Technology and Website

Sask. Universities say they’re adapting to AI technology rather than fighting it

Students and faculty at Saskatchewan universities are allowed — and in some cases even encouraged — to use generative artificial intelligence (AI) as long as they’re doing it in an ethical way, according to the institutions.

On Nov. 30, 2022, ChatGPT was made available to the masses. The AI ​​tool can generate plain language responses of various lengths, leading some to use it as an alternative to doing their own writing.

ChatGPT caused a variety of reactions in the world of academia, according to Dr. Nancy Turner, the senior director of teaching and learning enhancement at the University of Saskatchewan.

“ChatGPT in November was what I thought then prompted all of this attention and more kind of concern,” said Turner. “But also identification of opportunities in higher education.”

Turner said the university recognizes that generative AI isn’t going anywhere. The U of S website now features a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section for instructors on ChatGPT and how to use it. The page has dos and don’ts, and provides links on where more information on ethical use can be found.

According to Turner, there is a broad spectrum of what is and isn’t allowed, with different situations calling for different allowances. U of S policy still reflects that unauthorized use of these technologies will not be permitted and there have been recommendations made to faculty.

Ultimately it is left to instructors to decide how, if at all, they want to incorporate Chat GPT and other generative AI technology into their course material.

Everett Dorma, a spokesperson for the University of Regina, said in an email that “students and faculty are currently permitted to use AI and ChatGPT provided they do so in an ethical way.”

The U of R is developing an additional policy that will address the ethical use of AI.

AI in the classroom

Paula MacDowell, an assistant professor in the department of curriculum studies at U of S, said she’s used generative AI and the latest technology in her teachings for a long time.

“It’s very important for me that my students, who are teachers, have an opportunity to use and create with these tools,” said MacDowell. “Because they need to understand them.”

Paula MacDowell is an assistant professor at the UofS who is currently writing a textbook on how to use generative AI in teaching. (CBC News)

According to MacDowell there are now more than 3,000 of these “tools” available and she’s currently working on a textbook about teaching and creating with generative AI.

“Higher education has an over-reliance on essays and we need to be looking at different ways of evaluating student learning.”

MacDowell says she received positive feedback from students when she used immersive learning technologies to make students create virtual worlds for an assignment.

Mixed student reactions

Students on the U of S campus had differing opinions on whether generative AI was good for schooling.

“I used it last semester for an assignment, but I didn’t actually hand the assignment in,” said Adison Lidberg. “ChatGPT and AIs like that feel too hand-holdy (and) too easy. I didn’t feel like I was learning anything or handling in something that I felt like I was actually doing.”

Lidberg added that the consequences of using generative AI aren’t clear enough.

Adison Linberg is standing outside of the University of Saskatchewan with green grass and trees behind them.
Adison Linberg said he used ChatGPT once for an assignment, but never handed it in for grading. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Other students on campus said that even if the rules were loosening up on generative AI they still wouldn’t use it because they enjoy writing, or that they wouldn’t use it because of the money they spent on school.