EC's Faculty Tackle AI Ethics, Integration Head-On

Elmira College faculty members are addressing the latest technology breakthrough, artificial intelligence, head-on as educators across the country express considerable concern about AI’s potential for misuse.

Soon after the launch of ChatGPT, a writing tool that can generate human-like paragraphs in seconds, members of the faculty formed an AI Task Force, which took a proactive approach to dealing with the new technology. They began sending frequent AI newsletters to EC’s faculty, sharing research and best practices. They implemented a new workshop and learning module for students attending First Year Seminar that tackles the issue of academic honesty. The Task Force also helped address instances of academic dishonesty and advised faculty to coach students on the appropriate and inappropriate use of AI.

“When I hear what my counterparts are doing and experiencing at their institutions, whether large or small, I am pleasantly surprised to know that our faculty – led by our interdisciplinary AI Task Force – has been open to learning and trying new things,” shared Dr. Annaliese Hoehling, Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Academic Writing Program and AI Task Force member.

“I'm surprised by the lack of response at other institutions,” added Dr. Kelly Kane, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology and an advisor to the AI Task Force. “EC has been quick to respond to this technology with nuance, such as incorporating it into assignments and making students aware of how it can and cannot serve as an effective shortcut in writing. It appears other schools have been either overreacting by banning the technology entirely or underreacting by trying to ignore its existence.”

Task Force members felt it was important to raise awareness about their work with the EC Board of Trustees while letting them know how EC is leaning in and tackling the problem head-on. Hoehling, Kane, Dr. Alexis Rittenberger, Director of Teacher Education and Graduate and Professional Studies, and Dr. Corey Stilts, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Mathematics and Natural Sciences Chair, presented to the Board during their May Trustee Weekend.

“I hoped to make it clear that the EC faculty are responding quickly to the release of AI, but that we're not panicking. We recognize that this technology is useful, but we also recognize that there's a lot of unfulfilled hype about it and that the fundamentals of education remain important,” shared Kane.

“My goal was for the Trustees to understand that while the news of AI affecting higher education can sometimes seem frightening, Elmira College has responded quickly and effectively. That EC has been able to be forward-thinking, not just reactionary,” added Hoehling.

EC's Faculty Tackle AI Ethics, Integration Head-On

Dr. Kelly Kane gave a keynote presentation during the Faculty Development Day in May.

Kane and Hoehling said the Trustees reacted positively to their presentation.

“Their response exceeded my expectations,” beamed Hoehling. “I was not sure how much the board might have known about AI and its effect on higher education and how worried they might be. There was a mix of knowledge and awareness about AI among the board, but everyone seemed to walk away with positive feelings about the work EC is doing.”

“That work” continued a couple of days after the Trustee meeting in the presentations and panel discussions Hoehling and Kane helped organize for a Faculty Development Day.

“The Development Day on AI was unexpectedly interesting and helpful,” remarked Mariam Khawar, Professor of Economics. “I wasn't anticipating learning so many new things and it was impressive to see how well-versed many of our colleagues already are with its tools.”

Khawar agrees that in the case of AI, the best approach is a direct one.

“The overwhelming sense I got from the day was that AI is here to stay no matter how we may feel about its impact and the morals or ethics associated with its use,” she said. “The best way to approach it would be to learn all that one can, to adapt and not resist or deny its existence.”

Due to the nature of economics as a field of study and the types of assignments Khawar gives students, she’s not overly concerned that students will use AI to cheat in her courses. However, Dr. Charles Mitchell, Professor of American Studies, has had to make significant course adjustments since ChatGPT launched.

EC's Faculty Tackle AI Ethics, Integration Head-On

Dr. Annaliese Hoehling helped lead a panel discussion during the Faculty Development Day in May.

“All of the traditional plagiarism proofing I had developed for my writing assignments over many years has been rendered obsolete and one inescapable result of that has been to change how I approach those assignments, specifically moving to a focus on in-class writing,” he explained.

As a history scholar, Mitchell knows that technology breakthroughs are inevitable, often messy at first, and that adjustment is the best strategy in the long run. But that hasn’t made it easy for him.

“In my humble opinion, more is lost than gained with the adjustment. The opportunity for thoughtful reflection when comparing and contrasting primary sources or different arguments or reviews is substantially diminished when the student sits down for 60 or 90 minutes in a classroom compared to a more open-ended out-of-class experience,” he shared. “While there are ways of working around that to ensure students are doing their own work—multiple drafts, individual meetings, and such—it requires a lot more time and work and will reduce the amount of time and effort that can be invested in other aspects of the course.”

Mitchell may crave the pre-AI days, but he’s keenly aware they aren’t coming back.

“And so what EC has done this year—the weekly AI newsletters culminating in the presentations on Development Day—has been critical in keeping us all thinking about and actively engaging with the issues relating to AI. Many big kudos to the organizers and presenters,” he said.

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