Wang Qiyun, a tenured associate professor of the Academic Group of Learning Science and Assessment (LSA) at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore (also a co-founding member of the Global MOOC and Online Education Alliance), shared his personal understanding of AI in supporting teaching and learning. He emphasized the potential of AI as a tool for personalized learning, and he identified several roles that AI can play in this context.
- AI as a Teaching Agent: AI can be used to teach students directly. This role of AI is perhaps the most straightforward and commonly understood. AI can deliver content, assess understanding, and provide feedback, acting as a virtual tutor.
- AI as a Peer Agent: AI can be used as a classmate or peer. In this role, AI can collaborate with students, providing an interactive learning experience that can enhance understanding and engagement.
- AI as a Teachable Agent: AI can be taught by students. This role is particularly interesting because it involves students teaching the AI, which can reinforce their own understanding of the subject matter. As Professor Wang stated, “When we are teaching AI to learn, we must also prepare ourselves to learn, so that we can effectively instruct the AI.”
- AI as a Motivational Agent: AI can be used to motivate students. This role recognizes the potential of AI to provide personalized encouragement and feedback, helping to keep students engaged and motivated.
In the panel discussion, Wang further elaborated on his views. He emphasized the importance of critical thinking skills and honesty when using AI. He cautioned against simply copying and pasting information generated by AI, and stressed the need for students to critically evaluate this information. He also highlighted the importance of authentic assessment, focusing on the process of learning rather than just the final outcome.
Wang also highlighted that NTU Singapore encourages students to use AI tools like ChatGPT, recognizing their utility, and accepts assignments generated with the help of ChatGPT. At the same time, the university also reminds students to be cautious and pay particular attention to the facts, information, and knowledge generated by AI. In terms of the future development of AI in NTU Singapore, Wang mentioned the potential of using big data collected from learning management systems to provide personalized suggestions and advice to students. He sees this as a very useful direction for the future, with personalized and adaptive learning being key aspects of using AI to support teaching.
Wang believes that every new technology, including AI, will reshape some existing jobs. For instance, language polishing companies might need to redefine their roles in light of tools like ChatGPT, which is particularly useful for improving writing, though not so much for writing research proposals or academic papers from scratch. Building on this insight, I (Enoch Wong) find it pertinent to delve deeper into the implications, particularly in the field of education. As an educator, I see the advent of AI as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it offers unprecedented opportunities for enhancing teaching and learning experiences. On the other hand, it presents challenges that we must navigate with caution. For instance, while AI tools like ChatGPT can significantly improve writing, we must ensure that they are used as aids to learning, not substitutes for the critical thinking and creativity that are central to education. It is crucial that we strike a balance between leveraging the benefits of AI and maintaining the integrity of the learning process.
Furthermore, AI can be a very useful productivity or cognitive tool, as it can help us complete tasks efficiently. Wang likened AI to a calculator, a tool that was once controversial but is now widely accepted and used to support learning — Wang’s comparison really resonates with me. Just as calculators aid in mathematical computations but do not replace the need to understand mathematical concepts, AI should be seen as a tool that aids learning without replacing the need for critical thinking and understanding. This perspective is particularly important in the context of ethical issues raised by AI. As educators, we have a responsibility to ensure that the use of AI in education is transparent, respects privacy, and is ethically sound. This includes ensuring that students understand the basis on which AI tools provide suggestions and that data used by AI is obtained and used responsibly. As we navigate this new landscape, these considerations should be at the forefront of our discussions and decisions.
As we continue to explore the potential of AI in higher education, I invite you to reflect on the insights shared. In the words of Professor Wang, “When we are teaching AI to learn, we must also prepare ourselves to learn, so that we can effectively instruct the AI“. In the context of higher education, how can we, as educators, learners, or professionals, prepare ourselves to guide AI such that we can maximize the value it generates? I look forward to hearing your thoughts and continuing this important discussion.
Note: “OED Host Reflect” is a series where the OED Host (Enoch Wong, Senior Advisor of Online Education and International Cooperation at Tsinghua University) summarizes messages delivered by speakers during the OED while attempting to make additional contributions to further discussion around the topic. Moreover, the views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of any entities they represent. Last but not least, you are most welcome to watch the replay of OED at: https://www.xuetangx.com/live/live20230515m002intl/live20230515m002/16741468/34631590