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Customizing AI Assistants for Classroom Success

A webinar on how to create your own chatbots that extend, not replace, your expertise.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking at the UNC System’s, Learning and Technology Web Series, where we delved into the innovative use of generative AI in education.

Our discussion focused on how educators can leverage AI to create customized chatbots that enhance teaching and learning experiences by extending our expertise, not replacing it.

I didn’t do any scientific research, but I felt like it was one of my best webinars, so I’m sharing it with you this week.

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Best Practices for AI Assistants

One of the most interesting aspects of my research and teaching at UNC Wilmington has been the development of AI-driven chatbots tailored to specific educational needs.

Last semester, I thought my big thing was going to be teaching students how to develop good prompts. Turns out out that creating customized AI assistants had a much bigger impact on their writing.

But its important to take a structured approach with a clear vision of how you are deploying your expertise in the classroom.

Here's a simplified guide to developing these AI tools:

  1. Identify the Role and Task: Start by pinpointing the chatbot's role – is it a tutor, a writing assistant, or a study aid? What specific task or kind of interaction do you want to happen?

  2. Structured Prompts: The key to an effective chatbot lies in well-structured prompts. This includes context, task definition, and relevant content.

  3. Iterative Process: Refinement is crucial. Your first chatbot won’t be perfect, but with iterations based on feedback, it improves significantly.

One of the most exciting aspects of this journey has been witnessing student engagement with AI. The students not only used these chatbots but also participated in creating them, which enriched their understanding of both the subject matter and the technology itself.

Ethical Considerations & Challenges

In this webinar, we also explored ethical components to this process, and how educators can use these challenges as powerful teaching moments. Here’s a deeper dive into these considerations:

  1. Privacy and Confidentiality: Both educators and students must exercise caution with the information they input into chatbots. In my classes, I advocate for a simple rule: do not include anything in the chatbot programming or interactions that you wouldn’t feel comfortable posting on the internet. Since much of our students' writing is already public, this opens a door to discussions about the dynamics of privacy and public discourse in the digital age.

  2. Copyright and Ownership: The advent of AI in education introduces new gray areas in terms of legal and ethical concerns. For instance, if you're building a chatbot by uploading a research article or website content you don’t own, where does this stand legally and ethically? What if your bot cites these sources? These issues present an excellent opportunity for classroom discussions, particularly when students are engaged in creating their own chatbots.

  3. Bias and Inaccuracy: While our goal in structuring prompts for AI chatbots is to mitigate bias and inaccuracy, it’s important to acknowledge that this technology isn't infallible. Chatbots can deviate unexpectedly, but these instances shouldn’t be seen solely as failures. Instead, they offer invaluable teaching moments to discuss the limitations and unpredictability of AI, emphasizing the importance of human oversight and critical thinking.

  4. Understanding the User: When creating a chatbot, whether as a teacher or a student, it’s crucial to maintain a user-centric approach. It's not just about the bot itself but the quality of interaction it facilitates. This requires extensive testing and iteration, providing a practical lesson in user experience design and the iterative nature of technological development.

Incorporating these ethical considerations into our classroom discussions around AI not only enriches students' understanding of the technology but also instills a sense of responsibility and ethical awareness as they step into a world increasingly shaped by AI.

We should be teaching students to shape this technology … not just be shaped by it. And that is probably the greatest opportunity that we have as educators in this new era.

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