What should I tell students about AI?

Given the news and social media hype surrounding generative artificial intelligence (AI), it is likely that students will have already heard about, or experimented with, the different types of tools available. Many staff members are already using ChatGPT in their own work and it is only reasonable to assume students are too. It is important that you have an open conversation about the capabilities (and limitations) of these tools relative to the assessment tasks. Otherwise, you may create suspicion and mystery around the tools, leading to students potentially misusing AI and thus falling into the territory of creating an unfair advantage and facing a conduct case.

Some main points to consider when talking to students are:

  • AI is designed to mimic human writing because it is trained on billions of words of human-written text from books and the internet, and so its responses may look realistic and believable;
  • it works like autocomplete, by statistically predicting which word(s) have a higher probability of following other words, based on its training data;
  • don’t trust anything it says", since it is designed to mimic human writing but not actually understand concepts, so we still need to know things and think for ourselves;
  • responses are often relatively superficial but are well-written so appear to be more plausible than they are.

It is important for our students to hear about these tools, not only from their lecturers and tutors, but also experience them in a ‘safe space’ where we can guide them. As such you should consider directing students to subject specific resources about the use of AI tools or working with it in the classroom to experiment independently or in groups. This could lead to a session where you explore students’ findings collectively to demonstrate what can be achieved. This will also give you the opportunity to explain how you expect it to be used in your assessment. This provides an experiential activity, which also serves to set your expectations about the assessment work that will be undertaken in your course. To help facilitate these activities you could draw upon some of the prompt engineering examples we have developed.

We have a duty, as an educational institution, to support staff and students to be AI-literate; this includes helping them to understand how AI can be used effectively, ethically, critically, and transparently. Students should be guided towards the resources that the University is creating. You may wish to point students to this guidance so that they understand AI is something that is rapidly changing and developing. This could be an opportunity to discuss how AI is a disrupter in the educational space and is challenging all academic disciplines, as well as the world more generally. Furthermore, encouraging the AI debate is an opportunity to truly engage in co-creational pedagogy whereby the student can help to shape and formulate their own learning alongside academics, rather than a more traditional didactic learning environment. Additionally, students should be pointed towards the guidance that is being produced by the Student Learning Development team.