Since the generative artificial intelligence (AI) website ChatGPT launched Nov. 2022, the technology has become increasingly more mainstream and accessible to the public. The launch of ChatGPT catapulted somewhat of an AI revolution, as several companies, such as Google, Amazon, and Snapchat, have also utilized the technology to develop tools for their users.
Generative AI tools give users the ability to receive comprehensive and specific answers to questions, ask for advice and receive help with homework. The technology can even compose entire essays. “It’s pretty much an unstoppable force at this point,” says Jay DeSart, Chairman of UVU’s Department of History and Political Science, “It has become so prevalent in our lives even without many of us realizing the extent to which it has.”
In the wake of this rising technology, not only have people been fearing for their jobs, but teachers and educators have also had to discuss whether students should be allowed to use AI to help with their work. DeSart explains that AI “has the potential to disrupt both [the workplace and the classroom] as we know them.”
DeSart believes that AI “could significantly weaken the quality of education that students receive if they see it as an easy way around completing assignments.” Using AI to complete their work will inevitably hamper the development of certain skills targeted by the assignment, such as “problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication skills that are important for them in their lives after college.”
According to DeSart, these skills are desired by many employers and using AI may prove to be a disservice to students. “They may find themselves out of a job as AI becomes better at the job they failed to properly prepare themselves for because they took the easy way out.”
In August, Brookings, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conducting in-depth and nonpartisan research, published an article weighing the pros and cons of using generative AI in the classroom, to which the authors said “A full ban might deny students and teachers potential opportunities to leverage the technology for instruction or lesson development.”
DeSart agreed with this statement. “If we didn’t allow it to be used at all, that’d be tantamount to sticking our collective head in the sand.” He also discussed the potential importance of educating students on the capabilities of generative AI and making sure they understand how to use it to some degree. “It’s not going to go away, so if we don’t address its use here, then we’re doing just as much a disservice to students and they would be doing to themselves if they try to use it as a shortcut to learning the things we are trying to teach them.” However, it’s crucial to “teach them the difference between the appropriate and inappropriate uses of it.”
Even though AI does have redeeming, helpful qualities, “there are other, more sinister dangers that go well beyond that,” DeSart warns. “I don’t think it’s in the realm of science fiction anymore. If we don’t seriously consider the ethical implications of how we develop AI, there could be very serious ramifications if it gets beyond our control.” He believes “the only thing we can do is try and manage the ways in which it is used.”
As AI becomes more intelligent and capable, UVU has published resources for professors to mitigate the use of generative AI in the classroom. Recommendations include making clear statements in the syllabus regarding the AI policy, assigning more cohesive and personalized assignments with several elements that AI cannot replicate, and implementing Copyleaks, an AI detection software.
DeSart thinks the helpfulness of AI depends on how it’s used. He thinks it’s far too late for a permanent ban on the technology as it continues to infiltrate aspects of peoples’ lives. “The best that we can hope for is that we instill in students an understanding when it should and shouldn’t be used.”