Earlier this week, I took part in a workshop on Artificial Intelligence and academic teaching. The workshop was organised by the department of Teaching and Study of the University of Cologne. It was focused on teaching staff and students of the university and I learned quiet a lot about AI and ChatGPT. I am confident to say, that AI will transform academic teaching, the question is how…
What about AI in academic teaching?
So in the beginning we were introduced into what has happened in the last months. ChatGPT is a relatively new phenomenon and suddenly it changed everything. We were reminded that we shouldn’t anthropomorphise the Chat Bot too much, it is just a tool. But I don’t know… Shouldn’t we?
We saw some examples of what the Large Language Models (LLM) GPT-n can do, but also can’t do and where the differences are between the free and the paid version. Pretty fast I could see that this technology means something very different for scholars in natural sciences and scholars in the humanities. While results from ChatGPT for the natural sciences can be checked more easily, results for the humanities can’t. The joke was made that “the natural sciences tell you that they can clone dinosaurs and the humanities tell you why this isn’t a good idea”.
ChatGPT and prompts
In another talk by the linguist Ingo Kleiber, we learned which prompts do what and how to formulate our requests in a way, that ChatGPT can understand better what we want. The most basic but competent formula seems to be:
Acting as a [ROLE] perform [TASK] (in [FORMAT])
I actually tried this with a prompt that I am familiar with. So I entered
Acting as a Post-Colonialist, describe to me the images created by the first archaeologists excavating in the Ancient Near East, especially Henry Layard.
(I used Ancient Near East instead of West Asia as ChatGPT did understand this better). The results were quiet good and nuanced. I actually had the feeling ChatGPT knew what colonialism is and how it should bother us. It doesn’t, I know that, but it really sounded like it. I also tried
Acting as a pirate, explain Archaeology to me, in the form of a rhyme
The result was hilarious, which again gives the impression, ChatGPT has a sense of humour.
Possible scenarios for using AI in teaching
The last part of the workshop was concerned with possible scenarios in which we as teachers could use AI, but also what to do about these damn students, that don’t write their papers themselves anymore. Well the consensus was, that we shouldn’t worry so much about students trying to cheat, because they try anyway. Usually, AI is used as a tool and students understand how to use it. A possible scenario could be to let students create an essay with ChatGPT and then discuss the results or let them fact-check them.
I kind of like the idea, as I don’t see any point in restricting the use of this new tool. Yes it is true that students don’t learn how to write or read properly when they rely on AI tools. But then again, I was part of a generation that didn’t hand-write everything into a notebook. I am sure my teachers thought that writing in a computer doesn’t teach you anything. And they might even be right, but I managed anyway. In a different way (or so I think at least). Maybe this holds also true for these new AI tools and we simply need to adapt how we evaluate our students…