Minnesota colleges grappling with ethics and potential benefits of … – Star Tribune

When Lily Kim didn’t have enough time to reach out to her chemistry professor for help on a homework question, she turned to the latest artificial intelligence tool.
Kim, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota studying neuroscience, decided to type the assignment’s question into ChatGPT in search of an answer.
“It didn’t always give me the correct answer, but it at least navigated me to the correct path,” Kim said.
Since last year’s launch of ChatGPT — a free tool that lets people enter prompts and receive human-like text in return — colleges and universities are scrambling to navigate a new technology that is already changing learning environments.
While some Minnesota academics are concerned about students using ChatGPT to cheat, others are trying to figure out the best way to teach and use the tool in the classroom.
“The tricky thing about this is that you’ve got this single tool that can be used very much unethically in an educational setting,” said Darin Ulness, a chemistry professor at Concordia College in Moorhead. “But at the same time, it can be such a valuable tool that we can’t not use it.”

Ethical concerns
When ChatGPT launched in November, Katherine Scheil, a University of Minnesota English professor and chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on Educational Policy, said some instructors worried it was “going to be the end of the world, and we’ve all lost our jobs.”
While the initial fear has died down, Scheil said concerns remain.

In response to any question, ChatGPT will spit out strings of words that it predicts will be the best answer based on data it pulls from the internet — factually correct or not — and stores in its database.
For example, it takes less than 30 seconds for the program to write a 1,000-word, college-level essay on the importance of the American Revolutionary War.

Some professors are worried about students doing exactly that — using ChatGPT to cheat. In response, Scheil said some English instructors are putting less emphasis on the final product and more on the writing process for essay assignments.
“If all you’re asking a student to do is turn in a final copy of a paper, you can ask ChatGPT to write that paper, and as of now, there would be no reliable way for you to tell it wasn’t the student’s,” Scheil said.
Having the student turn in different parts of a paper is one way to address this, she said. But in large classes, grading multiple outlines, rough drafts and final drafts of essays can create a much greater workload for instructors.
Learning tool
Some professors are encouraging students to use ChatGPT, with the idea that it will prepare them for future jobs.
Ulness lets his students use the tool on take-home tests. But he makes sure to frame questions so ChatGPT can only guide students in the right direction, not give them the answer.


Britt Abel, co-leader of the Macalester College AI Literacy Working Group and director of the writing program, said she has students submit essay prompts to ChatGPT and ask questions about the quality of the answer. Instead of panicking that students will cheat, Abel sees it as an opportunity to teach “information literacy” — how to collect and verify information.
Rachita Udupa, a second-year computer science major at the U, said ChatGPT can make students more productive.
“It’s definitely a very good learning tool,,” Udupa said. “Faster than the internet.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit of using ChatGPT in the classroom is preparing students for jobs where the program might be used as a tool, said Joseph Kennedy, an academic technologist at Concordia.
About two-thirds of jobs will be impacted by generative AI, according to a March Goldman Sachs report. Across the country, Kennedy said, ChatGPT is helping with tasks such as coding, writing real estate listings and drafting reference letters.
“We will fail students if they don’t feel comfortable with this technology when they graduate,” Ulness said. “It would be as if we didn’t teach them how to use Excel or Word or some standard piece of technology that everybody needs to know.”

Here to stay

While some Minnesota colleges and universities don’t have a school-wide policy on ChatGPT, they do offer resources and suggestions for ethical AI use in the classroom.
At Macalester, the AI Literacy Working Group is helping the campus understand how artificial intelligence can support student learning, said Mozhdeh Khodarahmi, co-leader of the group. From faculty discussions, Khodarahmi learned that some professors are open to using AI to start conversations about both academic integrity and critical thinking.
The U is providing educational resources about ChatGPT for faculty, and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost shared suggested syllabus language developed by the University Senate Governance Committee on Education Policy. The suggested statements include options for faculty who wish to embrace ChatGPT, allow limited usage or prohibit it altogether.
Clare Forstie, an education program specialist at the U’s Center for Educational Innovation, said she created a document for the campus that explains ChatGPT’s functions and potential uses in the classroom. She said she sees it as an evolving document that will change as ChatGPT continues to develop.

Udupa, who is president of the U’s AI club, said she hopes the student group can foster community for AI enthusiasts and serve as a space for students to learn about ChatGPT’s uses.
“I think it’s beneficial for everyone to know how to use it and to know more about AI,” Udupa said, “because it really is … the future.”

Hannah Pinski is a Star Tribune summer intern from the University of Iowa.
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