Students seated in a circular group

Helping Students Develop a Critical Approach to Using Generative AI

Brief Overview

Brief Overview

Generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) tools like ChatGPT and Claude are changing how people live and learn, as well as how they access, navigate, and produce information. As these tools become more widely available, it is increasingly likely that students will use them or will need to become literate in how to use them responsibly before they leave the university and embark on their future careers. For this reason, whether an instructor chooses to encourage or discourage the use of AI, taking the time to engage students in thoughtful conversations around the use of GenAI and the implications of its use in their learning and production for a particular class or field is crucial. Following are some ideas for talking with students about the use of GenAI tools to support their learning and enhance their output, while approaching its use from a critical perspective.

Topics for Conversation

Topics for Conversation

Acknowledge and explore perspectives on GenAI. In any conversation about the use of GenAI in education, it is important to recognize that what people know and feel about this topic is sometimes centered on facts, but often infused with emotion. And these emotions can make conversation challenging. To that end, it is important to take time to:

  • Explore with students the current realities of what AI can and can’t do and how it works, addressing misconceptions as well as the limitations and known biases of current GenAI tools.
  • Discuss student and academic perspectives on the potential implications of using or not using the tool in education.
  • Examine the validity of various perspectives on the potential impact of the use of GenAI in school and/or at work with respect for individual values and beliefs.

Consider the opportunities and challenges offered by GenAI. GenAI may help students gain new perspectives, expand vocabulary, organize high-level concepts, and clarify complex subject matter. This can enhance learning and lead to more meaningful educational experiences. GenAI can also be used to expedite the production of work in a way that could negatively impact a student’s ability to develop critical reading, writing, thinking, and presentation skills. To help students consider the ramifications of overreliance on AI, consider having them:

  • Reflect on the opportunities and challenges offered by GenAI. What does balanced use of GenAI look like? What does imbalanced use look like? What are the implications of both scenarios for individuals? For society as a whole?
  • Research and create a list of ways GenAI might be used as a tool for enhancing learning rather than a replacement for it, and a tool for expediting or improving work rather than generating it.

Explore expectations of academic and professional integrity. What constitutes ethical use of GenAI in education? In particular professional fields? To clarify what may and may not be appropriate use of GenAI in a particular context and to consider the ramifications of inappropriate use as well as inadequate use, it might be helpful to have students:

  • Consider the University policies around cheating and plagiarism as well as what causes otherwise honest people to cheat.
  • Reflect on whether or not the reasons for cheating in a professional context would be any different from the reasons that drive cheating in an academic context.
  • Generate a comparative list of appropriate and inappropriate use cases for school and/or professional settings in their field.

Generate a personal policy for the use of GenAI. Ideally, conversations among faculty and departments about the use of AI would take place prior to the semester, and conversations with students would take place the first few weeks of a semester. The intended result being clearly articulated academic policies and a shared understanding of acceptable use in a given context. But students will be interacting with AI in their personal and professional lives, as well. For this reason, it may be beneficial for instructors to support students in taking time to critically reflect on their own perspectives regarding appropriate and ethical AI use. Doing so can help inform policies and teaching approaches related to AI technology. To support this critical examination, consider having students:

  • Share their philosophies about the use of GenAI at school, work, or in their daily lives.
  • Reflect on the value of being able to articulate a personal policy for acceptable use.
  • Research ethical considerations around the use of GenAI in education, their field, and/or daily life.
  • Collaborate on the development of a personal, professional, or class policy (if one does not already exist) that clarifies acceptable use.

Continue the conversation throughout the semester. A single conversation will likely be insufficient for preparing students to navigate the rapid evolution of GenAI tools. However, by regularly taking time throughout the semester to discuss these topics, instructors and students can work together to stay on top of changes as they come, thinking critically about the why, how, when, and whether GenAI tools should be used in certain contexts of learning and work. Keeping questions of acceptable use and the value of producing one’s own, authentically human work at the front of these conversations will help students to be more thoughtful and responsible in their use of new technology.

Conclusion

Conclusion

Spending sustained time learning about GenAI and engaging in periodic conversations about it in class require a significant investment of time on the part of instructors, but there are also benefits: an enhanced sense of community within their classrooms and a better chance that students will learn how to use GenAI appropriately in contexts within and outside of the university. Additionally, working together to keep up to date on this technology, and think about use critically, means that instructors and students will be better equipped to adapt their approach to the growing catalog of AI tools.