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Nov 22, 2023

The Chatbot Goes to College: The Perils of Premature Policy

The integration of AI-powered chatbots into higher education has triggered a complex debate, with students and parents expressing frustration over the lack of clear guidelines from universities. This dilemma, while challenging, underscores a critical point: the danger of a hastily adopted, university-wide policy on AI usage in education.

Currently, many universities lack a unified stance on AI tools like ChatGPT. This absence of policy isn't necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it might be a safer bet for now. A rushed university-wide policy is likely to be prohibitive and uninformed, stemming more from a place of fear and misunderstanding than informed decision-making. The repercussions of such a policy could be significant, leading to restrictions that stifle innovation and creating additional inequities. Moreover, the likelihood of having to walk back such a policy once better understanding and more use cases emerge is high, which could lead to confusion and a lack of trust in institutional decisions.

Given these potential pitfalls, delegating the responsibility to individual faculty members seems to be a more prudent approach. This decentralization allows for a more nuanced and adaptable handling of AI in the classroom. Professors, based on their familiarity and comfort with AI tools, can create temporary guidelines that best fit their pedagogical goals and the needs of their students. This approach fosters a diverse range of policies, from strict prohibition to full embracement.

This strategy, however, is not without its challenges. It leads to a patchwork of policies where students may receive mixed messages about the use of AI tools like ChatGPT. In one class, AI might be a tool for enhancing the creative process, while in another, its use might result in severe penalties. Such inconsistencies can be confusing, but they also reflect the broader state of AI in society: a technology full of potential yet fraught with ethical and practical uncertainties.

To navigate this landscape, transparency and communication become key. Faculty members should clearly articulate their stance on AI in their syllabi, providing students with a clear understanding of what is expected in each course. It is important to be honest with students, for example stating “I did not have a chance to learn about the use of ChatGPT and other AI in teaching, so I am not yet comfortable allowing to use it, sorry.” Don’t feign expertise where there isn’t any. In my opinion, it would be prudent to at least start experimenting, and encourage students to use AI in at least one, even optional assignment. This requires revision of the assignment, and especially its rubric.  This would at lest who your student that you care enough to try. Many faculty have already tried something and are now in a better position to encourage the use of AI in all of their assignments. It is not realistic to expect all faculty in all disciplines to move with the same speed. Therefore a broad policy may be too much for some and too little for others.

The shift towards AI in education is a journey marked by uncertainties and learning opportunities. Rather than rushing to impose a one-size-fits-all policy, universities would be better served by allowing individual professors to take the lead, adapting their approaches as our collective understanding of AI evolves. This method may be less straightforward, but it is more likely to lead to informed, effective, and sustainable integration of AI in the educational landscape.

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