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AI comes for education

Can it make us better?

Picture this: the lecture hall is buzzing with anticipation as a professor, equipped with the latest AI-enhanced teaching tools, effortlessly navigates through a labyrinth of complex subjects. She’s turning pages of theories and complex concepts into a condensed version students can better understand.

That’s already starting to happen today: AI is being rapidly incorporated into academic life. A compelling narrative is unfolding, with students and professors now starting to trust the power of AI to elevate their educational experiences. This journey towards a more futuristic educational experience unveils a fascinating story of adaptation, and the inevitable fusion of human intellect with the boundless capabilities of machines.

“The terrain feels very uncertain,” said Rutgers University Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Caitlin Petre. “Or at least I’ll just speak for myself and say that this is something I’m thinking about all the time, both as someone who studies and is interested in kind of the social implications of emerging technology, and also as someone who is a teacher and an instructor.”

AI tools like ChatGPT are in especially high demand by semester’s end, as students struggle to complete their assignments efficiently before finals.

“I think that there are ways in which students can use an AI as an interlocutor in some sense,” Petre said. “Maybe it’s to come up with ideas for a paper, or just have a way of using AI as something that’s going to push their thinking a little bit.”

Using AI to facilitate student thinking can benefit students who have trouble synthesizing their ideas. AI can also automate routine tasks, freeing up valuable time and allowing students to engage in more meaningful interactions with their perers, Petre said.

But awareness of the negatives is equally crucial.

“AIs have a tendency to make stuff up,” Petre pointed out. “If you ask it to give you a bunch of academic sources for a research paper, some of those might be completely fabricated.” She’s wary of the errors or “hallucinations” AI systems like ChatGPT can introduce.

“I think that as we’ve figured out a role for calculators in education, we are going to figure out, through a process of long trial and error and a lot of debate, ways in which to bring AI into learning as well,” Petre added.

Especially if students don’t fact-check the information AI systems spit out, AI can seriously damage learning. Striking a balance between leveraging AI for efficiency and ensuring it aligns with ethical principles is key. By fostering a nuanced understanding of both the benefits and challenges, educators can harness the transformative potential of AI in education while safeguarding the core values that underpin effective teaching and learning integrity.

Photo by Andrea DeSantis / Unsplash

Informal survey: 80 percent of students using AI

I asked 10 students from across all Rutgers University campuses if they had used ChatGPT or other forms of AI systems as study aids. Eight students said they had. The other two said they were uncomfortable relying on artificial intelligence to help them in their studies.

But students are increasingly leaning into the realm of artificial intelligence as an invaluable ally. It can offer personalized learning experiences, by catering to individual needs and learning styles.

Journalism and Media Studies major Jadyn Berrian said she appreciated AI’s ease of use.

“It’ll make assignments that feel more daunting, a lot easier, and I think it’ll make it a lot easier for students to be able to balance homework and life,” Berrian said. “I think a lot of my time gets taken up by completing assignments, and having AI to help me speed up that process of doing homework is a large benefit.”

Students can access adaptive learning platforms that tailor content, pacing and assessments to their strengths and weaknesses. AI-driven tools also provide a dynamic and interactive approach to learning, making complex concepts more engaging, and speeding up comprehension of complex topics.

But reliance on AI poses challenges.

“I think that there’s fear in losing some authenticity in writing. And I fear that we won’t have that same kind of creativity in writing,” Berrian said. “I think that there will be less authenticity in homework assignments, presentations and writing, because it’ll become such a crutch for some students.”

She realizes that AI is already penetrating journalism.

AI can have the potential to steal jobs from people like journalism majors, or English majors, or writing majors who have been working their entire lives to be able to establish themselves in a career, only to have that be taken away by a computer,” Berrian acknowledged. “The work is definitely not going to be as good. I think it can become a really bad issue in the future in that aspect.”

Rutgers biology major Edgar Domingues is one of few students who avoids using AI in his academic career. A conscientious outlier, he opts for a more traditional and human-centric approach to learning. Domingues said he’d only used ChatGPT – both times to help him organize homework assignment ideas.

“Part of it is me not wanting to fall into the temptation of using AI, which can end up hurting me,” Domingues said. “My major depends on me having a lot of base knowledge that I will later build upon with other concepts in later classes. At the end of the day, it won’t help me in the future.”

Domingues plans to go to medical school – the reason he’s so strict about learning concepts on his own. His decision to forgo AI is rooted in a desire to prevent over-reliance on technology, and to foster a deeper connection with the subject matter and nurture critical thinking skills. While the majority gravitates toward the efficiency AI provides, Edgar’s choice underscores a commitment to maintaining a balance between the digital and physical educational experience.

“To me, a big part of my major is a lot of effort in the work that you put in, and that determination you put into understanding a certain topic or understanding concepts or learning that knowledge,” Domingues said. “I don’t see ChatGPT being beneficial in that aspect. I do think learning comes from a student’s own work, not from the work of artificial intelligence.”

AI is poised to revolutionize various aspects of our lives, from healthcare and education to finance and transportation. It can drive efficiency, innovation and problem-solving on a previously unimaginable scale. While errors in AI algorithms may occur, advancements in machine learning and ongoing research are continually refining these systems.

Rutgers Assistant Dean for Programs and Assessment Sharon Stoerger pointed out that AI is a particular asset in literacy training. Like any technology, there’s usually a learning curve associated with it, and it’s relatively easy to use right out of the box,” Stoerger said.

“You don’t need a lot of training, because it operates kind of like a search engine does, and we’re all very familiar with that.”

Stoerger acknowledged that Rutgers hasn’t taken any definitive policy direction on how students, faculty or the university in general should treat AI. “Rutgers has been very quiet,” Stoerger said. “And the university has kind of taken a hands-off approach, and is sort of giving the faculty and the instructors the freedom to make their own decisions.”

“And at the same time, that is adding a really large burden on the faculty and the instructors. They’re looking for guidance, because they really don’t know what to do with this technology.”

About the Author

Dario Maya

Professor: Mary D'Ambrosio
Class: Magazine Writing

Exploring the integration of AI in education has become imperative for both students and educators who are slowing straying from traditional educational methods, and moving to a more enhanced, adaptive learning style. While there are benefits that come with AI that can help facilitate learning in certain areas, there are also significant downsides. When writing this story, I wanted to get a glimpse into the minds of people, and their attitudes toward AI. I learned that attitudes differ widely. Delving into the complexities of AI in education was crucial in raising awareness of a style of learning that is new to everyone, and begs the question of the permanency of AI in education.