Generative AI in Technical Education: An Interview with Orquidia Moreno
An Interview with Orquidia Moreno, Instructor and Technical Content Manager, on the impact of Generative Artificial Intelligence in the Education Space.
Hello Orquidia! With the popularity of Generative Artificial Intelligence, as an instructor and technical content manager, have you noticed an impact due to GenAI in your classes?
Generative AI has only just begun in its popularity and awareness amongst students. So, as of yet, we haven’t seen nearly the impact that we expect to see in the near future. But we know it’s here and only going to get more prominent.
It is only a matter of time before students become more proficient and aware of how GenAI can be applied to their studies and how they write programs. With the rapid developments every day, educators do have to be ready to adapt sooner than later.
For us in the JUMP program, we are already making plans to incorporate GenAI to our lessons and as an added support to students while going through our courses.
With your view of it becoming more of a factor, where do you see it causing the biggest waves or disruption?
The disruptions will come more in the assignments that students turn in. If they know this tool exists and can be used to generate code within seconds, they are going to want to use it to save time. However, this is where instructors have to be ahead of the curve. While it's nice to have a tool that can come up with solutions for us, it doesn't mean those solutions are correct or we'll be able to apply that solution in the best manner possible. Teachers need to stress how important it is for learners to still question GenAI and to be able to think critically on their own.
I believe if not appropriately trained GenAI could cause huge issues, in terms of analytical thinking ability, for those that would depend on it.
That would be turning point in the education space. Can you expand on how GenAI is creating, or really pushing, education to transform approaches to Analytic Learning?
There is no doubt that it will transform education and learning. But it is a technology that must be taught and we need to show students how to use it to the best of its ability, or else it becomes a double edged sword and people will use it as a lazy way to get answers. Basically, black box of questions and answers.
Think back to how widespread training on the internet and computers helped transform education. Some utilized the new resources the internet brought them to learn, others relied on it as a quick way to plagiarize or copy solutions for their problems. The emergence of generative AI will make education more accessible and make for more efficient learning techniques if we make it so. This is where educators have to be on the front lines.
If GenAI is a superpowered resources and information gatherer, we can use it to save time and focus more on critical thought. Students can spend more time actually learning from the content GenAI is able to provide them instead of losing time on information gathering. It’s real power is to be used as a tool to increase efficiency. I believe there was a recent study that highlighted this (14%! National Bureau of Economic Research https://www.nber.org/papers/w31161).
Generative AI can make sure that a learner can focus their time wisely. Don’t understand a part of the lesson? They can ask GenAI to help explain that concept to them. Their code isn’t working? You have a partner that can help them do code review and look over the issue. The way to do this step-by-step analytical learning will not always come naturally though.
Photo by Marvin Meyer
Great points Orquidia, can you go deeper on plagiarism with generative AI? How do you plan on combating that, and do you have anything set to prevent it in the classroom?
Educators and instructors worry about GenAI because of plagiarism. Students will rely too much on it to generate responses and answers without attempting to problem solve. Now, ask why wouldn’t a student want to solve the problem? Why were their thought processes to resort to plagiarism?
The fear of having the wrong answer or not doing an assignment perfectly can lead to plagiarism. We saw it even before the popularity of AI, which is why applications like Turnitin became more widespread when students turned in essays for school. And that holds true regardless of if that student is using GenAI because they are being lazy or they genuinely do not know how to find that answer otherwise.
We can’t always guarantee that we will have a tool that can check if the assignments students present are completely of their own creation, nor should we be trying to create that tool.
"Instead, our push is going to be on making sure that there is still that learning, curiosity, and digital mindset amongst students. As well as reassure them that they can make mistakes and should be trying to learn from them."
If we do not encourage students in this manner, they are going to rely too heavily on GenAI and they won’t be able to generate their own answers without assistance. Anyone who identifies themselves as a teacher should foster and encourage critical thinking. Show students that GenAI can be used in ways to help assist learning without the need for plagiarism.
Because in the end, when a student must actually apply all the information that they should have learned, they will experience a much grander failure. I've interviewed and had conversations with students in my past classes, I can tell based on how they speak on a problem or how they answer a question if they know it. So even if you commit plagiarism, an experienced instructor will be able to figure you out especially when we start to dig deeper and ask students further questions.
That’s a very empathic look. Going back to your comments on efficiency, with that type of thought process where do you see generative AI as a personal tutor and how can that be used best?
I believe it could be an incredibly useful tutor, especially with a student in a large class or in a situation where time with a teacher is limited. This is where, if a student is taught, generative AI can absolutely help with doing their own studying and research. Stuck on understanding a concept, you can have GenAI explain it to you in simpler terms. If your code isn’t working, it can be a code review partner and help you determine what the error is in your logic.
Internally we have begun creating self-paced exercises which have a “GenAI Assistant” guide attached. This outline walks them through learning how to use GenAI, line by line to find a concrete solution.
Additionally, a fun but helpful feature is the immersive experience of being able to pick the brains of historical and famous figures. Being able learn how Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, or Katherine Johnson would respond or provide guidance has given interesting perspectives!
Do you see Artificial Intelligence, based off what you shared, being a positive partner by transforming education as a whole?
Most definitely! For anyone who has ever heard of the term code review, it’s when you present and go over code with one or more individuals. This helps ensure that the programs you are building can be checked and you can receive feedback from other peers. Students who are learning about technology and programming don't always have the ability to have that extra pair of eyes or a back and forth with another peer.
When I was doing my undergraduate degree, some of the best experiences I had were when I could talk to and ask advice from more experienced classmates. They could point out why something wasn't working, and we could have a back-and-forth discussion. I was even able to take on that valuable role for others when I reached my later years in college.
However, that experience isn't always possible as we saw when the pandemic was at its peak or students may not be able to arrange more of that one-on-one support. Whether that comes from their instructor or other classmates. With GenAI, you still have that extra partner who can act almost as an advanced rubber duck with feedback and advice, no matter the time or place.
Moving more to your specific role, on your end as an instructor and technical content creator, how are you utilizing GenAI?
As I’ve become more familiar with navigating and utilizing GenAI, it has become more like a partner in doing content development. It’s like my fact double checker and ideas spurrer when I need it.
However, I mainly use it to speed up processes by generating interview questions and exercises for lessons on the fly. This type of content doesn’t usually take too much time but having a tool that can generate it for you, as long as you are reviewing it, saves time so you can focus on content building that can’t easily be generated.
Additionally, it can save time when I need help adjusting or fixing code for demos. My research time is cut considerably since I don’t need to look through multiple resources for my solution. For example, if anyone is familiar with SpringBoot, I was trying to determine the right naming conventions for a function that would be placed in one of my repository files. If the function was not named correctly, the search query I was building wouldn’t work and would stop my program from running. It can be easy to misname your functions or not set up the naming convention correctly, so having GenAI crosscheck my work rather than having to look through multiple sources trying to find what I did wrong saved me a lot of time.
Lastly, one of my more recent discoveries, I can have it outline a lesson plan for me. I had asked ChatGPT to outline the main topics that should be covered when learning ReactJS and it gave me a clear and easy to understand outline. It nearly matched the order and topics we currently teach when covering ReactJS in our courses in the JUMP program.
Now, even if I’ve listed many positives, especially since GenAI is still in its infancy, all the data it produces still needs to be checked to make sure it’s correct and in line with the content you are trying to create. So, while it can be a huge time saver and helper, it can still have faults which we must be aware of.
A feature that GenAI can bring is creating simulations of student responses such as asking questions, giving feedback, and answers for content or learnings. Have you had the opportunity to utilize this?
Recently I had been using ChatGPT to see how it can help simulate questions a student may ask when running through our teaching material. While you can present slides and information to students, you may not always know what will confuse them or what parts of the information may spark further questions.
You get better at anticipating questions from students after years of teaching, but for newer instructors, it can be difficult. And I want to take advantage of this use case to help train our newer instructors at being able to answer student questions and to deepen their understanding of the material they teach.
For example, I had given ChatGPT information from one of our slides talking about the Platform Independence of the Java JVM. They resulting questions are below.
- Can you explain what you mean by "platform independent" in the context of Java code and the JVM?
- How does the JVM help make Java code platform independent?
- You mentioned that Java code is compiled into bytecode. Can you explain what bytecode is and how it is used?
- What is meant by the term "Write Once and Run Anywhere" in the context of Java development?
- Are there any limitations to the platform independence of Java code? If so, what are they?
As soon as I got these questions, I attempted to answer each one myself. I had previously gotten questions like #1 or #4 before, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a student ask me #5. It sparked a chance for me to think further and make sure I didn’t have any gaps in my knowledge.
Another neat feature here has been altering the type of responses you would get based off the motivation or other factors pertaining to the student. Being able to create a prompt that presents a variety of questions based on participant personalities has created unique viewpoints.
Prompts from helloteacherlady.com
For our last question and it’s an important one, but it sounds like you are welcoming generative AI in the classroom. Do you think GenAI, when a student is taught to use it with the best intentions, has the ability to foster curiosity and develop a better process to learning?
I think no matter if I was against or for Artificial Intelligence in education, the reality is that it is here. And we must adapt and learn to utilize it, because no matter what we may do as educators and instructors, students will come to learn to use it regardless of if we bring attention to it. With that we must make sure that it’s used to the best of its potential without causing a detrimental effect to a student’s critical thinking skills. It’s an amazing tool and helper, and right now we must learn to set processes in place to best utilize it. As mentioned, at this moment showing students how to properly construct prompts for answers to questions they have, then, learning to treat the prompts as discussion points is critical.
Yes, I can ask ChatGPT how to build a program to reverse a string. However, why is the code generated the best answer? Can it be optimized? What happens if I add additional requirements on top of my original prompt? If that curiosity is fostered, students will want to understand more about the subject they are learning. These are the aspects that must occur to make this the success it truly could be in education.
Thank you, Orquidia! This has been very informative to hear your thoughts on how education must be ready now to adapt to Generative AI.