Discussing AI with your students

Illustration of a woman thinking with digital artifacts on top of her image

We are all struggling to find our way through the changes brought about by generative AIs such as ChatGPT, Bard, Claude, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and so many others.

Students are in the same boat. They are learning to function with new technologies that will affect their daily and working lives. They will already have formed ideas about generative AI, worked with the tools that may have come from high schools that have very different policies, and will be dealing with the evolving policy environments on our four campuses.

Discussing AI with your students

Here are some general thoughts on discussing AI with your students:

Be intentional. It’s generally troublesome to employ a tool without a reason. Before requiring AI tools as part of course activity, determine a clear educational outcome or student experience those tools are uniquely suited to create. Because of the complexity of AI tools, they carry big benefits (e.g. automating tedious tasks) and significant shortfalls (e.g. errors and ‘hallucinations’ in the generated products). Students and faculty can become frustrated, especially with tools we’re still learning how to use. Be clear about why these challenges are necessary.

Be transparent about what you are requiring or prohibiting and why. Remember that the Student Code of Conduct, as of August 2023 prohibits use of AI (except for grammar/spell checkers, autocorrect, and similar uses) for assignments and assessments unless you specifically permit it. Be clear about what you are allowing and what is prohibited. You also have the right to extend the use of AI to other course activities not covered by the Code.

Discuss how you plan to deal with possible instances of misuse. Let them know if and how you plan to use any AI detection applications. Make it clear that you will not enter any personally identifiable information into any unapproved AI detector. (As of August 14, 2023, we do not have an approved application for this.)

Make clear that you understand that these tools are erratic and unreliable, may penalize students with a more formal writing style or who are not writing in their native language, and can only be used to indicate problems, not as the sole proof. Let them know that you want to work with them, not against them, and that they will be treated fairly and within the guidelines set by the University.

Listen to and acknowledge how students may view and feel about using AI for assignments before presenting and explaining your policies or positions on the use of AI. Doing this will build goodwill with students and help them become more open to your expectations. Something especially helpful here is situating your policies and expectations within the learning outcomes for the course or module.

You should also take the time to answer any questions students may have: Doing so will better clarify and elucidate not only your policies but also the underlying justifications for them.

Students may have a variety of concerns about AI. These could include issues they have run into in previous courses or schools. (For the first time, we will have incoming students who have encountered AI and AI policies in high school or at other institutions.) Questions about grammar and spell checkers, etc., are also likely. Many students are aware that these tools also rely on AI.

In fact, paid versions of Grammarly, and upcoming versions of MS Office and Google Suite, are capable of writing long passages or even entire papers or presentations. They may need help figuring out where the boundaries are. Students may stumble into situations where they are uncertain about what is acceptable and what is not.

They may also have general or personal ethical concerns. On the personal level, some students have expressed reservations about using these tools because they feel it might be detrimental to their education. Others may have privacy or security concerns. For tools that require creating an account, they may wish to create an email (with or without a pseudonym) that is not tied to any other easily identifiable information about them, such as credit cards. Address concerns about bias and other sources of error.

Framing assignments to include a reflective component, allowing students to discuss suspected bias or other issues may be helpful here, i.e., assignments based on exemplary cases, real-life situations, or reflective problem-solving. Let them know if they are allowed to complete alternative assignments. You may also wish to recommend multiple tools in the same category, so that they can use ones they prefer from experience or due to concerns with a specific tool.

If they have concerns that they do not wish to discuss in class, encourage them to come to you privately.

Students may also have more general ethical concerns over bias, discrimination, mining and scraping of content and personal data, environmental/climatological impacts, the stability of the firms and technology, lack of regulation, etc. For some disciplines, e.g., Journalism or Health Sciences, there may be more specific ethical concerns that should be explored.

In all cases, we encourage transparency, discussion, and clarity of expectations, what is being used, how it is being used, and how misconduct will be handled.

Topics to consider covering

  • What is generative AI? What is it not?
  • Tools you plan to use. 
  • The AI misuse section of the Standard of Conduct.
  • Any rules your department, school, or college has implemented. 
  • What you are specifically allowing and prohibiting. 
  • How you will handle misconduct, including both the use of AI detectors (if applicable), other things you will be looking for, and how you will work with the existing rules and procedures of the University. What concerns do your students have about this?
  • What concerns your students about using AI?
  • How can students protect their individual privacy and security?
  • Ethical or other concerns, both personal or more general.
  • Ethical concerns that may be specific to your discipline.