All my classes suddenly became AI classes
We can't beat AI, but it doesn't need to beat us (or our students)
Last semester I lived through one of the most profound and sudden changes to education in modern history - the release of ChatGPT at the end of November. When I introduced my students to the new technology a week later, there was an extraordinary amount of excitement and creativity, and also a lot of anxiety (mostly from me) about what this means for the future. That anxiety has spread everywhere in education. And now I am teaching in the first full semester in a post-ChatGPT world. I have written extensively in the last month about the need to embrace this new technology in education. Now, I am trying to do just that.
All of my classes have become AI classes. And I wanted to share with you the experiments I am running to integrate AI into class (I will update you later in the semester about how they are going).
First, a bit on the classes. I teach three classes to undergraduates and MBAs:
For 14 years, I have been teaching an ever-evolving class on how to become an entrepreneur. I think it is a pretty solid experience, and I even summarized much of what I teach as a short book. In addition to other work, the class involves a team-based project that starts with coming up with a venture idea and ends with a pitch in front of class. I will be using AI extensively in this class.
Since generalist founders outperform specialists, I am also teaching a new class (called “Specialization is for Insects”) that focuses on giving students brief experiences with a range of skills they may use in the future: how to prototype products with laser cutters and 3D printers; how to make shelf-stable foods in a commercial kitchen; how to build an app, etc. In this class, ChatGPT becomes another tool to use and understand.
I also teach a class that consists of 100% simulations and games (namely, the Saturn Parable and the Entrepreneurship Game, both of which are available to anyone who wants to teach with them). This class is, I think, illustrative of another potential way to teach in a post-AI world: have students engage in experiences that are outside of what AI can do. Playing in realistic team-based simulations remains a human activity, for example.
Throughout these three classes, I am using AI in different ways:
Using AI to raise expectations
All of my students have tremendous skills (seriously, one of the best parts of teaching is being amazed by the people you have in class), but not all of my students are good writers. Some may have recently arrived in the country and know English as a second (or third, or fourth) language, or never had an education that emphasized writing, or are simply not particularly talented in this particular way.
But being a bad writer is a problem. Often, people who write badly are penalized, including in academia. Many people get around this in elaborate and risky ways. They may do it by hiring editors, or they may cross the line into plagiarism and cheating by paying people to write essays for them (this is very widespread: 20,000 people in Kenya alone make a living writing essays).
ChatGPT levels the playing field. Everyone can now produce credible writing. While this is a problem for writing classes (which will likely have to return to blue books and longhand essays), it isn’t in my particular context, so I am suggesting students use AI to ensure their writing is of high quality. In fact, I now expect to see only high-quality written work, since there is no longer an excuse.
Producing good AI-written material is not actually trivial. Getting an AI to produce meaningful content requires both topic expertise and skill. I am providing them with my guide to using AI to write, and asking them to both credit the AI and provide the prompts they are using when they turn in the essay. They will learn how to use the tool even as they apply it.
And this doesn’t just apply to writing: I expect to see higher quality illustrations (made by AI art tools), code (written or checked by ChatGPT) and, in the coming months, even more outputs (video is coming soon). These tools will be part of their lives, they should learn how to apply it.
Using AI to improve learning
Next, I am using ChatGPT for an exercise outlined in our paper on teaching with AI. When students hear you explain and discuss a concept, they often feel that they understand what you mean, but that feeling isn’t always accurate. One powerful way to turn concepts from theory into practice is to teach someone else, to evaluate their work, and to give concrete and timely advice about how to improve. As any teacher knows, the act of assessing and evaluating someone else’s work and teaching someone else improves our own knowledge of a topic.
By acting as a “student,” the AI can provide essays about a topic for students to critique and improve. The goal of this exercise is to have the AI produce an essay based on a prompt and then to “work with the student” as they steadily improve the essay, by adding new information, clarifying points, adding insight and analysis, and providing evidence. It takes advantage of the AI’s proneness to simplify complex topics and its lack of insightful analysis as a backdrop for the student to provide evidence of understanding.
In this assignment, I have students prompt the AI to write essay about a class concept (see the paper above for the exact prompt). It will be their job to give the AI suggestions for improvement. They’ll paste in both the original essay, their suggestions, and the final output. The process pushes them to think critically about the content and articulate their thoughts for improvement in a clear and concise manner. They may need to seek out additional information to fill the gaps the AI essay might be missing or double check on the “facts” that the AI presents. This should help improve the understanding of major class concepts, as well as illustrate the limits of current LLM tools.
Using AI as a tool to do more
Introducing statistical software to classes did not make us do less statistics, it made us do more. Rather than hand-calculating data points, machines can now do the tedious work. Time that would have been spent calculating complex equations is now spent on more advanced subjects. I think AI will need to be used the same way. Students may save time writing essays, but that time can now be used to gather more data and think more deeply about the material the essay covered.
Ultimately, I am increasing the amount I expect students to accomplish, thanks to AI. As one example, it was once rare for students to have a product demo completed in six weeks - now I can require it, thanks to the boosts to coding and image creation provided by ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion. Other assignments are similarly being adjusted to take into account how much more students can do. This means we can cover more advanced topics in a introductory course than I thought possible two months ago.
The experiment begins (and what about cheating?)
I am lucky, I have classes where I can integrate AI without fear of undermining basic knowledge. Other instructors (such as those teaching English composition) are likely to have more problems. Still, there are ways forward. Foreign language classes thrive in a world of easy translation tools through in-class testing strategies, and math classes continue in a world with claculators. It may not be easy, but accomodation with these new tools is possible, at least in the medium term.1
But I think we need to do more than hope for accomodation. We need to think about how to embrace AI in classes, letting it improve, rather than hurt, our teaching. Thus, the experiments I am trying this semester, some of which may not work,. But I remember that, while the sudden advent of generative AI may be disruptive to educators, it is even more disruptive to the futures of the students we teach. We need to give them the skills to thrive in a transformed world by embracing what AI can do.
In the short term we will be adjusting to AI awkwardly - through stop-gap measures like bans, AI text detection, and ignoring it entirely. In the long term AI may be powerful enough that we have to change school in fundamental ways.