Colleges are now teaching courses on how to use ChatGPT effectively – and it may be the only way forward

ChatGPT has created quite a buzz since its launch last fall, and has quickly settled as a staple in everyday life. Despite concerns surrounding the use of AI within academic fields, some university professors are now introducing classes and courses focused solely on educating students on the topics of prompt engineering and AI comprehension.

The rapid rise in popularity prompted Andrew Maynard, a professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, to offer a course tailored to help students get a head start with these emergent AI tools.

“We’ve got to the point where it was very clear to me [that] there was a lot of panic, a lot of intrigue and things were moving fast”, Maynard told Inside Higher Ed.

In April this year, Maynard offered a course now known as Basic Prompt Engineering with ChatGPT, which teaches students how to effectively create prompts for the chatbot that consistently generates desirable output.

Adapt to Survive?

While there has been significant pushback in the education sector against ChatGPT, citing obvious concerns like plagiarism and cheating, the faculty behind courses like Maynard’s see this as an opportunity to prepare students for the drastically changing digital landscape created by OpenAI’s ChatGPT and other AI tools like it.

This will affect every domain, every discipline, and it’s really important we teach it.

Jules White

Jules White, director of the Future of Learning and Generative AI at Vanderbilt University, argues that “People are saying, ‘Generative AI is taking your job’ – if that’s the case, we better do something about it and make sure students are innovating and succeeding”.

It may seem like a counterproductive approach to the concerns about how AI will affect future employment landscapes, but the move to get young members of the workforce up to speed and ‘useful’ in a world of increasing AI prevalence could actually mitigate any projected damage to the job market.

Amusingly enough, Maynard went straight to ChatGPT to help design his online course, though he did also have faculty and graduate students help test and evaluate the content. The chatbot did have a major role in the initial phases of creating the course; while it makes sense for ChatGPT to explain how to use its own software, could this be the start of AI-generated curriculums?

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Chatbots could be teaching in elementary schools a lot sooner than expected

Artificial intelligence has come out swinging over the past year, and many sectors of our lives are rapidly adapting to this ever-changing, ever-advancing technology. Now, AI is likely to make its way into our classrooms and – hopefully – increase the impact teachers have on students by introducing new ways to teach and learn.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has already predicted that AI chatbots will help teach children to read in 18 months rather than the years it can currently take. Statements like that make it easy to jump into a frenzy and start biting our nails at the thought of what artificial intelligence could do to future generations of impressionable young minds.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that younger generations are already surrounded by digital tools to the extent that navigating technology is second nature for them. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense that we’ll eventually see AI make its way into classrooms.

From the moment the now-ubiquitous AI chatbot ChatGPT exploded onto the digital scene, it became inevitable that young people would learn to use and navigate the tech – so implementing it in safe, controlled education environments isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

Of course, there are risks to incorporating enhanced AI tools into the classroom, including the increased likelihood of cheating – we’re already this in higher education with the flood of ChatGPT-written assignments –  and very possible job disruption for teachers.

What could AI education look like? 

We’ve already seen many students take to ChatGPT to do more – or perhaps less – with their assignments, and in all honesty, I do believe chatbots can be incredibly helpful. AI tools can proofread your work, summarise long and boring text, or de-jargonize complex topics.

Aside from getting feedback on your writing and getting rid of confusing jargon, chatbots can also give you a quick boost to get the creative juices flowing. As a creative writer in my spare time, I’ve personally used ChatGPT to help me draft a short story. I used it to research my chosen subject matter, and then once I had a plot outline I used the bot to find any holes in my logic or understanding, collect research links, and help me come up with names and locations that fit the vibe of what I was writing about.

According to Danny King, CEO and co-founder of Accredible – a digital credentialing platform – many students don't really have a personalized learning experience to fit their needs, and there simply aren't enough teachers to fill that gap. This is where AI is supposed to step in.

AI can supposedly fill this gap by removing repetitive routines or learning plans and instead allowing children to learn with a bit more freedom. “A lot of rote teaching can be taken away and delegated to technology”, says King, adding that “teachers won’t need to be distributors of knowledge, because AI can automate that.”

It's perhaps a bit presumptuous to simply assume all these issues and more can be quickly fixed by the wave of a robotic hand, but there are some genuine benefits to AI in the classroom we could look forward to.

As chatbots become more sophisticated, we could see young students have their own personal chatbot in their school laptops, acting as a chattier version of Google, which could lift some of the weight off teachers from having to answer a drove of questions that could easily be solved by the AI.

Alternatively, we could see AI be used in sophisticated testing, meaning that no two papers are the same and really testing comprehension and knowledge bases. Or maybe by the time we get the AI chatbots into schools, our current societal obsession will have faded, and it’ll just simply act as a fun classroom pastime.

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