August 29, 2023
Purdue Global: Don’t fear generative AI tools in the classroom
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Stuart Collins is always looking for good conversation topics during his American government and civics courses at Purdue Global.
Collins, a faculty member in the School of Multidisciplinary and Professional Studies, recently focused a class discussion on 2023’s debt ceiling negotiations in class, but with a twist: He used a generative artificial intelligence tool, OpenAI’s ChatGPT, during the seminar.
This example of a Purdue Global faculty member’s use of generative AI within an academic context might be a glimpse into the classroom of the future. Purdue Global, which is Purdue’s online university for working adults, is at the forefront of exploring AI opportunities in higher education, with an AI task force drawing on the creativity and innovative thinking of faculty, students and staff.
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As Collins screen-shared ChatGPT and walked students through the process of prompting the program, it provided additional historical information about the debt ceiling he was not expecting.
Following the session, Collins reminded the students to verify any information from generative AI against reliable sources and stressed the importance of information literacy.
Collins, who serves on Purdue Global’s AI Task Force, began using generative AI tools in December 2022. He now uses them in class, as well as in his research.
“I realized that 80%-90% of the assignments I had created for my government and civics courses could now be readily answered by AI,” Collins said. “That realization presented quite the problem. We are now thinking about how we can make our courses both AI-amplified and AI-resilient.”
Purdue Global leans into generative AI
Purdue Global administrators and faculty were already discussing generative AI in sessions at an internal conference in the fall of 2022. They accelerated their exploration of how generative AI tools could change education with a focused AI in Education group launched in January 2023.
“Purdue Global has attempted to be open-minded and forward-thinking about the positive role that artificial intelligence can play in higher education,” said Matthew Braslow, Purdue Global’s director of assessment and research.
The AI Task Force had issued initial guidance for students and faculty on acceptable and unacceptable uses of generative AI for completing coursework. In general, the guidance allowed it as a research aid and to help improve spelling and grammar.
To see how the use of AI was going, Purdue Global distributed a survey and guidance to the student body and faculty. More than 400 students and 100 faculty members responded.
“The vast majority of students and faculty found the guidance clear and helpful, but the real surprise came when students were asked about whether they planned to use generative AI to complete their schoolwork,” Braslow said.
While fewer than 25% of students said that they planned to use AI, nearly 75% of faculty believed that students would use AI to complete their schoolwork. Student responses ranged from equating AI use to cheating to expressing fears of being accused of plagiarism.
Braslow said it is important to find a balance in using generative AI programs as a tool, especially as Purdue Global students are working adult learners and many students have indicated they are already using generative AI programs in the workplace.
The task force is creating resources and guidelines to help educators understand how higher education can teach and leverage the power of AI. Items such as curriculum guides; professional development courses; and mission, vision and value statements are in final stages of review.
Purdue Global Provost Jon Harbor says it is essential for higher education institutions to actively adopt new policies and integrate AI into the classroom and coursework while finding a way for students and faculty to use the programs.
“Embracing AI in higher education at institutions like Purdue Global is crucial to staying relevant, fostering innovation, enhancing educational quality and preparing students for the opportunities and demands of an AI-powered future,” Harbor said. “Finding common ground ensures that AI is used responsibly, ethically and in a way that maximizes its benefits for both educators and learners.”
A student’s perspective
Austin Lawton, a student from Noblesville, Indiana, pursuing an information technology degree with a focus on programming and software development, embraces generative AI.
Lawton has helped Purdue Global’s AI Task Force with some of its activities, bringing a student perspective. He uses generative AI to assist with his learning and classwork.
“It has been incredibly valuable to have a tool that can help streamline the information acquisition process to essentially augment my understanding of more complex engineering concepts,” he said.
The user-friendly AI programs help him navigate through large amounts of information. While he hasn’t encountered misinformation, he has come across inaccurate coding.
“Using AI like ChatGPT isn’t just about inputting questions and receiving answers. It’s about discovering your own learning curves and gaps in understanding and developing strategies to overcome those,” Lawton said. “My primary concern rests more on the question of control: who gets to decide what AI can and cannot generate, and where the line is between accuracy and truth.”
He is grateful that Purdue Global has embraced AI rather than suppressing or dismissing the technology and that administrators and faculty are working with students to figure out next steps.
His vision involves a “private student AI,” which would be a personalized educational companion for each student. The program would have the ability to remind a person of upcoming deadlines, assist with study sessions and identify areas of struggle.
“As we navigate this era where access to knowledge is unprecedented, it’s essential to consider how AI can shape our future. I see AI as an invaluable guide, a resource that is always present, like a mentor providing advice and insights rather than dictating actions. It holds immense promise for the evolution of learning and, in a broader sense, the human experience,” Lawton said.
About Purdue Global
Purdue Global is Purdue’s online university for working adults who have life experience and often some college credits. It offers flexible paths for students to earn an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, based on their work experience, military service and previous college credits, no matter where they are in their life journey. Purdue Global is a nonprofit, public university accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and backed by Purdue University. For more information, visit https://stories.purdue.edu/purdue-global/.
Writer/Media contact: Matthew Oates, 765-496-6160, firstname.lastname@example.org; @mo_oates
Sources: Matthew Braslow, Maricel Lawrence, Jon Harbor, Austin Lawton, Stuart Collins