In the 2023-2024 winter edition of Notre Dame Magazine article "Students, Faculty Cautiously Embrace AI as a Supplementary Learning Tool," associate editor Margaret Fosmoe spoke with several Arts & Letters faculty about the pros and cons of utilizing artificial intelligence in the classroom.
Fosmoe interviewed John Behrens, the director of the Technology and Digital Studies Program within the College of Arts & Letters, who encourages his undergraduates to examine AI-produced content and weigh the potential promise and peril of the technology. The course is Generative AI in the Wild, a new, multidisciplinary offering in which students use ChatGPT, DALL-E and other AI software tools, share the results of their explorations, and study the economic, social, educational, legal and ethical implications of such technologies.
“There are these sweet spots where ChatGPT is really good . . . and people are really bad,” Behrens tells the class. AI technology is reliable at producing job descriptions for employment postings, writing sales letters and creating text for advertising and business web pages. “Little efficiencies add up over and over. This is going to affect every industry. In some places there will be dramatic disruptions,” says Behrens, a professor of the practice of technology, digital studies, and computer science and engineering.
Elena Mangione-Lora, a teaching professor of Spanish, also spoke about how she has found AI to be a useful tool in her classroom — for translation work and vocabulary exercises, for example. The students enjoy the experience, and Mangione-Lora has noticed improvements in engagement and learning. She permits AI use on some assignments but not others.
“I have an obligation to teach [students] how to use AI appropriately,” she says. “It’s a powerful tool that can do really cool things. I will set the parameters . . . and show them how to use it appropriately, and when it’s not appropriate to use it.”
Mangione-Lora doesn’t think AI will replace human professors anytime soon. “The human element is more important than ever,” she says.
In class, he will sometimes generate writing via AI and then ask students to analyze it for strengths, weaknesses and outright mistakes. Among his goals is teaching critical AI literacy. He notes most academics are just starting to study potential uses of generative AI in their teaching. “The tension for us is figuring out where does AI replace the cognitive work we want students to be doing, and where does it help cultivate that cognitive work.”
Students are both excited and unsure about how AI will change their world, says Ranjodh Dhaliwal, the Ruth and Paul Idzik collegiate assistant professor of digital scholarship and English, who co-teaches the Generative AI course with Behrens. Leaving the decision about use of AI in courses to the instructor is the right approach, Dhaliwal says. “I teach across different disciplines, and I do not have the same policy for all classes because the expectations for my students aren’t the same in all cases.”
Read the full Notre Dame Magazine article here.