Digital Learning Days Panel: Making use of AI in the classroom

Earlier this month, faculty from across Georgetown came together to discuss teaching with AI and more at Digital Learning Days, a two-day CNDLS event centered around the current and future possibilities of teaching with technology. On Tuesday, January 9, fellows from the Initiative on the Pedagogical Uses of AI discussed how they’re using AI in the classroom, and the impact it’s had so far. In this post, we’ll recap the highlights but you can also watch a recording of the panel.

The panel, featuring Akshaya Narayanan (Ethics Lab), Professor Rebecca Helm (Earth Commons), Professor Seth Perlow (English), and Father Matthew Carnes (Government), explored diverse applications of AI, ranging from assignment design to workflow processes. Beyond technical aspects, the panelists also emphasized the importance of discussing AI with students.

Fr. Carnes, for instance, encourages students to use various generative AI tools like Chat GPT, Bing, OpenAi, and Jasper for brainstorming and kick-starting their research process. For example, a student could ask the same research question to a number of different tools, and receive slightly different answers from each. He advocates for cross-comparisons among different tools, enabling students to draw inspiration from the range of responses, while also acknowledging the potential for skewed information, urging them to follow up and fact-check. 

Professor Helm was first exposed to using Large Language Model AIs in her undergraduate degree program, and reflected on how much they’veevolved since. Just like Fr. Carnes, Professor Helm argues that because of the incredible number of designs and types of AI, users are exposed to an endless number of different outputs and results that can challenge them to think outside the box. She noted, “What I find really useful to remember is all of these models are stochastic, meaning they’re never going to give you the exact same answer twice.” Though AI can generate text that ends up being useful—either because it prompted a student to make a new connection, drew them to a new resource, or highlighted a new perspective—teaching students how AI tools find and share information better equips them to use AI for productive purposes.

Today, Professor Helm encourages students to actively incorporate artificial intelligence into their work. She goes as far as allowing students to submit projects entirely generated by AI for specific assignments, providing them with the opportunity to experiment and gain a deeper understanding of how these tools can enhance research. This approach aligns with Professor Helm’s vision that, by fostering a space for exploration, students at Georgetown can graduate as empowered “knowledge generators.”

Professor of the Practice Akshaya Narayanan, who designs curricula in the Ethics Lab, shared how AI complements research processes, with the potential to create more equitable opportunities. She acknowledged that using AI can be daunting for students. To make using these tools in class more clear and manageable, Narayanan highlighted the importance of involving students in collaboratively shaping the use of these tools by jointly establishing a usage policy with the instructor. “Since the learning environment—the students are equally as part of it as the instructor is—I think it is important to also have them be a part of the process, in designing how this tech shapes the classroom and how they’re engaging with it.”

This collaborative approach not only sets clear guidelines for using AI in class but also promotes a climate of mutual respect. “When you have a consensus of students coming together to form a statement for the class, I feel like they’re more likely to be more respectful about AI.” In other words, transparent communication about the expectation for AI use in class not only encourages students to explore new tools but also establishes necessary boundaries.

In Professor Seth Perlow’s view, while using AI for class assignments might appear to create opportunities for academic dishonesty, he identifies more instances of plagiarism in his courses that do not intentionally integrate artificial intelligence into assignments. In other words, in distancing AI from academic processes, these tools can be made to seem like shortcuts rather than valuable mechanisms for meaningful and productive learning.

With all of this in mind, all panelists acknowledged the ongoing work needed to improve generative AI and its role in supporting learning. Narayanan pointed out that while AI will continue to advance, current models of artificial intelligence reflect the values and biases of current social conditions. However, as Helm and Father Carnes noted, educating students about the use of generative AI equips them to confront and understand such biases.

This conversation on AI at CNDLS and at Georgetown is ongoing, of course, so we’ll be hosting more events focusing on AI throughout the spring semester. See the schedule of AI workshops below, or explore the full slate of offerings on our Events calendar

Upcoming workshops on AI 

Friday, February 9: AI Prompt Design: Brainstorming and Creativity

Friday, February 16: Simulations & Case Studies: Using AI as a Thought Partner

Thursday, February 29: Teaching with AI: Tools and Techniques

Thursday, March 14: How to Use AI for Research and Data Analysis

Friday, April: AI & Online Instruction

And as always, if you have questions about how to use AI in the classroom, refer to the CNDLS website to find resources and information on navigating digital tools for your courses.