As a Sociology student at Middlebury, since AI tools became a big part of my education I have been interested in the multifaceted relationship between Artificial Intelligence and society.
I recently conducted a poll on my Instagram account among Middlebury students to assess their sense of Middlebury faculty’s views on the use of AI tools in academic work. Almost 100 students responded to the poll. The question I posed was: “Is your professor flexible about tools being used in the academic setting?” Below are the responses to the question:
Very flexible = 14%
Depends on the assignment = 26%
Occasionally = 29%
Not at all = 31%
Surprisingly, the poll revealed that 69% of students surveyed reported that their professors are open to the use of AI tools in the academic context in one way or another. After completion of the poll, I spoke with several of the students who had participated. Those conversations provided more color to the data I collected. Many students were shocked to discover that some of their professors showed a high degree of enthusiasm when it came to integrating AI tools into coursework. One professor said they were open to using generative AI with some parameters, including providing the professor with advance notice of the intention to use generative AI, a discussion with the professor about how it will be used and disclosure of the use of generative AI on the work product as professors can be concern about ethics in the academic setting. Generative AI is software that uses algorithms to create new content such as text, music, images and video. The most popular generative AI product at this time is ChatGPT, which is available for free, and very easy to use.
Why is the discussion about AI at Middlebury important at this moment? Until November 2022, AI was the domain of tech geeks, and while most of us may have been passive users of AI through apps like Siri and Grammarly, the average person did not have the ability to create something of their own using AI. Integrating AI content became mainstream in the last 11 months through the introduction of ChatGPT, a large language model-based chatbot tool that is easily used by the masses. ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer software application in history, attracting its first 100 million users in just two months.
Because of the speed at which AI is entering our world and the large number of people using it, the technology raises many questions for our college community. Is a member of the administration allowed to write a report for the college president using generative AI? Can faculty develop a syllabus using generative AI? Can students write papers using generative AI?
While much of the current discussion that surrounds generative AI raises concerns about where to draw the line between one’s own work and plagiarism, AI can also serve our college community in many positive ways. The New York Times reported how John Jay College lifted its graduation rate from 54% to 86% in just two years through its use of AI. The college used AI software to analyze all of its students and to identify those most likely to drop out based on slipping grades or failure to register for the courses required for graduation. The college then assigned academic advisors to focus on those students who were identified through AI, and the result was a dramatic increase in the graduation rate. At Middlebury, one can imagine the possibilities for AI’s use to better support students and improve student outcomes.
I am very excited to see how we grow with AI at Middlebury. I plan to conduct a more detailed survey soon to gather more information from students’ perspectives. In addition, I am in the process of forming a student organization, “AI and Society,” to bridge the gap between students from the hard sciences and social sciences by providing an inclusive platform for collaboration and exploration. If you are interested in learning more about the club or talking to me about AI, email me at email@example.com.