Higher Education

Generative AI is the New “Graphing Calculator”

A video sharing best practices on setting expectations for using AI in coursework

Joe Kennedy explains how generative AI is today’s game-changing tool, much like graphing calculators were years ago.


Joseph Kennedy:

It started with a professor sending me a news story in December saying, “Do I need to be concerned about this?” And it was a fairly alarmist news story, and it immediately made me think systemically of the calculator wars when graphing calculators became affordable to students. But the big difference there was, for 10 years, mathematics faculty were able to grope with this and grapple the issues because the rollout was so gradual. But generative AI basically in November of last year, boom, there it was, and everybody had access to it.

So we started to look at it as a college, and then I started to talk to professors, and professors noticed it because at the beginning of the spring semester to the end of the spring semester, they saw a remarkable jump in the quality of written work from some of their students. And to be fair to the students, this was not in writing classes, but it was in classes where the professors routinely use written work as the main mechanism for understanding what a student knows and can do. I’m introducing it to my students, and in the context of math and science, most of our students have never thought about it that way. So we at my college have been introducing to them and giving them ways that they could use it to help them.

Pete Morgan:

Yeah. So Joe, tell me this, in introducing it that way, setting up the expectation, if you will, on best practice ways to utilize the AI, what is the expectation from your perspective for your students utilizing AI in your courses?

Joseph Kennedy:

All right, so to keep this short, Jeff can give me time signals if I’m getting too long. The first is to remind the students of the general expectation for academic integrity within the culture of the institution. My undergraduate institution had a very strict honor code, the kind you read about on the news where students all fail a class because someone cheated and no one reported it. The college I am at does not have a code like that. They have more of a culture, and so we have to fit it into that, reminding students that the whole point of an assessment is to know what the student can do. And so it’s incumbent upon the student to represent themselves and their work and their thoughts, but it’s also incumbent upon the professor to explain to the student what is being assessed. So if we are assessing students’ understanding of the Napoleonic Wars and how it set up World War I, then maybe we don’t care about the quality of their writing. We should explain that to them that what we’re looking for.

So the college came out with a statement that reminded students of that. It also reminded students that because generative AI tools work by essentially scraping billions of data from the web and amalgamating it, that if a student is to use that, they are in essence plagiarizing if they don’t give credit. So giving them something specific they can latch onto and then explaining it in terms of what can they do about it is say, “I’m quoting this source, it is ChatGPT. I used it on May 15th.”