Florida Gulf Coast University faculty members are piloting classroom use of an AI-powered writing assistant that never sleeps, never complains and is always available to students.
Billy Gunnels uses Alethea Coach for assigned readings in his undergraduate and graduate courses in biology and ecology. Lutgert College of Business instructor Chrissann Ruehle says the tool “bolsters classroom discussions” by getting her students to read at a deeper level. They are among several faculty members sharing the platform.
How does it work? Faculty choose reading materials like textbook chapters, journal articles, handouts and transcripts to include in the online platform, along with critical thinking questions. Students highlight relevant passages in the text to answer the questions. Alethea Coach helps students organize their thoughts and respond to the questions based on their highlighted passages. Students “talk” to the platform powered by OpenAI’s GPT-4 like they would to a writing coach.
The course materials engagement tool provides tutor-like support to guide students through the reading and writing process. Alethea doesn’t complete the assignment for them like other generative AI tools, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard and Anthropic’s Claude.
Gunnels notes that students are already using those tools and now have a useful substitute. “Students that use those tools effectively are producing much higher quality work than students that either do not use it or use it poorly. We need to ensure that they use it in an impactful and valuable way,” he says.
For faculty concerned about AI and academic integrity, the pilot program provides an ethical alternative to incorporate AI in the classroom.
“Alethea flips the script of ChatGPT, not by responding to a prompt written by the student with an answer, but providing the prompt to help the student come up with the answer in their own words,” says Tracy Elliott, dean of the Wilson G. Bradshaw Library.
She uses the platform in her College of Education graduate courses. Students who previously struggled with reading comprehension or who learned just enough to pass a test have told her the tutoring helped them enhance their understanding and develop significant confidence in their knowledge.
Justice studies associate professor and sociology program coordinator Jan-Martijn Meij uses Alethea to help his students create polished essays and complete tests with better reading comprehension. A heatmap allows him to see exactly where students click and highlight text.
“If there is a serious misunderstanding, I can see it,” he says about the feature, which allows him to identify the material students found difficult.
Like Meij, Elliott also finds Alethea helpful to identify concepts students struggle with most and address it in lectures or discussions. Before being introduced to the technology, some of her students struggled with summarizing and synthesizing evidence provided in authoritative sources, especially primary research publications. But now, she says, “every single student in each of my classes that has Alethea embedded has the ability to do this effectively.”
“My hope would be that students gain these skills early in their academic careers so that they can perform these critical thinking tasks throughout their academic and professional careers and in their personal lives when encountering misinformation and disinformation,” Elliott says.
Starting in the spring semester, the pilot program expanded to 14 courses, including accounting, finance, criminal justice and English, taught by 15 faculty. Most of the courses involved in the Alethea pilot are core courses for degree programs or general education electives. Elliott says if this additional pilot program proves successful, FGCU could see full implementation by fall 2024 for faculty who choose to use it.
This article is part of a series of stories about AI at FGCU: