The warnings are ominous and plentiful. For over half a century, we’ve been hit with a deluge of cautionary tales – from books to the big screen – teaching us to fear the unleashed power of artificial intelligence (or AI).
Inevitably, in those stories, technology develops sentiency, plunging the world into a dystopian hellscape, leading to the end of human civilization. So why is Chrissann Ruehle, Lutgert College of Business instructor, eschewing pop culture to embrace the latest AI development?
“I see this as a collaboration and connection between humans and machines, humans and technology, as well as being a benefit for our students and also for faculty,” she explained.
For the past six years, Ruehle has researched the burgeoning field of AI and is working on publishing articles and papers on the subject. She describes one of the newest creations, ChatGPT, as a “generative artificial intelligence program that uses conversational artificial intelligence.”
For example, ChatGPT is designed to mimic human communication. Enter a question or request, and ChatGPT will respond in a way to sound, well, like an everyday person.
Let’s say you ask ChatGPT to write a paper from the viewpoint of a second-year undergraduate college student studying biology on giant African land snails invading Southwest Florida. Within minutes it creates a report in the style of a college paper. While concerns about plagiarism and cheating are valid and deserve attention, Ruehle says we need to start rethinking AI as a tool in the classroom so the next generation can realistically navigate the pitfalls of cheating.
“The train has left the station. This program is here,” Ruehle said. “How can we bring this technology into the classroom and introduce it to our students so they learn how to use it in an ethical and responsible manner? Because when they leave the doors here at FGCU, it’s in the workplace, too, and they need to learn how to use it in a very ethical and appropriate manner. I would rather they learn how to use it here in my classroom rather than experimenting with it out in the workforce.”
To do that, Ruehle has devised ways to use ChatGPT to help. For instance, it can assist students and professionals with what she calls “blank page syndrome.”
“You pull up a blank page, either on the computer screen or if you’re writing something manually, and everyone looks at it and says, where do I start?” said Ruehle. “Well, why not ask ChatGPT? What’s a good starting point for this topic?”
She cautions if you use ChatGPT in this way, properly cite. Ruehle also says the tool can be a useful aid in creativity and innovation.
“I’ve been teaching the same courses now – this is my sixth year here at FGCU – and I’m looking for some innovative ways to explain complex concepts to students,” Ruehle said.
That creativity use also extends to social media content creation and professional bios. With the right prompt, ChatGPT can caption a photo or help create a LinkedIn profile.
Ruehle also found ChatGPT to be useful for career planning and advising. Recently she told ChatGPT she was a third-year marketing student struggling with the financial aspect of pricing strategies. She asked the program for best practices or educational resources to help with understanding.
“I was very specific. Please provide me six examples in terms of experience and also from academia. Within one minute and 30 seconds, ChatGPT gave me a list of six different items that I could look at in order to improve my knowledge of pricing models. It was right on point.”
Ruehle cautions AI isn’t perfect, pointing out problems with biases that have come to light, such as with search engine Bing’s AI program. But she says engaging with AI tools and giving developers feedback is crucial.
She also sees a need for new policies and best practices in the classroom. She’s currently helping other institutions develop updated syllabus verbiage. But overall, her message is clear and optimistic: Embrace the new frontier and figure out how to make it work.
“Engagement is an integral part of students being successful in their academic endeavors, and if this is a tool that helps them to increase the level of engagement, I think that’s a win-win all the way around.”