Navigating the reality of AI at Quinnipiac

By Andrea McCaffrey, Illustrations Dave Plunkert November 11, 2023

Illustration of a student working with ChatGPT

Like a light bulb illuminating a dark room in the late 1800s or the introduction of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, in the span of a mouse click, ChatGPT has transformed the way we interact and reimagined the future of technology in a thoughtful, new light.

ChatGPT burst onto the scene in November 2022 and quickly sparked a mixed blend of wonder and trepidation. With its release by OpenAI, the public could suddenly access a generative artificial intelligence system that could quickly construct text, brainstorm ideas, edit writing, and create pictures, audio and video. All from a home computer.

At Quinnipiac University, faculty and administrators have already begun the important task of analyzing large language models like ChatGPT to determine how forms of AI can coexist in the world of academia. Faculty such as Tamilla Triantoro, Ph.D., continue to lend expertise to the debate. Triantoro has already presented her research with colleagues around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Poland, Greece and Colombia. 

"AI can be a powerful tool for enhancing teaching and learning. It can provide personalized learning experiences, assist with research and serve as a resource for students,” said Triantoro, associate professor and co-director of the M&T Bank Center for Women and Business.

"However, universities should also ensure students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to use AI responsibly. This includes understanding the ethical implications of AI, the importance of data privacy, biases that can arise in AI systems, and the propensity of generative AI systems to hallucinate and provide incorrect answers.” 

Triantoro is currently collaborating with Kozminski University to explore how AI is changing the way we work and its impact on productivity and job satisfaction. This collaboration is facilitated by the Central European Institute at Quinnipiac.

"In our daily lives, it is already becoming a personal assistant performing daily tasks,” said Triantoro. "With AI, everyone can now have access to a virtual tutor designed to deliver tailored content based on their individual learning styles.”

A personal digital curator

Imagine ChatGPT as a friendly librarian, able to access and recommend a vast digital library to those seeking information at its online desk.

Ask it a question, and within seconds, your personal curator sorts through a wealth of internet knowledge it has learned and collected from books, articles and research to provide a detailed answer backed by source material references.

What sets it apart from its search engine predecessors such as Google is its ability to function as a language powerhouse. It can detect subtle nuances in a question and provide tailored answers instantaneously in a variety of well-constructed written forms ranging from scientific essays to persuasive arguments with everything in-between, including Shakespearean pentameter, if thou art so inclined. 

"ChatGPT is not just a standalone tool. Its ability to integrate with various platforms and software makes it incredibly versatile,” said Triantoro. "In essence, the power of ChatGPT lies not just in its core capabilities such as text generation, but also in its ability to augment our existing tools and workflows. It can be tailored to meet specific needs, making it an invaluable asset in a wide range of contexts.” 

Avoiding an academic AI arms race

Utilizing the agility honed during the pandemic, faculty members and teachers across the country responded to the launch of ChatGPT and began to explore new ways to incorporate the technology into their curriculum and course guides.

For Richard Hanley, professor emeritus of journalism, ChatGPT course enhancements included focusing on how to structure and craft question or search prompts that make the most of the large language model abilities.

"Our students will be better prepared to work in an AI environment if we teach them how to use large language models in a purposeful way that's not ‘copy and paste’ text for a grade,” said Hanley. "I teach my undergraduate journalism students how to build prompts to find information that wouldn't ordinarily appear in a search. The key is to be precise within the prompt language and ask ChatGPT to list all sources so that they can be verified separately as accurate.”

In his class, Hanley requires his students to cite ChatGPT as a reference with the exact prompt that was used to collect information.

"The more you know about technology, the more you understand its weaknesses, and the less of a threat it will appear to be,” said Hanley. "It's going to be part of every workplace. This one is just more public-facing.”

When it comes to the question of academic integrity, faculty members JT Torres and Claude Mayo believe the answer lies within the issues that lead to plagiarizing, rather than a ban on the tools students might use to cheat. Instead of taking a punitive position, they both agree that ChatGPT can help develop impactful writers by modeling effective writing styles, outlines or arguments. The burden is on the educator to guide responsible use and relationships with AI tools. 

"Students tend to look for ways to cut corners when the content isn’t personally meaningful or they aren’t engaged in their classroom,” said Torres, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. "We don't want to get stuck in some sort of arms race when it comes to setting revised academic integrity policies every time there's a new tool on the scene. Instead, let’s go back to what we do and what we do well, which is connect academic content to our students’ lives so that it’s meaningful.”

As director of academic integrity, Mayo reviews and modifies QU’s academic integrity policy each year. In his opinion, universities don’t need to revise their policies specifically for ChatGPT. Instead, they should create guidelines that are flexible and concentrate on creating classroom content that diminishes the desire to cut corners.

"Last year, we created a new category called ‘Access or Use of Unauthorized Device or Materials’ and ChatGPT fits into that category. If a professor doesn’t want their students to utilize the tool in their classroom, then it is unauthorized,” said Mayo. "I hope faculty will create those moments where ChatGPT can only get students so far before they realize they have to move beyond it to complete the assignment. But I also think it’s important that they learn how to create content in an ethical manner. I don’t think a policy should prohibit its use entirely.”

ChatGPT as skill enhancement, not replacement 

For Quinnipiac senior Paul Heilbronn, ChatGPT is more than a novelty, it’s a valuable tool. As an accelerated dual-degree BS/MBA (3+1) major in finance, Heilbronn has found ChatGPT beneficial in expediting his information search processes, especially when it comes to researching career paths, organizations and industry trends for skill development.   

"I think it’s important for students to be able to utilize AI as a tool and resist the urge to let it take the place of true skill development. Eventually, those who can take advantage of something like ChatGPT and utilize it to enhance their own talent will naturally push ahead of those who rely on it solely as a crutch,” said Heilbronn. "It's moving very fast. But overall, I think tools like ChatGPT help to speed up tedious tasks, leaving more free time to be creative and inventive in both our professional and personal lives.”

Staying on top of trends was one reason Heilbronn joined a group of alumni, faculty and students in May for the interactive workshop "Hack your job search with AI” led by Director of Alumni Career Development Kristina Galligan and School of Communications Director of Career Development Lila Carney. The session explored the effectiveness and limitations of utilizing AI tools like ChatGPT to optimize job search strategies.

According to Galligan, ChatGPT can be a great asset for matching skill sets with careers of interest while also streamlining processes such as company research, resume development and writing cover letters. But she cautions that users should add their authentic voice to their communications or build a prompt that can write in their own personal style whenever they apply for a professional opportunity.

"Prompts are key. The better human users can get at prompting the system, the better our responses will be,” said Galligan, noting that the best ways to discover prompts are through Google searches and following influencers in tech and career spaces on various social media outlets.

"For years we’ve been using Google to help research and prepare for interviews. But it gets ethically murky when you start using ChatGPT to write something that is supposed to be a part of your skillset,” said Galligan. "For instance, if you’re a writer and you have ChatGPT write your resume and cover letter that you submit for a writing job, that seems a bit unethical, and frankly, lazy.”

When she talks about the future of ChatGPT and careers, Galligan notes that an April 2023 survey by Resume Builder of 1,187 business leaders found that 91% were already advertising openings for workers with ChatGPT experience. In addition, nearly half of 2,153 job seekers surveyed in February 2023 admitted to using ChatGPT to help craft their resumes and cover letters to land the jobs they wanted.

"If there's a tool available that can help you, I would utilize it. But I would certainly utilize it with caution and make sure that you are presenting work that is genuine to you, not just copying exactly what it generates for you,” said Galligan. "And I think it's good for everybody to learn about these tools while keeping in mind ethical considerations and boundaries. There's still a line there. It might be blurry, but it's still there.”

Lessons from the past

Similar to the introduction of its disruptive ancestors "electricity,” "television” and the “smartphone,” some people continue to recoil at ChatGPT’s implications for the future while others rush to embrace the natural evolution of artificial intelligence technology.

According to Jonathan Blake, professor of computer science and software engineering, those who hesitate to embrace technology often do so from a place of fear heightened by a false narrative shaped by science fiction and not facts.

The World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report 2023 predicts a 40% jump in the number of AI and machine learning specialists by 2027, including increased demand for roles such as data analysts and scientists, big data specialists and information security analysts. This could add a combined 2.6 million jobs. While some jobs may decline quickly because of AI, such as clerical or secretarial roles, bank tellers or data entry clerks, those relying on human traits like managing people, decision-making, reasoning or communicating will see an increase.

"People ask ChatGPT if it’s conscious and when it answers 'yes,' they freak out,” said Blake. "But we need to relax. As MIT scientist Noam Chomsky noted in his recent New York Times op-ed, we are nowhere near the point at which AI is able to think and act in ways superior to humans. Put more simply, ChatGPT does not have the capability to take over the world.”

When he thinks about the misconceptions surrounding ChatGPT and the rapid rate of change in today’s technologically infused environment, Blake is reminded of a story his father once told him that provides a sense of clarity and confidence in the resiliency of humans to adapt to new innovation.

"During the middle of the last century, my dad was a student when the ballpoint pen first reached the U.S. market. All of a sudden, you could carry a pen in your pocket with you. It wasn’t messy. You could take notes on the go. Like ChatGPT, it also disrupted everyday life and was met with skepticism,” said Blake, with a knowing smile. "But even in this world of smartphones and social media, you can still find the humble ballpoint pen anywhere you go. We accepted it. We made room for it. And we learned that even when the right technology comes along and seems to change everything, we will still be OK.”

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