The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW should offer more generative AI courses

5 min read
A digitally collaged image depicts a large automaton on a screen with three larger screens labeled "artificial intelligence."

Implementing courses about AI could help students succeed after graduation. | Photo courtesy of Josseline Delgado Pozo

Josseline Delgado Pozo

Staff Writer

From self-checkout lines to self-driving cars and Siri, we encounter artificial intelligence daily, and the technological world continues to evolve. As a result, we have to learn to utilize these resources, and college is a place where students have the privilege to explore the unknown behind these digital spaces and tools. To anticipate the usefulness of AI in the job market, UMW should offer more courses strictly about AI and its role in today’s world.

Anand Rao, a communication professor and chair of the department of communication and digital studies, considers AI to be a useful skill in the modern workplace, especially for new graduates entering the workforce out of college.  

“If we graduate students that we aren’t training to use [AI], then I think we’re potentially doing them a disservice,” said Rao. “There’s a worry that if we aren’t really preparing them, then they’re going to have a hard time in the workforce and not be very competitive.”

In their guidelines for generative AI, the University of Illinois highlights that exploring AI tools can spark creativity and critical thinking. As these tools are popularized in the workplace, students can begin to experiment with them by creating possible interview questions or improving their resumes. 

Rao commented on the applicability of AI across a range of majors and fields, voicing his support of these tools not only in classes that focus on their function but also where they can serve as tools. 

“We also need more courses to incorporate generative AI into what they’re already doing, so it doesn’t have to be standalone AI courses; we should find ways that we can incorporate generative AI in other classes,” he said. 

For example, tools like Colormind allow artists access to AI-generated color palettes, and the notorious ChatGPT can help create reflective discussion prompts or questions for teachers and students alike. Additionally, scientists may check their research and identify national changes in academics with the help of AI; musicians are already implementing AI to improvise and come up with fresh musical ideas rapidly, according to the Musicians Institute; and artists at Berklee are using AI to enhance, modify and inspire their works. In the business world, AI tools are also causing a huge wave of change, and well-known companies like Microsoft already use AI within their operations.

However, there are not enough AI-capable professionals to meet the demand of the ever-growing industry. According to, it is estimated that “the global demand for AI professionals will exceed the supply by 30%” by 2024—just two months after their article was published. The reason for this scarcity of AI talent is a lack of training, expertise and experience in AI-related fields, as the article explains, so as we join the workforce, our best line of defense is to stay educated and gain experience using and exploring AI. 

During the Fall 2023 semester, Rao offered the class “ChatGPT & Generative AI,” in which he taught students how to explore these budding tools—and even make some of their own. He described these assignments and their aims. 

“Students were able to apply generative AI in their own field, and they were able to do so in a number of ways with assignments like building their own chatbot or something a little more specific so they could train it,” said Rao. 

AJ Gluchowski, a senior communication and digital studies major who took the class, spoke about his work with Playlab, a nonprofit whose mission is “to empower as many educators and students to build for themselves with AI,” according to their website.  

“I got to draft and plan a workshop for faculty members,” said Gluchowski. “I reached out to the founders of Playlab and compiled that into a crash course in using Playlab in [their] curriculum.”

The fact that students could customize these chatbots to fit their personal needs made them unique. For my own assignment in Rao’s generative AI course, I designed a chatbot to help me choose a drink from Starbucks. In addition to the extensive ingredients and modifications possible in these drinks, everything sounds so delicious, which makes it hard to decide on just one drink. Furthermore, the main aim of this chatbot was to assist those who have delicate allergies; a barista would likely give you the cold shoulder if you asked them sixty questions about the drink, but a chatbot never gets tired.

Junior communication and digital studies major Amanda Sheward spoke about the positive aspects of using AI, offering the example that these tools “could be beneficial for healthcare and gathering data faster through AI technology.” 

Sheward also explained the negative aspects of AI, such as deepfakes and AI bias, which brings the questions and ethical concerns surrounding its usage to light, especially in academics. However, Rao put into perspective the tools we’ve become familiar with in our everyday lives, relating their revolutionary impact to that of AI. 

“A lot of tools, like the graphing calculator early on in mathematics, some might have viewed as cheating, but it was really about the development and having the tools and learning how to use it appropriately so that students could do even better and more advanced work,” he said. 

AI can also assist with tutoring, which can help students succeed in their classes. In a TedTalk, the CEO and founder of Khan Academy discussed the endless possibilities of these resources and their benefits in academics. For example, chatbots powered by artificial intelligence provide guidance in difficult-to-teach subjects like coding by making note of different marks to figure out what the student is doing and to produce the intended result. Chatbots can also be trained in prerequisite courses in writing, math and science that all degree-seeking college students must take.  

Incorporating classes that utilize and teach about a variety of AI tools would enable students to understand them on a deeper level, making them more marketable in the workplace. Furthermore, as students are educated on the matter, they can help their universities create and suggest policies for AI usage in educational settings. Meanwhile, schools can concentrate on funding these efforts and providing students with additional means to pursue their work in this growing field. 

At UMW, the efforts to incorporate AI in the classroom have garnered faculty support. Rao, along with several other faculty members, is currently working on a grant proposal to create a center for AI research in the humanities at UMW. He spoke about his hopes for the center and noted both faculty and student interest. 

“I think there’s a lot of potential there and a lot of interest—not just on the student side, but also the faculty and staff side, too,” he said.