Cute humanoid robots sit at desks holding pens in a classroom.

Instructor panel tackles what to do with AI in the classroom

There’s a looming question on the minds of many instructors and students as they return to the UW–Madison campus and prepare for the start of the fall semester: What to do (and not do) with generative artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT in the classroom.

A group of faculty and staff with experience using AI tools in their courses, thinking about AI policies and principles, and supporting instructors gathered last week for a virtual town hall about the challenges and opportunities ChatGPT and other generative AI tools present for teaching and learning at the college level.

The town hall was part of Exploring Artificial Intelligence @ UW–Madison, a series of free webinars examining topics related to AI research and application, sponsored by the Division of Information Technology and the Data Science Institute.

Link to captioned video recording.

Watch the recording of our “Town Hall on AI and Teaching & Learning” webinar. You can also watch the recording with audio descriptions.

Led by John Zumbrunnen, UW–Madison senior vice provost for academic affairs, the panelists discussed a wide range of topics, including:

  • Using AI as a teaching and learning tool
  • Setting clear expectations for students in syllabi and assignments
  • Rethinking assignments to emphasize process over product
  • Teaching students to use AI effectively while watching out for issues of bias and accuracy
  • Understanding the limitations of tools that promise to detect AI-generated content
  • Considering equity when affluent students can afford higher-quality AI tools
  • Fostering an educational environment built on exploration, trust and transparency

Zumbrunnen and the panelists highlighted guiding principles for instructors, sample AI statements for course syllabi and a statement on the use of generative AI by UW Chief Information Security Officer Jeffrey Savoy. UW instructors can find those resources and more on the Division for Teaching and Learning’s Generative AI – Instructional Opportunities and Challenges page.

The panel discussed why it’s important for instructors to educate themselves about AI tools and be upfront and clear with students about their expectations.

“Make sure you’re sharing with your students if you don’t want them to use (AI) that it’s not because, ‘Oh gosh, this is another new thing,’” said Emily Hall, a distinguished teaching faculty member who directs UW’s Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum. “I know, I feel that way too. But we want to have legitimate learning goals.”

Instructors should also be transparent about their thought process and how challenging it is to incorporate a new, rapidly developing technology into their courses, they said.

“Anytime I talk about AI, I have to add the caveat at the end that things are moving really fast, and I reserve the right to change my mind,” said Nathan Jung, a teaching faculty member in the College of Engineering, who shared several strategies he’s employed using AI to help his students engage with his lessons in new ways.

They also addressed the anxiety and reflexive distrust many have for AI tools and cautioned instructors to avoid distrusting their students and relying on AI detection tools, which are opaque and prone to error.

“We have to be careful not to create a climate of suspicion,” Zumbrunnen said. “Try not to feel suspicious of your students. Try to trust them and create that shared sense of community. We’re all here to learn.”

For now, instructors can access guidance and resources on the Division for Teaching and Learning’s Generative AI – Instructional Opportunities and Challenges page. As the semester progresses, Zumbrunnen said the division is considering what further resources and dialog opportunities would be helpful for instructors. The university is also evaluating whether and how to offer AI tools at an institutional level to help ensure equitable, safe and secure access to this emerging and transformative technology, said Tamara Walker, director of DoIT Academic Technology and associate vice provost for learning technologies.

In the meantime, instructors can submit questions, support requests and ideas to the division using an online form.

Related resources

Further reading from the panelists and chat