The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

AI and Boundaries: responsible use in the classroom

5 min read

Margaret Jackson Opinion Editor

Recent technological advances have created a broader, more diverse classroom, but they also present concerns about cheating, knowledge retention and the acquisition of durable skills, especially at the university level. Because of this, AI should be used as a learning resource rather than a replacement for learning itself.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions were able to move to a completely virtual format to ensure that no time or education was lost. However, the push to a more modern classroom in terms of AI usage has opened the doors to a potential downfall of genuine knowledge retention if not used correctly. This is especially the case because, according to the Department of Education, there is no guarantee the information being presented is entirely accurate, and there is no way to check the information before it is produced. 

According to the study “The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Learner Instructor Interaction in Online Learning” by Kyoungwon Sea, et al., students are at risk of losing their creativity, becoming too reliant on technology and becoming incapable of producing original thoughts or ideas if they use AI to generate their work rather than as a supplementary tool.

Senior anthropology major Ella Weber said, “Giving AI power, decreases our power. It takes away from human knowledge” when talking about the increased use of AI and its expansion into new territories. 

On the use of AI in the classroom, Weber continued, “I think it’s fine as a tool, but there needs to be regulations put in place. It should be used as a resource, not as an end all be all.” 

When asked about using AI as a resource rather than a replacement for student-produced work, Aloysius Kebonge, a sophomore data science major, discussed the limits that should be considered regarding the technology. 

“While AI can be a valuable tool, it should not replace human interaction and guidance,” said Kebonge “It is essential to strike a balance between technology and human involvement to ensure a comprehensive and holistic learning experience.” 

Furthermore, the use of generative AI has also led to questions about the presence of other educational materials that we are familiar with, such as textbooks. 

When asked about the use of AI in classrooms and providing diverse materials in an email from The Weekly Ringer, Director of the Digital Knowledge Center Cartland Berge said, “I don’t think textbooks will ever fully go away, but I’m hopeful that we will see a shift in the way textbooks are published and distributed.” 

He continued, speaking on the nature of Open Educational Resources (OER) and how they can facilitate access to information in the classroom. 

“I’m a big fan of Open Educational Resources,” said Berge. “These are openly-licensed, free or low-cost course materials that are available for instructors to adopt in their courses. There are a lot of champions for OER at UMW (both among faculty and at the library), but I’d love to see more adoption in higher education everywhere.” 

The use of artificial intelligence as a replacement for human knowledge is concerning. Increasing technological advances in our everyday lives call into question what we should be teaching and how AI should be utilized in academia. 

“Encouraging students to use their own creativity is crucial, as AI should be seen as a supplementary tool rather than a substitute for human creativity and critical thinking,” said Kebonge. 

Amidst the concerns, however, there may still be hope for a compromise between relying on human production and using generative AI. 

According to a paper titled “Beyond Algorithmic Solutions: The Significance of Academic Debate for Learning Assessment and Skill Cultivation in the AI World,” which was co-written by Anand Rao, professor of communications and department chair of communications and digital studies, “we know that students will continue to need to learn foundational knowledge, develop greater expertise in particular areas, and develop the skills needed to succeed.” 

Technological advancements have pushed us into a more modern world and have shifted the foundations of what we need to learn and increased the need for durable skills, such as critical thinking.

New advances in technology, such as AI chatbots, allow us to expand our classrooms in terms of learning resources. 

“I think knowing how to use it effectively with the right kinds of prompts, with the best way to be able to have it rephrase something or work through it, or using it as a tutor bot, which I think is an excellent model—that those examples are few and far between mostly because we haven’t taught students how to do that yet,” said Rao when talking about the use of AI. 

While AI is not a suitable nor comparable replacement for durable skills, such as communication, critical thinking and problem-solving, it can assist students in becoming familiar with content, finding appropriate resources in a more efficient way in their research and preparing for class discussions or presentations, according to Rao. 

However, an issue arises when students fully rely on AI. 

On the topic of using AI to complete assignments, junior computer science major Carlos Ortega said, “I think programs such as ChatGPT and can prevent students from learning if they are used incorrectly. These programs can be used to generate essays, code, and other creative content, which can be tempting for students who are struggling with their assignments.” 

Rao highlighted the fact that being trained to use AI is a marketable skill, but it does not constitute a substitute for durable skills, such as verbal skills. 

Rao said, “’I wouldn’t say that AI necessarily undermines the development of verbal skills. I think the claim is that all students—and really all professionals—really need verbal skills that will help serve them and whatever career they’re going to be going into.” 

In support of the use of AI, Rao said, “I think a case can be made that AI can be introduced in a way that would help support the use of those verbal skills, and the educational model that we have at UMW would really support the development of durable skills with the use of AI skills or AI tools.” 

The continued reliance on AI tools has the potential to damage students’ classroom experiences without proper regulations or guidelines, but with its proper usage as a tool rather than a replacement for knowledge, AI can facilitate learning in the same way technology has done so in the past. 

Rao said, “I think there are ways that AI can be used to supercharge your ability as a student in much the same way that when I think about when I was an undergraduate student [and] we only had a few resources available electronically.”

Norah Walsh contributed to reporting for this article.