The meteoric rise of artificial intelligence tools in recent years has created powerful new tools for fields ranging from traffic and cancer treatment to flood prediction.
But what about in the college classroom?
The launch of artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT in November 2022 by research laboratory Open AI has turned heads throughout academia. The tool scours the internet for information, processes it, and produces text that seems similar to that written by humans — sometimes with astonishing clarity and sophistication.
Some educators have raised concerns that students will use tools like ChatGPT to generate written assignments instead of doing the work themselves.
“Everyone wants to take the least difficult path to solve something, and our students could lose the skills of problem-solving and writing comprehensively if AI is unrestricted,” LSU physics professor Parampreet Singh said.
But that doesn’t mean Singh, a member of the Faculty Senate Executive committee, thinks LSU should try to ban AI in the classroom; among other reasons, he thinks students will be able to easily skirt attempts to block the technology. Instead, he says he’s already committed to a future where AI is widespread and commonly used in higher education.
“Thanks to computational power being very cheap and becoming cheaper every day, there is no limit to this,” he said. “It has its own advantages, but I think that, the way we shifted from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy, it’s the same shift that we’re going to see — and higher education needs to be prepared for that.”
The role of AI in higher education was thrust into the spotlight at LSU when star gymnast Olivia Dunne promoting an AI tool designed to help students with their classwork. Dunne, who has 7.2 million followers on TikTok, posted a video on Feb. 26 as part of a paid partnership with Caktus AI, an artificial intelligence service that bills itself as “the first ever educational artificial intelligence tool.”
In a statement, LSU did not specifically address Caktus AI, but warned students to be careful with how they use artificial intelligence tools generally.
“At LSU, our professors and students are empowered to use technology for learning and pursuing the highest standards of academic integrity,” the statement said. “However, using AI to produce work that a student then represents as one’s own could result in a charge of academic misconduct, as outlined in the Code of Student Conduct.”
LSU’s Code of Student Conduct does not specifically address artificial intelligence, but it does prohibit plagiarism, which it defines as the “lack of appropriate citation, or the unacknowledged inclusion of someone else’s words, structure, ideas, or data; failure to identify a source, or the submission of essentially the same work for two assignments without permission of the instructor.”
Like a calculator?
Singh said that students taking shortcuts on their work is almost inevitable with AI. In the future, professors may need to themselves use AI programs to distinguish automated writing from the original writing of a human.
“I don’t think we can really win that game if we just read it and try to see if it comes from ChatGPT or not,” he said. “I don’t think the faculty, as human beings, can win that game and we’ll need the help of some type of AI itself to beat AI at that game.”
Some educators say the technology isn’t advanced enough to be educationally viable, so it’s not a widespread problem just yet.
“There is a danger that students could use it for cheating, but in my opinion, there’s so much stuff on the internet already before and so they would have been able to cheat just as much without that AI technology,” LSU associate professor Gerald Baumgartner said. “I’m not sure it makes a big difference from that point of view.”
Baumgartner, who teaches computer science, says he’s used AI programs similar to ChatGPT and finds they fall short of being good enough to pass as human writing.
“I’ve been playing around with it a little bit by taking paragraphs from my own papers, posting them in to see how it could be re-written and the quality isn’t very good,” he said. “But it’s good enough that it could be useful in the process of producing something as a first draft.”
Baumgartner said he sees AI absorbing into classroom settings over time — much like calculators did years ago.
“I expect that eventually the teaching style will evolve for classes where this type of technology could be useful to assume students have access to this technology,” he said. “But yes, it also makes cheating easier and that needs to be reined in appropriately as well.”
Some students have already begun to use AI to their advantage.
Mason Mitchell, a sophomore civil engineering student at LSU, said he’s used AI to do classwork. He said it helped him in the short term but hurt him down the line.
“I used it my first semester here and used it in the cheating form, I definitely didn’t spend time and it kind of showed,” Mitchell said. “I did pass, but the next semester and the following got a lot harder because each class got more in depth.”
Mitchell said using AI could either benefit or harm students depending on if they intentionally work to gain the skills they’re using the AI for.
“There’s pros and cons to it, but if you want to use it, people should use it to their own benefit and learn from it instead of typing in a question and getting it online,” he said. “If you want to end up doing good, then spend time actually learning with the program you’re using.”
Should LSU set rules?
Last month, LSU posted a guide for faculty members about ChatGPT and similar tools, explaining what they are, what they can and cannot do, and how some educators have used them. But, so far, LSU has not set many explicit rules for what is and is not an acceptable use for AI.
Camille May, a sophomore kinesiology major at LSU, said she would prefer LSU have a formal policy in place for AI usage to help students who are having a hard time.
“They should have some form of policy just to make sure that it fits their guidelines, but it should be in place though for those who learn differently and who are struggling,” she said. “I know a lot of people who are struggling, so they should have some form of policy that fits in their curriculum but works for them and works for their students.”
Some professors, however, don’t want the university setting top-down policies for artificial intelligence.
“I think that as a faculty member, I don’t want LSU to dictate what I should be doing with AI in the classroom,” Baumgartner said. “I think it should be left to the individual faculty members to decide whether, for a particular course, it would be a useful tool to use or whether it would be considered cheating.”
Singh said that though AI could forever change the way that higher education operates in the future, there is value in reminding students of their unique abilities and emphasizing talents that AI could never replace.
“AI can’t think passionately, AI can’t think creatively,” he said. “It can mimic creation, but it cannot be an artist or a poet. It can’t be a scientist and it can’t cure cancer. I think that is what has to change and that message has to be given to the whole youth community.”