College of the Redwoods


Cal Poly Humboldt

College Matters | CR looks at AI for educational purposes

This article was originally posted in the College Matters column of the Times-Standard.

Thursday, February 23, 2023 - 12:55pm

The discussion of how technology is changing how we manage our operations and deliver education has been a topic of debate over the past few years. That debate only accelerated as we move into a post-pandemic era.  While most of my faculty and administrative colleagues believe there are definite advantages to technology in education, there has been a growing number of faculty and administrators who are concerned about tech’s impact on student learning and motivation. From my perspective, technology in higher education can be a major distraction or an incredibly helpful resource.

College of the Redwoods has accepted artificial intelligence as an effective technological tool to automate administrative tasks. We use chatbots to help students navigate our website, answer students’ questions in several languages, and generate emails that remind students about important deadlines, prompt them to register for classes, and pay their fees on time.  Our faculty use artificial intelligence-based software such as Turnitin to detect plagiarized student writing assignments.

Rather than reduce our administrative reliance on AI technology, I can see that artificial intelligence tools, if proper privacy safeguards are in place, can help CR address our most challenging issues such as increasing enrollment, allocating financial aid, building an optimal class schedule that helps students attain their educational goals, and meeting our key institutional performance indicators. I can also see that technology is only as positive or as negative as what we do with it.

Although the question of using AI technology to make our administrative tasks more effective and efficient is settled, the effect that artificial intelligence tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Bing, and Google’s Bard AI will have on teaching and measuring student learning is an unresolved question. I am not opposed to new technologies, but the use of ChatGPT is relatively new to my view of teaching. AI is no longer the stuff of science fiction, it is now openly accessible to our students. To better understand the potential impact that ChatGBT might have on instruction, I tried ChatGPT recently on the suggestion of a colleague. I was shocked when I asked ChatGPT to write a sample letter of recommendation for someone seeking a job as a higher education administrator. In just a few seconds, ChatGPT provided a letter that was extraordinary in its simplicity and applicability.

While artificial intelligence tools can be used to motivate our students and help them grasp new ideas, the ability to create text, images, and music with clarity, accuracy and adaptability will influence the way we deliver learning and facilitate access to knowledge. What we do now in response to this technological revolution is critical. The New York public schools banned access to ChatGPT on its internet networks and school devices after officials raised concerns that students could use the AI program to do homework or write essays (The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2023).

Our Education Master Plan calls on us to create a more nimble and adaptable institution that is proactive rather than merely reactive and pursue the future of learning by developing new curricula and pedagogy that respond directly to the immediate and near-term needs of our communities and optimizes best practices relevant to emerging technology. In light of this directive, banning AI technology from instruction is not the answer. You cannot put the AI genie back in the bottle. We must now engage openly and honestly about how we can incorporate AI in our instruction while still preserving the integrity and trust in our education credentials.

Our Academic Senate is engaged in dialogue that will further our collective understanding of current AI writing capabilities and actively discuss how faculty will address the rise of and viral use of ChatGPT and other AI writing tools by our students. It is clear from their initial discussions that the presence of AI writing tools does not spell the end of original thought or expression.

We understand that to navigate the uncertainty surrounding artificial intelligence in the classroom is to see the change as an opportunity and not as a threat. I am proud that our faculty are working together to address new and evolving needs, discuss when AI use benefits or detracts from student learning, and how we at CR can set achievable standards and expectations for our students around the acceptable use of AI-assisted writing tools.

Dr. Keith Flamer is the president of the College of the Redwoods.