Focus on active learning urged in response to rise of ChatGPT

Conference attendees discuss how to respond to the ‘600-pound gorilla in the room’ on university teaching

November 14, 2023
MENA Universities Summit

University teaching should focus on active learning in the wake of the rise of artificial intelligence, the “600-pound gorilla in the room”, a conference has heard.

Nancy Gleason, director of the Hilary Ballon Centre for Teaching and Learning at New York University Abu Dhabi, said that the fourth industrial revolution – which includes generative AI such as ChatGPT as well as other technologies – would change the meaning of expertise and the role of universities in developing this.

“The knowledge that universities transfer is no longer the point,” she told Times Higher Education’s MENA Universities Summit.

“Universities are no longer the sole purveyors of information, but there is something else you get from universities.”

Active learning techniques, which focus on asking students to discuss, investigate and create in the classroom, could play an important role, Dr Gleason said.

“There’s a very important role there for the university in making sure that we create communities of people who are self-aware, who can question what ChatGPT tells you and [are] able to stretch the muscle of curiosity,” she said.

Dr Gleason said that the students who would benefit most from attending university would probably need to rely on their infrastructure, including student success officers, residential assistance and student interest groups, to thrive academically.

And she said that universities needed to address a potential equity issue, between some students using free AI platforms and others using more sophisticated versions.

Awam Amkpa, dean of arts and humanities at NYU Abu Dhabi, where the summit is being held, said that just as the concept of the library had changed, so too had the concept of acquiring basic knowledge.

However, instead of a threat, Professor Amkpa said AI presented opportunities for the teaching and learning requirements of academics.

“Our professors are trained to be agile. It’s that agility that actually makes the professor distinctive because they are constantly upskilling, they are acquiring new languages, including the use of AI to support their pedagogy,” he said.

Mariët Westermann, vice-chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi, said that no universities would thrive without a strategy for what she termed the “600-pound gorilla in the room” – generative AI.

“I think the most urgent impact of generative AI for all of us is on our teaching mission – that’s in front of us most pressingly,” she said.

However, she said the detection of plagiarism is probably the “least useful way for any of us in universities to respond” and called for educators to adapt to become more than “the plagiarism police”.

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