‘Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’: How one college professor is leaning into AI and ChatGPT

‘Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’: How one college professor is leaning into AI and ChatGPT

While artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT have some people worried about the implications they could have on education, Weber State associate professor Alex Lawrence is helping prepare students for a world with AI by embracing it in his classroom. (Weber State University)

Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes

Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series that looks at the rise of artificial intelligence technology tools like ChatGPT, the opportunities and risks they present, and the impact they may have on various aspects of our daily lives.

OGDEN — Weber State University associate professor Alex Lawrence has taught students about artificial intelligence and business for years, but he’s never seen anything like the recent rise of AI systems like OpenAI’s Chat GPT.

ChatGPT is part of a new generation of AI systems that can chat, generate readable text on demand and even produce new images and video based on what it has learned from a large database of digital books, online writings and other media, according to the Associated Press.

“However, this is the first time that I think it’s become really accessible and available to, you know, students and business owners and business people in general in a way that’s really easy to use and extremely powerful,” says Lawrence, who teaches in Weber State’s professional sales department.

For Lawrence, the uses of AI in education are plentiful.

Getting past writer’s block, composing outlines and having almost any wealth of information available at your fingertips offers “remarkable” possibilities as far as time saving and efficiency are concerned.

Lawrence even had a conversation with ChatGPT pretending to be Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II.

“We were just going back and forth and it was really kind of creepy and cool,” Lawrence said.

Of course, the flip side of ChatGPT’s capabilities is that it can also be used by students to do their work for them.

“You don’t really have to think about it or spend any time on it and you just really kind of copy and paste and turn in work that is, you know, good work and tick all the boxes for a good grade,” Lawrence said. “Anytime you can do something like that, there’s an opportunity to shortcut learning.”

While Lawrence acknowledges the potential for more worrisome uses of ChatGPT — calling it “the biggest cheating tool I’ve ever seen” after his first time using the technology — he also recognizes that the world is moving toward one where A.I. are very involved in aspects of everyday life, and ultimately the workforce.

That’s big for Lawrence, a self-described non-traditional academic who places a heavy emphasis on “how the real world is going to work.”

“What are we teaching them? Things that are out of date? Are we teaching them to do long form division when the calculator is here?” asked Lawrence. “That’s where some of the nuances come in, you know, how do you embrace it, how do you regulate it? … How do you still get your students ready for the real world without hindering them in terms of not being able to think critically and do research and all that stuff?”

I think a lot of things that are really big like this are scary and exciting and it’s okay to say that. It is here. It doesn’t go away. It’s not a fad.-Alex Lawrence, Weber State University associate professor

Lawrence wants his students to lean in and embrace AI systems because they are the first generation to be exposed to what he thinks will be an important tool in disciplines like business.

He equated the rise of AI as similar to the rise of the Internet.

“I’m trying to help them understand that they really have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and advantage, and every group behind them is going to be further and further away from that opportunity,” Lawrence said. “Don’t squander it. Become an expert. Really embrace it, really learn how to use it and leverage it and maximize it.”

To bring AI into the classroom environment, Lawrence had his students create a slide presentation showing what AI tools they used, what incentives and other information they submitted to get their results, and then tell bullet points to to show the knowledge they have acquired.

In the business world, Lawrence suggests his students use AI to write emails, generate presentations, come up with marketing plans or presentation sketches, and save time while on deadlines or when lacking inspiration.

While Lawrence embraces AI and ChatGPT as educational and career tools, he understands the fear and concern of those weary of how AI could impact education further down the road.

“I think a lot of things that are really big like this are scary and exciting and it’s OK to say that,” Lawrence said. “It’s here. It’s not going away. It’s not a fad.”

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Logan Stefanich is a reporter at KSL.com, covering southern Utah communities, education, business and military news.

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