cheat—and focus on ways students and faculty can reap benefits from its application.
Here are three approaches at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business.
- Teach the tool
Pam Bourjaily, associate professor of instruction in accounting, was quick to incorporate ChatGPT into writing assignments last spring. She required students to use the technology to complete writing prompts. She then asked them to revise the draft, giving them the option of doing it on their own or using ChatGPT. Most students chose to rewrite the text on their own. When talking with students about why they chose this method, she realized students weren’t using ChatGPT to its full potential, because they didn’t know how to do so.
This fall, she has added instructional time to teach students how to create effective prompts that generate quality writing, thus increasing their efficiency and the tool’s results.
Using ChatGPT “out of the box” doesn’t give great results. But improving the quality of inputs—including specific instruction on whom the intended audience is, what the audience should learn or feel from reading the piece, and how the writing should be structured—can start to introduce students to the full capabilities of the technology and can produce quality writing more efficiently than traditional methods.
- Enhance traditional ways of teaching
Carl Follmer, director of the Frank Business Communications Center, introduced AI to enhance group problem-solving and decision-making in his M.B.A. course. He observed that when students are assigned to play devil’s advocate, they tend not to want to risk their social capital with their peers by pushing back on decisions the team is making. As a result, he has started assigning the contrarian role to an AI bot.
The goal is to create some pushback to encourage students to think through problems, and their solutions, from additional perspectives. Ultimately, this is exactly what good instruction should do. And we know the related skill sets we are building—thinking differently and creatively—are among those employers want in new graduates.
- Collect data in real time
The combined use of ChatGPT with data and feedback is also informing how and when we introduce new instructional strategies. In addition to end-of-semester surveys, we’re collecting data as we see what works and what doesn’t. Some of this data analysis is done in real time, with the help of ChatGPT, so that faculty can adapt their methods in real time.
For example, a professor may ask students to share their top three takeaways from a lecture. Using ChatGPT, the professor can immediately sort and summarize the students’ responses to see what content is resonating and what concepts they need to clarify or spend more time on in future lectures.
We owe it to our students to explore the potential of ChatGPT and adapt as it adapts. There are risks associated with implementing any technology-based change. And there are also risks associated with missed opportunities to make our instruction stronger and arm our students with both the knowledge to use AI effectively today and the resiliency to adjust to technology’s changing application in the future.