By Joe Garvey
Headshot of Helen Crompton
​Helen Crompton, associate professor of instructional technology in the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies at Old Dominion University, will lead the webinar on Feb. 13.​​

The use of artificial intelligence technology, particularly what the New York Times describes as generative artificial intelligence, in the classroom is becoming a growing issue in higher education.

Of particular concern at the moment is ChatGPT, which was released in November. “The chatbot generates eerily articulate and nuanced text in response to short prompts, with people using it to write love letters, poetry, fan fiction – and their schoolwork,” the Times reported, leading colleges to restructure some courses and take other preventative measures.

But the news for academia is not all alarming. Helen Crompton, associate professor of instructional technology in the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies at Old Dominion University, believes AI and technologies like ChatGPT can also be a useful tool for students and professors.

Crompton, director of ODU’s Virtual Reality Lab and the Technology Enhanced Learning Lab and a consultant for the International Society for Technology in Education, will lead a webinar about these issues titled “University Teaching in the Age of Artificial Intelligence & ChatGPT” at noon Feb. 13. The event, which is free and open to the public, can be viewed via Zoom at this link.

“ChatGPT is just the beginning,” she said. “There is a vast array of artificial intelligence tools already available, and that is increasing daily.”

Ahead of her webinar, ODU News asked Crompton about the use of ChatGPT in higher education.

ODU News: Do you know if ODU or any of its colleges/departments have rules or guidance in place for students regarding their use of ChatGPT or other similar platforms regarding their class assignments?

Crompton: ChatGPT has certainly caused a lot of buzz at ODU and across education worldwide. This tool signals a new era in education. There are concerns, mixed with a great deal of excitement of what ChatGPT can do. I spoke to a few deans and department chairs and have found that in these early days, those that I asked had put nothing yet in place to restrict or guide the use of this AI tool. The rate that ChatGPT was generally adopted by society was unprecedented with over a million users in just five days. ChatGPT is also updating constantly, and even the most avid fans are still learning daily what it can do. It has been a steep learning curve for many, and it is important to gain some understanding of ChatGPT to then make informed decisions on the use of it at ODU. K-12 schools in NYC quickly banned the use of ChatGPT, and this has been widely critiqued for being shortsighted. ChatGPT signals the first of many AI tools of this nature. While this is a very new tool, faculty should be actively considering its current use by students, especially for summative assessments.

"This tool signals a new era in education." - Helen Crompton

ODU News: Your flyer says ChatGPT “can be a useful tool in the classroom.” Could you provide some examples?

Crompton: From my research, I have found that ChatGPT can be used in a wide variety of ways. Just imagine asking ChatGPT to write a lesson plan for a certain objective you need to cover. In seconds you will have a full, detailed plan. Then ask ChatGPT to change the difficulty level of the lesson plan. You may then want assessment questions to go with that lesson plan, a glossary of difficult words and a final exam assignment/test. What you ask will be provided. Obviously, the expert instructor will carefully review what ChatGPT has created and tweak it accordingly (or ask ChatGPT to tweak it following your directions).

In class, faculty could have students using ChatGPT to generate short papers, then have students critique what ChatGPT has written. This will be a great activity to develop critical thinking skills. ChatGPT could also be a great debate opponent to challenge students. Students can use ChatGPT as a study buddy or a quiz partner. Students can ask ChatGPT to explain difficult concepts, ask for practice exam questions and even help them format the reference section of their papers. We are only limited by our imagination. I will be demonstrating and sharing a variety of examples of how it can be used in higher education in the webinar on Feb. 13.

ODU News: This technology is certainly going to evolve and become more sophisticated. What can universities and professors do to stay ahead of this and to take advantage of its benefits and prevent its misuse?

Crompton: ChatGPT relies on information from the search engine Bing up until 2021 and other dated sources. However, a similar tool, Sparrow, will soon be released by DeepMind, and Google has its own, called Bard, in the works. These both will utilize data from Google Search up to the present day. With these tools, universities and professors need to understand how AI is changing education. The best way to keep ahead is with summaries provided through seminars, webinars and podcasts.

After gaining some understanding, universities and faculty can examine their educational offerings and consider:

  • What are the cognitive skills that students need to perform without AI assistance?
  • When should students use AI?
  • Where can AI create a better learning outcome?
  • What ethical considerations are there to using or not using AI?

ODU News: According to the New York Times, professors at some colleges are altering their approach to class assignments. Are you aware if this happening here?

Crompton: Many of these changes have been needed for a long time as we are having to go back to really think about the best ways for students to learn. Perhaps we have been teaching in the way faculty have taught for decades and even centuries. These are early days, as people learn what ChatGPT can do and then how best to use it. However, many faculty at ODU are thinking of new approaches with ChatGPT. I have even heard of faculty planning on having students use ChatGPT to help model the writing process, having the students provide different prompts and then watching how ChatGPT crafts the texts. Other faculty are promoting critical thinking skills to ensure the text ChatGPT has created is correct. It can occasionally “hallucinate” in that it can make things up.

ODU News: This problem isn’t limited to colleges. Should we be doing more to educate children at early ages about effective and ethical ways of using this technology?

Crompton: It is very important to start early in preparing students to gain lifelong study skills. This includes effective and ethical considerations of the use of technologies. Digital literacy is a key skill that should be taught at an early age. Fortunately, the Virginia Department of Education recognized that K-12 students need these skills. In 2017, Virginia was the first state to add mandatory K-12 computer science standards of learning. While we should always be doing more to support these young students, the big question is: Will university faculty be prepared to teach this new wave of digitally informed students?