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Faculty workshop considers AI use in higher education

Published on March 05, 2024

Faculty workshop considers AI use in higher education

Garret Dancik
Garrett Dancik explains AI during a faculty workshop at Eastern. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) programs like ChatGPT have raised concerns across college campuses and Eastern Connecticut State University is no exception. In a workshop sponsored by Eastern’s new Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment on Feb. 28, computer science professor and department chair Garrett Dancik spoke with faculty about the abilities and limitations of AI and how it can be used to enhance student learning.  

It took only five days from launch for ChatGPT to reach one million users and only two months to reach 100 million users. Approximately half of college students are believed to have used the site for homework, essays or exams, according to Dancik. 

To better understand large language models like ChatGPT, Dancik explained how these systems "learn" through a process known as machine learning. ChatGPT, specifically, learns from the data that has been fed to it by programmers. It requires labeled, or known, data to construct artificial neural networks.  

Rather than having "traditional" knowledge, Dancik noted, ChatGPT responds to prompts with what it predicts other sources would say, acting as an “extreme version of autocorrect,” as Dancik referred to it. 

There are many caveats to using programs like ChatGPT. Biases within the data are often reflected in its responses. Dancik also pointed out that ChatGPT may complete tasks in an undesirable way, by creating shortcuts for itself or making up information. The biggest concern is that the prediction or output cannot be explained by the AI after it is rendered. 

Garret DancikRegardless of the various shortcomings, Dancik emphasized that “AI is everywhere.” He said, “It’s here whether we like it or not. We need to prepare students for a world with AI.” 

Dancik said more and more workers are using ChatGPT and that nine in 10 companies want workers with experience using AI tools. He encouraged faculty members to teach students how to use ChatGPT and other programs within their discipline to increase marketability and employability. 

Jobs have been created to accommodate the advancement in technology. New careers, such as prompt engineer, natural language processing engineer and AI research scientist, are increasingly becoming new opportunities in the job market.  

Because of this, Dancik explained that teaching students to work with AI systems, learning how to write effective prompts, or simply using ChatGPT as a tutor can benefit them in the long run. 

“How we treat AI will impact students,” Dancik said. “We can learn to use it as an instrument for education.” 

Written by Marcus Grant