Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Classroom: Opportunities, Challenges, and Advice
AI's everywhere these days. Here's how MRU students and instructors can use AI in their schoolwork.
Artificial intelligence (AI) tools are continuing to grow in popularity. Learn more about AI, its potential uses in teaching and learning, and the opportunities and challenges presented by this emerging technology. The Mount Royal University Library, Academic Development Centre, and Student Learning Services have collaborated to bring you this info. Find the latest updates on the MRU Library website.
What is AI?
UNESCO, a global organization under the banner of the United Nations, defines artificial intelligence as: "Machines that imitate some features of human intelligence, such as perception, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, language interaction, and creative work." Essentially, AI is a machine that "thinks" like a person!
Artificial intelligence-based tools are widely used in academia and beyond, and new tools are continually emerging (see this Futurepedia directory, for example). AI tools can be implemented with positive purposes in education by supporting learners and helping to reduce the burden of routine or repetitive tasks, allowing for more focus on learning and research.
Consider, for example, the benefits of automatic transcription of a lecture, grammar or spellcheck, or related reading suggestions in a library database. Conversely, there are also concerns associated with these tools, such as embedded bias, privacy risks, or the potential for misuse if students use them in unauthorized ways to complete an assignment.
Eaton and Anselmo (2023) of the University of Calgary provide a succinct and practical overview of the use of AI apps in the classroom. They recommend instructors engage with these tools, explain them to students, and explore possibilities for enhancing teaching and learning.
Artificial intelligence is a general term used to describe a number of different, specific systems. We encounter and use AI every day: from navigating maps on Google or Apple, to asking Siri or Alexa to set a timer, to searching a library catalogue. AI is already part of our lives.
Terms like algorithm, machine learning, training data, neural networks, and deep learning are often referenced in discussions related to AI. Let's take a quick look at a few definitions:
The "brains" of an AI system, algorithms are a complex set of rules and decisions that determine which action the AI system takes. Machine learning algorithms can discover their own rules or be rule-based, in which case human programmers input the rules.
A field of study with a range of approaches to developing the algorithms used in AI systems. Machine learning algorithms can discover rules and patterns in data without a human specifying them, which can sometimes lead to the system perpetuating biases.
The data, generated by humans, used to train the algorithm or machine learning model. Training data is an essential component to the AI system, and may perpetuate the systemic biases of source data when implemented.
Opportunities and challenges
While emerging AI technologies present a number of opportunities for learners and educators, there are also challenges to integrating these systems into curriculum and coursework.
- New AI tools offer opportunities to introduce discussion and instruction centering on AI literacy (Upshall, 2022). For example, instructors could use AI output for activities designed to help learners build skills in AI tool appraisal and practice critical thinking.
- AI tools may help increase efficiency in learning environments. One instructor using ChatGPT describes it as a "learning companion" and a "multiplier of ability" (Wingard, 2023). For example:
- AI systems may assist faculty or students in the initial stages of a project, such as brainstorming.
- Students could use ChatGPT as a virtual study partner, using it to summarize content or generate test questions (Wingard, 2023).
- Faculty could use AI tools to generate a set of learning outcomes as they design a new course.
- AI may be used as an assistive tool for those with accessibility needs.
- The rise of AI has prompted educators to rethink their assessment practices.
- AI technologies are advancing rapidly, making it difficult to keep up with tools that are available and what functions they can and cannot perform. For example, ChatGPT did not originally have access to the internet, but this capability has been integrated.
- AI tools have no knowledge of the real world and may need to be paired with human verification. For example, text matching tools identify matching text, but only a human can determine if plagiarism has actually occurred.
- AI tools may be used in situations where they lack validity, such as when journal impact factors are used to judge the value of individual research papers.
- AI systems may be manipulated or used in unethical ways, such as when a student uses them to bypass learning.
- Outputs can be difficult to detect; identifying when a learner has used AI generated text in their writing can be very difficult, posing a challenge to educators (Kumar et al., 2022).
- AI systems perpetuate existing human biases, as they generate outputs based on patterns in the data they were trained on. For example, AI photo editing tools have expressed racial biases (Poisson, 2022), and large language software such as ChatGPT has perpetuated gender biases and stereotypes (Lucy & Bamman, 2021; Snyder, 2023) in their outputs.
Suggestions for students
Learn more about AI at MRU
- For every assignment and test, ask your instructor what their expectations are with respect to AI use. If you are unsure whether use of a particular tool is allowed in your course, reach out to your instructor.
- Experiment with AI tools to better understand what they can and cannot do. Take the time to critically analyze the output. (Sometimes it looks great on the surface, but not when you look more deeply at the content. These tools are great synthesizers, but the critical thinker is you.)
- Learn more about academic integrity by completing MRU's online training module.
- Ask yourself these key questions:
- If I use this tool for a particular task, how will it affect my learning? Will it enhance or diminish my learning? Will it give me opportunities to think more deeply or less deeply? If I use AI to generate writing, will I lose my own voice?
- If I use this tool, will it be fair to other students?
- If I use this tool, what are the privacy considerations?
- Are there other ethical implications to consider (e.g., users providing free labour; unethical labour practices)?
- Encourage your peers to ask themselves the above questions, too.