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Iowa Educators and Students Find Growing Use Cases for AI

From creating discussion boards, to making syllabuses and annotated bibliographies, to simulating different personas with mental illnesses for psychology students, professors are exploring their own uses for AI.

(TNS) — Being nice to technology has taken on a whole new meaning in the ChatGPT era.

Before the November 2022 introduction of the chatbot sparking the artificial intelligence craze, "technology nice" may have meant putting a case around a smartphone or not overloading a laptop with too many files.

But Hawkeye Community College professors, among many in higher education embracing AI, have found that literally being polite while communicating with ChatGPT has its benefits.

Say "Hi Chat," says Corrine Holke-Farnam, a communications professor.

Don't just give it orders and "you'll get better results," adds Seth Vickers, an instructional designer helping professors use AI and create relevant guidelines in the classroom.

The new tools have a myriad of uses but also have foibles just like humans, Matthew Wilson, marketing instructor at the University of Northern Iowa, often reminds his students.

His industry has known that for years. Its professionals have been utilizing AI a long time, and ChatGPT is just another tool. Users must be careful.

"Sometimes it makes stuff up," Wilson said.

In developing marketing content, he learned the dangers when Google's original position on AI-generated material was that it was "spam," sometimes ranking it lower in search results or not at all.

That's not the case now. Google has developed its own AI products. But that hasn't made a dent in the list of red flags.

AI doesn't always tell the truth, and it also can be a master thief. Users have to be careful with how closely its outputs mimic intellectual property. Another worry is when it decides to act less like a human and more like a robot.

"AI's content is all based on word predictability, so oftentimes the content it generates may be well structured and it sounds good, but it's not very interesting or it's very generic or doesn't have any character behind it," said Wilson. "So another thing we talk about is how do we inject some personality, personal brand and voice into that copy."

At Hawkeye, AI tools have helped clone humans, in a sense. Psychology instructor Leah Parker uses AI to help create case studies of different personas with mental illnesses for students to identify and diagnose as practice for the real world.

"I start students off with a persona and a dossier of information and these different parts of this character, and AI helps me because I can create a warning letter from a fictitious employer that's warning this fictitious person about their behavior. There's love letters and to-do lists for instance it can create as warnings, and also now it can mimic voices."

ChatGPT isn't the only AI platform professors are using.

They use AI tools like Eduaide, Gemini (formerly Bard) and Microsoft Copilot to develop discussion boards and learning objectives, along with syllabuses and annotated bibliographies. Such mundane examples of uses for AI may not excite outsiders but do make life easier.

Parker used AI to clarify assignment guides, project overviews and come up with revisions that make them clearer to students, sidestepping avoidable questions.

Jim O'Laughlin, English professor and head of the languages and literatures department at UNI, discovered a way to create a release granting permission for high school writers to have their work published.

"I was hunting around, thinking maybe I could find something, but I couldn't find something and thought this is a job for ChatGPT," he said. "Fifteen seconds later I had a workable draft that I could then fix up. That was a timesaver for me."

Students hand off tasks to the technology, as well.

Evie Flint, a second semester Hawkeye student from England, uses AI to navigate American life and save herself time better spent practicing with the college's soccer team.

She's found herself baffled by words and phrases used in lectures with "the American sense." Rather than just sit there confused, she uses AI to clarify.

O'Laughlin thinks writing will be one of the industries most impacted by AI. But it won't replace the scribe, he said, and that's proven in the case of Flint.

Flint knows the ideas she wants to put on paper. With the help of ChatGPT and what's available through Microsoft Edge, she can tie them together.

"What is the best way to order these? And then it tells you how to do an introduction, put them in an order and then tells you how to do a conclusion," Flint said.

Higher education is benefiting. At UNI, there are also computer science students and professors completing advanced research.

Machine learning is the focus for seniors Marina Avdonina of Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Blake Schleter of Dubuque. They are working with professor Dheryta Jaisinghani to create an app called iBrush.

It's a watch connected to an app capable of converting movement into data. The lines and lines of figures mixed with machine learning models can show how often one brushes their teeth and whether they're doing a good job.

Volodymyr Kiselova, a senior from Postville and native of Vinnytsia, Ukraine, is creating a student safety app similarly using movements picked up by one's mobile device. In his case, that may be abrupt and violent changes in direction, signaling someone is in trouble.

Down the road it may be capable of notifying law enforcement.

"It's called machine learning, but really you're just giving the machine a preset of data to work off of so that it later can make its decisions based off of that new data," said Kiselova. "In the testing phases, you have to go back and check if the result is right to signal if the machine learning model is working. If it's not, then you'd have to adjust those parameters."

©2024 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.