FAQs about artificial intelligence and teaching
What is generative artificial intelligence?
Artificial intelligence encompasses many types of digital technology programmed to mimic the actions and behavior of human beings. The type of AI that has drawn so much attention since the end of 2022 is generative AI. That is a type of artificial intelligence that generates writing, coding, and images (among other things) based on commands, or prompts, from users. The most widely known AI tools – ChatGPT, Bing Chat, Bard, and Claude 2 – rely on large language models to generate material. The language models were created by scraping nearly everything published online and using algorithms to analyze that data for patterns in the use of characters and words.
Is generative AI sentient?
No. The responses from large language models often sound like they come from humans, but they are generated by programming that predicts the most likely words to use in a particular context. If the responses sound human, that’s because chatbots are trained on human-created work and follow the most common patterns in human speech. You have probably seen that in action if you use auto-complete on your computer and phone. In that case, an algorithm suggests words that most often follow the words you have already typed. ChatGPT and related bots use the same approach to writing and coding, but they have access to a vastly larger database and have vastly more computing power behind them.
Why should I allow use of generative AI in my classes?
There are several reasons. Generative AI is already beginning to change work habits and behaviors, and that change seems very likely to continue. Perhaps the closest analogy is the development of the commercial internet and the World Wide Web, which provided access to unimaginable amounts of information and changed the way we think, act, and communicate. Generative AI offers opportunities to work with that vast store of information in ways we have only begun to imagine. By using it in our classes, we can help our students develop skills they will need in whatever profession they choose. We can also help them learn to use generative AI ethically and productively. That will be crucial. Generative AI is already being used to generate misinformation and to create fake documents, video, and images that seem real. We all need a deeper understanding of generative AI if we hope to counter nefarious approaches that could undermine democracy. On a less lofty note, generative AI is freely available online and is easily accessible on laptops and phones. It is being integrated in Word, Google Docs, and many other common digital tools. Its ubiquity will make it all but impossible to avoid, and many students are already using it.
Isn’t use of AI cheating?
No, not necessarily. If students have a chatbot write an essay and then submit the unaltered bot-generated material as their own, that is certainly cheating. Beyond that, the lines between right and wrong are blurry. Some experts in technology and writing expect co-writing with generative AI to soon be the norm. Right now, that approach seems odd because it is new and deviates from approaches we have traditionally used. Using generative AI to help with ideas, research, and even drafts may help students gain confidence in their writing and lead to better work. It will be up to instructors to guide students in ethical use of generative AI, though. How much AI use is too much? When does work become students’ original creations even if they started with a draft from a chatbot? How can partnering with generative AI help students develop their critical thinking skills? Those are just a few of the questions we all must work through.
I’ve read a lot about ChatGPT and other AI tools making things up. That worries me.
That is definitely a concern. Generative AI’s role is to create, and it will create – and sound authoritative – whether it has accurate information or not. (Computer scientists call that hallucinating.) It makes errors in calculation and creates glitchy code. It creates bland writing and makes silly errors. It’s not perfect, but what resource is? Even the best academic work has errors. Prestigious journals have published papers with made-up data. In some cases, entire papers have been fabricated. The point is that we must approach every source with skepticism. Generative AI is a tool made by humans, so it will inevitably have human-like weaknesses. It also has many super-human capabilities, though. If we can learn to harness those, it can enhance much of the work we do.
Do I have to use AI in my classes?
Absolutely not. Generative AI is a tool, and it doesn’t fit all tasks. We encourage all instructors to learn about generative AI, allow its use in their classes as appropriate, and talk with students about its ethical use. (See Maintaining academic integrity in the AI era.) There are no requirements for use of generative AI. Don’t dismiss it outright, though. Look at the future of your discipline and the future of higher education. What will students need to know and how might generative AI help?
How can I make sure all students have access to AI?
The increasing use of generative AI has raised familiar – and valid – concerns about equity and access. One of the easiest ways to make sure students have access to the same tools is to use university-supported tools. All faculty, staff, and students have access to Microsoft’s software suite through their KU accounts. That includes Bing Chat, a powerful alternative to ChatGPT. If you use a different tool, make sure students know how to access the tool and know how to use it. Consider, too, that all students have internet access on campus, but some students may not have access at home. Check with students and ask them to email you privately if they have concerns about internet access or don’t have access to a computer. You can then reach out to KU information technology for assistance.
I’ve been slow to try AI and now I feel like I’m too far behind to catch up. Am I?
You definitely aren’t. Generative AI is relatively easy to use. You don’t have to be a technology expert, and you don’t need to know code. You just need an account (one you probably already have) and curiosity. Using generative AI isn’t time-consuming either, unless you want it to be. (Many people have found it fun and addictive.) We are planning to create tutorials on how to start with Bing Chat, ChatGPT, Bard, and Claude 2. Their interfaces are different, but they all work the same way. We’ve also created a guide on writing good prompts for generative AI. We are trying to create an easy path for you to follow. You just need to give yourself permission to take the first step. (See An instructor guide to easing into generative AI.)
How do I choose which tools to use?
If you have never tried using generative AI, we suggest you start with Bing Chat. (See AI as tutor: How Bing Chat can coach students on research and writing.) You can access it with a KU account, so you don’t need to sign up for anything new. Bing Chat uses the same AI model as ChatGPT but provides access to more recent information because it also searches the web. All the major commercial chatbots – Bing, ChatGPT, Bard, and Claude 2 – are easy to use. Each requires a free account. The signup process takes just a few minutes, so you can access any of the those four chatbots in just a few minutes. If you would prefer to try a chatbot on your phone, ChatGPT has an app for the iPhone and iPad, and Bing Chat works well on the mobile Edge browser.
What other tools are available?
ChatGPT has garnered most of the attention over the past few months, but many other companies and organizations have been creating AI-enhanced tools. On our Adapting your course to artificial intelligence page, we provide a short list of tools for search, research, and other aspects of academic life.
How can I keep up with AI developments?
There are many choices, depending on your level of interest. A Google group called AI in Education has frequent discussions about generative AI and allows members to ask and answer questions. The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed publish many articles about generative AI and education. If you use Facebook, you can join a group called Higher Ed discussions of AI writing. We have also found several email newsletters helpful, including Ben's Bites, One Useful Thing, and GSV: AI & Education. Many disciplinary organizations also have newsletters, groups, or other discussions about generative AI.
Was this page created by a chatbot?
No, it was created entirely by humans. Thanks for asking, though.