AI has wiped out two of four ways to show academic mastery

    I was having an interesting conversation with a student today about the role of AI and how we need to address AI in an educational setting. One of those reasons was that the school I teach at has a zero-tolerance policy for the use of AI. It’s simply forbidden to use on students’ papers and their discussion questions.

    We have four ways of having a student demonstrate mastery today:

    • Writing, Papers, discussion boards, etc.
    • Code, write sample code for the solution
    • Labs, not used as often as they could be and somewhat expensive to develop and run
    • Exams, both proctored and non-proctored again not used as much as they could be, and of course there is the open book, open note, open heart, open internet version of the exam that we usually give out to students

    With Code and Writing out of the window now with AI, both Copilot, Duet for Code and ChatGPT and Bard for writing we really only have the two other tools, exams and labs.

    Both require an additional cost, and that is the reason why we leaned so heavily on papers for mastery. Papers are cheap to grade, and we have tools for plagiarism that are pretty good for catching cheating. Open book quizzes can be automated, so they are easy and cheap to grade. But as I was explaining to my student, we’re back to the old “calculator” question.

    The advent of the calculator made the memorization of tables and formulas obsolete for math. And we had the luxury of wrangling with the idea for decades. Some schools allowed the use of Calculators on tests, then more and more to the point now we teach the ability to use the calculator effectively, rather than the rote memorization of formulas and tables.

    I see the same thing with AI right now, we’re struggling with the tool. We know for a fact we’ll use it. I know for a fact I’m using Grammarly right now to fill out the grammar issues I’ll have in this note, and I’ll use spell check, and I’ll have other assistive technology help me write this. So, my writing is better, and I’ll get a better grade if I was turning this in.

    We will end up teaching the tool, how to use AI and other assistive technology in the future. But we also need to realize we’re only 8 months into the revolution. AI as a commercial success only came out around October of 2022, its June of 2023 right now. Industry, Academica, just don’t change that fast, but they need to, and they need to be able to jump on issues like this as soon as they become adopted.

    But we need to invest in labs now, and proctored exams, both of which students universally hate in my experience. Making the future much more interesting for demonstrating mastery of a subject.