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Iowa Professors Say Students Must Be Educated About Artificial Intelligence

Iowa Professors Say Students Must Be Educated About Artificial Intelligence

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Three professors from public universities in Iowa are collaborating to increase awareness about the significance and contradictory nature of artificial intelligence (AI) in higher education. They emphasize concerns regarding privacy, bias, and academic integrity.

During a meeting with the Board of Regents on June 14, the professors highlighted both the benefits and drawbacks of integrating AI into classrooms. They emphasized the necessity of educating faculty, staff, and students about the potential advantages as well as the challenges and concerns associated with these technologies.

Barrett Thomas, a professor and senior associate dean of the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, stressed the importance of comprehensive education about AI technologies. According to Thomas, it is crucial to understand the opportunities they offer, but also to be aware of the challenges and risks they present.

Abram Anders, an associate professor of English and the interim associate director of the Student Innovation Center at Iowa State University, recognized the impact of AI in higher education institutions worldwide. He specifically highlighted the transformative potential of large language model technology, which enables computers to learn and generate human languages. However, Anders pointed out that these tools have limitations and are not sentient beings capable of thinking and feeling like humans. They are also not objective and are likely to exhibit biases present in the human language they are trained on. In addition, they cannot take responsibility for the consequences of their texts or make ethical decisions.

Thomas concurred with Anders regarding the detriments of newer AI generator technology, particularly in terms of bias. He explained that bias can arise from algorithmic design, the data used to train the models, and the way the data is generated. As this data is mostly human-generated, access to that data determines the biases present in AI responses.

Thomas also highlighted the issue of AI responses that are factually incorrect, leading to the spread of misinformation and negatively impacting users. He mentioned a notable case where a lawyer used ChatGPT and cited nonexistent case law.

Jim O’Loughlin, professor and head of the Languages and Literature Department at the University of Northern Iowa, drew attention to the concerns surrounding academic integrity and the use of ChatGPT. He presented the regents with various headlines addressing these issues and showcased UNI’s Academi Ethics Violation policy. He acknowledged the need for modest changes to account for generative AI and emphasized the importance of flexibility in applying these policies to different classroom settings. O’Loughlin explained that while some students may require in-depth knowledge of generative AI for future occupational applications, others may only need a basic understanding.

O’Loughlin also mentioned prompt engineers who develop, refine, and optimize AI text prompts. He noted that some students at Iowa’s universities will pursue careers in this field and will require several classes on utilizing and improving AI.

Furthermore, O’Loughlin stressed that there may be situations and classes where the use of AI would be detrimental and prohibited, giving faculty the necessary leeway to address these scenarios.

Another issue raised by O’Loughlin is the current infrastructure available to professors to detect plagiarism in student work. He expressed concerns about the accuracy of existing electronic plagiarism checkers in identifying AI-generated text, particularly for non-native English speakers.

Therefore, there is a need for new assignments and approaches to address these challenges in integrating AI into higher education.

"In the academic realm, certain traditional forms of assessment, such as take-home exams, annotated bibliographies, and research papers, are now being deemed less reliable indicators of student performance due to the ease with which ChatGPT can be utilized," he explained.

According to him, generative AI can easily assist or even fully compose written communication, argumentation, and basic computer coding skills. Consequently, the ability to discern and evaluate the quality, effectiveness, and persuasiveness of content is becoming increasingly vital in higher education, particularly in humanities courses.

New courses are also being introduced to address the impact of AI. For instance, Anders mentioned a course titled "Artificial Intelligence and Writing" that he is currently teaching at ISU. In this course, students will learn how to utilize literacy tools to understand and create effective prompts, as well as find accurate information using AI.

O’Loughlin cited an epidemiology class at UNI where students analyze the accuracy of information provided by ChatGPT on public health issues. Additionally, creative writing courses are utilizing AI to explore original story concepts.

Thomas emphasized that opportunities for AI implementation exist in every discipline, including entrepreneurship and AI classes at the UI, as well as hands-on experiences in the Commercializing New Technology Academy. He further stated that this technology will have an impact on all research conducted on campus and will be relevant to students’ future careers, highlighting the importance of adequately preparing them for this domain.

Privacy concerns were also raised regarding the use of ChatGPT and similar software. Thomas mentioned that students may be unaware that their data is being stored. Generative AI retains the information input by users to train its next version, which may include sensitive data. Addressing these concerns would require education and potentially implementing restrictions on the use of such technologies with certain types of data.

Anders emphasized that the disruption caused by AI is already underway. Unlike other technologies, AI does not need years to fully develop its capabilities. It is already capable of transforming the world and amplifying human talent.

He clarified that AI will not replace jobs, but rather enhance human capabilities. Thus, the focus should be on assuming leadership in inventing ethical features that mitigate potential harms in learning communities, while also equipping students with the necessary skills to effectively utilize these tools.

The article concludes by stating that Iowa Capital Dispatch is an independent news outlet within the States Newsroom network, a 501c(3) public charity supported by grants and a coalition of donors. For further inquiries, readers are encouraged to contact Editor Kathie Obradovich at info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. They can also follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter for updates.


  • emmetthouse

    Emmett House is a 29 yo school teacher and blogger who is passionate about education. He has a vast amount of experience in the field and is always eager to share his insights with others. Emmett is a dedicated teacher who truly cares about his students' success. He is also an expert on using technology in the classroom, and is always looking for new ways to engage his students.

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