To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Chatting up a Storm on AI

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot made to answer questions on a multitude of topics, and serve as a helpful resource. ChatGPT can be used to give career advice, further personal development, talk about entertainment and pop culture and much more. Often, though, it is used as an educational resource for students of all ages to aid in the completion of homework assignments and understanding the concepts learned in class. It has become increasingly popular with students, and certainly has made its presence known on Brandeis’ campus.

To further discuss both the role and the concerns of ChatGPT in an educational setting, The Hoot spoke with Irina Dubinina, a professor in the Russian Department and Director of the Russian Language Program, as well as a Faculty Director and the Center of Teaching and Learning. She is also on the Board of Directors for American Councils of Teachers of Russian and the Pedagogy Advisory Board of the National Heritage Language Resource Center. During her time at the Center of Teaching and Learning, she aims to better understand and improve the relationship between teachers and students.

Dubinina believes that “teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin.” To better explain the unique relationship between professor and student, she used the analogy of couple dancing. “I view us in this process in a couple dance—there is a leader and a follower. Together, the leader and follower create a couple dance that is enjoyable to both parties.” When ChatGPT is brought into the mix, the relationship changes. Dubinina stated that “ChatGPT changes how we dance … it creates new challenges, places new burdens and creates new responsibilities … for [both] faculty and students.”

ChatGPT creates a tricky situation for professors when teaching a course. “There are good reasons for professors to say ‘absolutely no use of any AI tool in my course,’” in cases where “the essence of the course is creativity by humans.” However, perhaps not every professor should automatically prohibit all use of ChatGPT. Dubinina compared the rise of AI technology to another tool commonly used in an educational setting to help students, the calculator. “When calculators were invented many years ago, there were many who were concerned students would not be able to do basic arithmetic. Now we live in a new reality where ChatGPT exists … The question is, what can I do to better prepare my students to enter the world in which ChatGPT exists?”

Though some may be scared of the role ChatGPT may play in our future, Dubinina reminded us that the AI bot is far from perfect, and comes with countless limitations. “At least for now, we are still smarter and more creative than any AI tool. ChatGPT is not perfect. It invents citations and sources … It is only as smart as the data with which it works.” The bot also cannot successfully mimic advanced levels of human writing, instead giving off a suspiciously polished and robotic feeling. Dubinina stated “It will have the taste of a generic burger … it will not make a gourmet meal for you.” She also notes that it is limited in that it cannot know what has been discussed during class time.

Because of these limitations, Dubinina urges individuals to think critically, and to not become reliant on AI.I come from a small town on the east coast of Russia. The city was founded in the 1920s, and received the status of the city in 1937. I asked ChatGPT to write a story about my city. According to ChatGPT, it was founded in the 17th century.” Dubinina mentioned that just as Wikipedia is filled with misinformation but still serves as a useful tool, ChatGPT has its strengths as long as students do not blindly trust AI tools. “The foundational skills that are part of the Brandeis core…[are now] three times as important.”

The AI tool does have its strengths, too. Dubinina believes ChatGPT can be a powerful asset when brainstorming, or creating a rough draft. Though the language may be clunky, and not every idea will be a good one, it kickstarts the creative energy needed when brainstorming an assignment. 

Moving forward, the role of ChatGPT in the classroom is unclear. It is something that should be brainstormed and developed, and the Center for Teaching and Learning has been working hard to determine the best possible solution for teachers and students at Brandeis alike. In fact, there is a page dedicated to the use of ChatGPT on their website. It serves as a guide for how to adapt classes to complement AI tools, as well as how to potentially implement ChatGPT into a course.

The website also lists a number of ethical concerns regarding ChatGPT use. Dubinina did outline specific equity issues that could be caused by the use of AI. “If we move towards integrating these tools in our courses and ChatGPT becomes a pay for use service, then it becomes an equity issue. Access to the internet is an equity issue. So it does create pressures along the lines that already exist.”

All in all, Dubinina views the integration of AI in the educational field as an exciting challenge to critique widely accepted methods of teaching and learning. It encourages teachers to think about the types of assignments given to students, and potentially offer creative alternatives—whether it be assigning interviews, data interpretation, or multimodal assignments that involve an audio or video portion. It also urges students to take the initiative: “Closing our eyes on this and saying absolutely no use of this tool anywhere on campus is unrealistic,” Dubinina added “We want students to learn, and to succeed in life. We create courses with that idea in mind. We are constantly questioning our practices…what is effective, what is not effective. ChatGPT is a huge challenge, but I like to see it as an opportunity to rethink what we do. How can I, as the leader in the dance, make the follower shine?”

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