Southern Union, like many colleges, grapples with future of AI

Published 2:57 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2023

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Health and Wellness Director Amy Rogers spent her summer researching the history of artificial intellgience. It’s a relatively short yet eventful history in academics. 

Southern Union State Community College’s Health Science department isn’t the first to see AI infiltrated into the assignments. 

Rogers and Health and Wellness Instructor Chris Rhodes presented on the presence of AI in classrooms during a faculty professional development forum this summer.

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Canvas, the learning platform system used at SUSCC, hosts a community forum on AI in academics. Contributors included instructors, college deans, technology experts and higher education administrators.

“It’s question after question after question and no answers,” Rhodes said. 

One of the complications of embracing AI is the sheer magnitude of its growth. According to Rogers, ChatGPT had a million users in five days. Whereas, it took three and a half years for Netflix to reach a million users.

“Then, it took 18 years for Netflix to get 100 million users, but ChatGBT had it in two months,” Rogers said.

After teaching an introduction to teaching class recently, Rogers and her students explored the use of ChatGPT, a popular AI chatbot, in classrooms. 

Specifically, she tested the AI against Turnitin, an online service the college uses for detecting plagiarism in student papers. Many colleges have started using this and similar products to keep students from copying down work without citation. 

Many colleges and universities have had to adjust their plagiarism policies because AI presents a loophole to plagiarism that hasn’t always existed. Rogers said the English Department at SUSCC is currently working on updating the college-wide policy to account for the use of AI. But as far as the Health Science Department goes, they know where they stand.

“It’s still plagiarism if you copy something word for word or turn it in, and it’s not yours,” Rogers said. 

They determined that Turnitin can detect AI use in most cases. Rogers said plagiarism of any kind can result in a failing grade for an assignment or an entire course. At times, it could be grounds for expulsion from the college. 

Rogers hopes to develop a “healthy relationship with AI.” Rhodes plans to incorporate AI in his class assignments. For his physical activity class, he plans to ask students to use AI to create a workout plan targeting a specific focus learned in class, then complete the workout in class and critique it. 

Students will be asked to explain how they might tailor the workout to a client with a particular demographic such as an older adult with a back injury. 

“So they’re utilizing it. They’re not really having to come up with it, but then they’re reflecting back on that information,” Rhodes said. “And then they’re applying it in real-life situations.”

This way, student learning can be enhanced by AI as a tool while still requiring that they back up the work with real source material and human reflection. 

However, detection and punishment are just the first hurdles for educators. Rogers said some instructors are going to have a hard time embracing the technology. The role of AI in academics is still murky. Most experts still don’t know what the future will hold. 

Even as educators are researching and preparing for AI, it is actively evolving. The more humans interact with AI, the more it learns and grows. Rogers said an article from 2018 predicted AI would be able to write a college essay by 2026 but ChatGPT was able to do that as soon as it was launched in 2021. 

“Nobody can even predict where it’s going to go,” Rogers said. “We’ve missed every single prediction that we’ve tried with it.”