ChatGPT essay series | A North American university perspective

Following Professor Fabio Macioce’s comments on the ethical perspective, our essay series on ChatGPT acquires a new contribution from Professor Michele Vincenti, Chair of the Leadership and People Management Department at University Canada West (offering MBA and Bachelor degrees with a business-oriented perspective).

The professor provides an all-encompassing overview on the potential impact of ChatGPT on University settings. He emphasizes the importance of using platforms like ChatGPT as a supplementary tool in teaching and at the same time empowering students to continue developing their abilities. In this area, effective is the example on the financial calculator: while it allows us to perform mental calculations more efficiently, over-reliance on it can diminish our effectiveness.

Important insights come from the question on how can Universities keep up with the development of generative AI. Among the main recommendations that should guide the teaching approach are an evolving pedagogy (creating engaging and interactive learning environments, emphasizing critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and collaboration skills) and a personalized learning (with tailored content).

All above can happen only by developing particular skills in professors, including flexibility in dealing with new technologies and teaching methods, digital literacy, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Professor Vincenti gave his answers by speaking into a microphone with automatic transcription. He then asked ChatGPT for proofreading and grammar correction: an example of use of this technology as an assistant, not substitute.

Below is the full interview:

1. With the advancement of ChatGPT and other language models, what are the potential risks associated with their use in university settings, such as admission tests, thesis, and essays?

To find shortcuts in the education system is a major concern that exists beyond and before technological advancement. Indeed, education was primarily accessible to the wealthy and often served as a status symbol. Over the years, in some countries, it has transformed into a business model. For instance, in Canada, there is a federal program that allows people to immigrate if they enroll in a master's program lasting 18 months to two years. While the government's rationale is to ensure immigrants acquire necessary skills and become acquainted with Canadian culture, many students utilize this pathway for immigration purposes rather than focusing on education.

People are tempted to lean towards hedonism, opting for the more pleasurable experience when given a choice between an enjoyable activity and a more challenging task. The latter tendency can lead to students cutting corners in their studies to pursue more enjoyable activities. Therefore, as technology continues to advance, it is crucial to address the potential negative consequences and ensure that the focus remains on genuine learning and personal growth, rather than merely seeking shortcuts and hedonistic pursuits.

2. Do you think there is a need for specific regulations or guidelines to govern the use of ChatGPT in universities? If so, what should these regulations or guidelines cover?

I believe that the AI creators, such as Google and Microsoft, should involve Universities and other stakeholders in discussions about the potential impact of these systems before launching them. Otherwise, most Universities often find themselves unprepared for the challenges these platforms present.

The question of regulation is complex. Canada's experience with cannabis and small quantities of cocaine serves as an example of the challenges in regulating substances. The legalization of these substances aimed to reduce the strain on law enforcement and address the inefficacy of incarceration in solving the problem. Similarly, when considering the regulation of AI platforms like ChatGPT, we must strike a balance between setting guidelines and avoiding overregulation that could lead to unintended consequences.

At the same time, it is essential to empower students in using their own critical thinking skills rather than relying solely on AI-generated content. To achieve this, we need to emphasize the importance of using platforms like ChatGPT as a supplementary tool, ensuring that students continue to develop their abilities and move beyond the information provided by AI. In this way, we can help students recognize the value of their own intellectual capabilities while still benefiting from the advancements in technology.

3. What opportunities do ChatGPT and other language models offer in terms of improving the quality of academic research and writing?

ChatGPT and other language models offer significant opportunities for improving academic research and enhancing writing quality. These AI systems are trained on vast amounts of information, but it is important to recognize that their training can never be 100% objective. This is because, like humans, AI systems may inherently contain biases.

Human brains are not entirely objective either, with more than 150 known cognitive biases influencing our thinking. Some individuals might even embrace their biases. For example, research on the dark side of leadership has shown that certain characteristics, like boldness, can be positive qualities for a leader. It is thus essential to create environments that empower those around leaders to provide feedback on whether their behavior is crossing acceptable boundaries.

Similarly, we need to remember that the information provided by AI systems like ChatGPT is not perfect. We cannot expect artificial intelligence to be an infallible oracle, and we should always question the information it provides. This is particularly important considering our tendency for confirmation bias, which leads us to seek out and favor information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs.

When connecting the dots in the information provided by AI, we must be aware of potential biases and the risk of misinterpretation. By understanding these limitations and exercising critical thinking, we, as users, and regulators, can make the most of AI-generated information while minimizing the influence of biases.

4. How can universities ensure that students are not using ChatGPT to cheat on their assignments or plagiarize content?

To my faculty,g I wrote an email on the matter (below an excerpt, here full version):

“(…) AI is undeniably here to stay, and it will continue to have both advantageous uses and unintended consequences. This dynamic can be likened to Newton's Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. (…) With this email, I aim to initiate a meaningful conversation among all of us to generate ideas on how to effectively use AI while preserving the human capacity to think critically. To illustrate my concern, consider the use of a financial calculator. While it allows us to perform mental calculations more efficiently, relying on it excessively can diminish our effectiveness. If we relinquish our critical thinking abilities to machines, we risk losing our autonomy and granting authority over our thoughts to technology. This is certainly not a desirable outcome (…)”.

5.  What is the future for universities in a world that includes AI, and systems such as ChatGPT?

Universities and educators will need to adapt and evolve to leverage the potential of AI and remain relevant in the future. Here are some ways the future of universities might be shaped by AI:

A. Evolving pedagogy: With AI able to provide information and answer questions, the role of professors will shift from being primarily information providers to facilitators of learning experiences. They will need to focus on creating engaging and interactive learning environments, emphasizing critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration skills.

B. Personalized learning: AI can enable personalized learning experiences, helping students learn at their own pace and providing tailored content and resources based on individual needs. Professors will need to learn how to best use these technologies to supplement their teaching and support students in achieving their goals.

C. Interdisciplinary approach: As AI continues to develop, Universities will need to foster interdisciplinary learning to prepare students for the rapidly changing job market. Integrating AI and other emerging technologies across different fields will create new opportunities for collaboration and innovation.

D. Emphasis on ethics and responsibility: With AI playing a more significant role in society, Universities should place greater emphasis on teaching students about ethics, social responsibility, and the potential risks and challenges associated with AI.

E. Assessment and academic integrity: While AI can potentially write assignments and papers, universities will need to adapt their assessment methods to focus on understanding and evaluating students' critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Professors can also use AI tools to detect instances of academic misconduct and ensure a fair assessment process.

F. Lifelong learning and upskilling: As AI continues to transform the job market, the need for lifelong learning and upskilling will increase. Universities will have to create flexible and accessible learning opportunities to cater to the needs of adult learners and professionals seeking to stay competitive in their fields.

In summary, while AI will indeed change the landscape of higher education, it doesn't mean the end of universities or the role of professors. Instead, it presents an opportunity for universities to adapt and evolve, using AI to enhance teaching, learning, and assessment, and ultimately better prepare students for the future.

On the other hand, I believe that ChatGPT could potentially replace certain jobs, such as writing coaches, given its capabilities in proofreading. To mitigate this issue, it is crucial to ask students questions that prompt critical thinking and problem-solving, even in quantitative subjects. Instead of merely asking for an answer, encourage them to explain their thought process and apply their knowledge to real-life scenarios.

6. What training professors needs to become effective facilitators of learning experience because the AI in the universities? What are the skills?

Professors will need to develop certain skills and competencies to become effective facilitators of learning experiences in an AI-driven educational landscape. Some essential skills include:

A. Adaptability: Professors should be able to adapt to new technologies and teaching methods, incorporating AI tools and resources into their courses.

B. Digital literacy and data-driven decision-making: Professors will need to be proficient in using AI-powered tools and platforms, understanding their functionalities and limitations to integrate them into the learning experience effectively.

C. Instructional design: when subject taught and structure of university courses (e.g., number of students) allow for it, professors should have a strong grasp of instructional design principles to create engaging, interactive, and student-centered learning experiences that leverage AI technologies.

 D. Interdisciplinary collaboration: Professors should be prepared to collaborate with experts from other disciplines, fostering an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning.

E. Communication and empathy: Strong communication skills and empathy are essential for creating a supportive learning environment and fostering meaningful connections with students in an AI-driven context.

7.  What measures can universities take to educate students and faculty members about the responsible use of ChatGPT and other language models?

First of all, professors should be able to teach and discuss ethical considerations and the social implications of AI in their respective fields. There is a need for a total transformation in the way we approach education, and AI systems like ChatGPT can provide valuable insights and alternatives for this change. Some suggestions include evolving pedagogy, personalized learning, and interdisciplinary approaches.

One method to ensure academic integrity is to rely more on oral examinations, as far as Canada’s system is concerned.

Another approach involves collaborating with external organizations to provide real-world projects for students. For example, my university has an agreement with a startup called Riipen, based in Vancouver. Riipen serves as a bridge between employers and MBA students by matching companies that need projects completed with relevant faculty members. These projects can become group assignments, providing students with practical experience.

As AI systems and quantum computing continue to advance, we may be able to provide even more precise recommendations. However, for now, using AI-generated insights as a foundation for further research and collaboration with real-world organizations is a practical approach. By integrating AI and real-world experiences, we can create a more effective and engaging educational experience for students.

It is also crucial to change students’ mindset and emphasize that education is not solely about the titles or degrees that follow your name, but also, by interpersonal skills, networking, and the impression you make on others. It is important to educate students about the value of critical thinking, curiosity, and effective decision-making processes. We need to focus on helping students understand that grades and knowledge alone are not sufficient for success.

8. In what ways can ChatGPT be used to enhance the learning experience for students in university settings?

Linked to the previous questions and answer, it is important to remember that simply copying and pasting best practices into real-world situations is insufficient. Students must utilize their human abilities and learn to think critically, communicate clearly, and make logical, precise, and in-depth decisions.

As I previously mentioned, using ChatGPT can provide initial information and best practices, but it should not be considered the sole answer. In my experience as a certified management consultant, I follow a five-step process in businesses and people management: entry phase, diagnosis, action planning, assessment, and risk management.

Identifying root causes is crucial in addressing problems effectively. To do this, we use tools such as the Ishikawa diagram or the "Five Whys" technique. After determining the root cause, we explore multiple solutions, assessing their pros and cons based on our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

9. Are there any ethical concerns associated with the use of ChatGPT in universities? If so, how can these concerns be addressed?

There are significant ethical concerns surrounding the use of ChatGPT for both students and faculty. For instance, faculty members might be tempted to use ChatGPT to produce numerous articles for publication, even if they don't possess the necessary knowledge. The primary role of faculty is to transfer knowledge to the next generation, but if all the knowledge is stored in ChatGPT, the need for such faculty members may be questioned.

Ethics, in particular, is a complex subject, as it depends on the framework being used. For example, using the utilitarian approach, as proposed by John Stuart Mill, sacrificing a few individuals for the benefit of the majority may be considered ethical. On the other hand, Immanuel Kant would view the ethical dilemma differently, arguing that it would not be right to rely entirely on a machine, potentially opening the door to unethical behavior. This leads to a larger discussion on ethics, where various perspectives from philosophers like Aristotle can be considered. Overall, the ethical implications of using ChatGPT in education are indeed a significant concern that warrants further exploration.

10. How do you envision the use of ChatGPT in Universities evolving over the next decade, and what impact do you think this will have on higher education as a whole?

We need to embrace and accept the limitations of technology like ChatGPT, acknowledging that there will be misuse and potential side effects. We must develop mechanisms to minimize the problems associated with technology but understand that we cannot entirely eliminate them. We have to deal with these issues.

As for seeking answers to questions about risks and regulations from ChatGPT, it is essential to remember that the machine may provide the most popular or widely accepted answer. However, that does not mean we should accept these responses without question. For instance, people may expect to see only white swans until they encounter a black swan in Australia, challenging their preconceived notions. We must adopt a similar mindset when engaging with technology, evaluating the suggestions it provides based on our strengths and current situations. It's essential to balance the insights from ChatGPT with our own critical thinking abilities. Thank you very much.

Michele Vincenti
Department Chair - MBA, Leadership & People Management at University Canada West