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Productively and Painlessly Integrating Gen AI into Your Fall Classes

It is important that we give our learners experience in using generative AI to prepare them for job interviews, career advancement and efficient practices in the workplace.

One might ask why should we bend to the latest fad in our field? Let me be clear that AI is not a fad. It will not fade quietly away in a few months or years. It is, rather, an effective tool that is seen broadly as money-saving, creative and competitively-necessary in the workplace. Employers are expecting their new hires to have AI skills.  Resume Builder reported a survey they conducted in April of this year among 1,187 business leaders found 92% are currently hiring and of those who are currently hiring, 91% want workers with ChatGPT experience. The Boston Consulting Group surveyed some 13,000 people at all levels in the workforce.  They found the percentage of those reporting their company uses AI jumped from 22% in 2018 to 50% in 2023. Some 80% of those in leadership positions reported that they use AI daily. Survey respondents were found to be more optimistic than concerned about AI.

In higher education, we must be responsive to the employer needs and expectations in order that our learners are well-prepared for careers upon degree or certificate completion. In most circumstances, we have some months or years to prepare to respond to changing workplace needs. However, the rapid adoption of AI by business and industry has come in weeks and months rather than years.

With just a month or so before the start of fall classes, how can we best integrate AI into our classes and give our learners the valuable experience they need to land jobs and advance in this changing workspace?  First, we must ask what are the most basic outcomes we expect, and how can we relate those to our field or discipline?

I am an incrementalist in most endeavors, moving to improve in small ways rather than wholesale revisions of prior work. I believe it is most important that our learners have experience in using at least one or two of the most prominent generative AI apps; be able to create and follow-up on an effective prompt; and understand that it is good practice to test your results in at least two different applications to help ensure credible results. Also, given the short time span until classes begin and that we certainly don’t want to sacrifice the other content that has proven successful in the class, we should find ways to supplement, rather than replace large segments of our course materials.

I was moved to ponder ways we might best accomplish these outcomes by recent postings from David Wiley, the Chief Academic Officer of Lumen Learning. Wiley has suggested that we might create “generative textbooks” to replace traditional texts

Rather than creating an entire virtual generative text, I believe at this point in time while preparing for the fall term, the instructor might be better advised to supplement assignments in the current course syllabus. Briefly, the process would include:

  • Identify several key modules in the syllabus for which you would direct deeper study through generative AI. You might choose ones that are changing over time, ones that generate a variety of opinions, or ones that are most important for the desired learning outcomes of the course.
  • Write sample prompts to explore more current or in-depth views of each of the selected key modules and share them with the learners.
  • You may want to read and share with learners, Laura Starita’s Contently article “How to Write AI Prompts: The Key to Better Outputs from Generative AI” with your learners.
  • Assign learners to use your sample prompts and write their own follow-up prompts in at least a couple of different AI chatbots such as ChatGPT, Google Bard, Bing Chat, Com, or Perplexity.
  • As a concluding project of the series of gen AI inquiries, you might request that they create their own initial as well as follow-up prompts.
  • Ask your learners to assess, compare and contrast the results in a modest discussion essay. You might also ask them to compare the sources used by the AI application. 

The outcomes you are seeking include:

  • Experience in using well-formed prompts on topics of relevance to the field of study and possibly the field of employment or advancement
  • Experience in writing follow-up prompts to refine responses
  • Developing understanding and expectations of what various AI applications are capable of providing
  • Adding more current contextual information on key topical areas than is normally built into the course

These are modest, yet important, outcomes to give your learners valuable familiarity and experience with gen AI applications.  Your learners will be able to add to their portfolio the ability to assess, compare, contrast AI responses as examples of their experience and insights into generative AI. These experiences may be valuable in the job application and interview process.

Over time, you may choose to further integrate more assignments using gen AI in your classes. Remember that the APA has now established formatting for citations of gen AI material.  Also, remember that as of this time, gen AI material cannot be copyrighted.

While this is a relatively small step in integrating AI into your courses, it may be very important.  I believe you will be surprised at the curiosity, creativity and critical thinking that it stimulates among your learners. It will open the door to students using these tools to adapt your other content to their needs and circumstances. I believe the learners will be more likely to turn to gen AI to answer questions they otherwise would be reluctant to raise and to build deeper understanding of the subject they are studying. Equally important, it will launch you, the instructor, on the path of using this powerful new tool in your teaching.


This article was originally published in Inside Higher Ed’s Transforming Teaching & Learning blog.

A man (Ray Schroeder) is dressed in a suit with a blue tie and wearing glasses.

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

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