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Developing Your GenAI Syllabus Policy
AI Operations is for teachers ... not just businesses.
AI Operations isn’t just for businesses … it’s for everyone.
That includes teachers.
Simply put, AI Operations is about managing the people and processes around AI technologies.
No matter your stance on AI, if you're part of today's education system, you're already a player in the AI Ops field.
While there's been discussion about the need for an institution-wide GenAI policy, the beauty of teaching lies in the unique approaches and mindsets each educator brings.
Rather than striving for a universal policy, our focus should be on clearly communicating our AI stance to our students.
A 'one size fits all' approach can often leave the job half done. The real work of AI Operations begins with collaborative and coherent planning at a micro-level.
As we stand at the threshold of a new semester, I've put together a digital handout to help teachers think more about the mindset they bring to the classroom.
The first step to developing your AI Operations plan is to communicate your standards for use … and for teachers, this means writing a syllabus policy.
Any major change in technology will change how we think about writing. The printing press encouraged us think more about standardization and rules. Digital technologies forced us to think not just about words but also sound, image, and video. As we move into the AI era, educators will need to think about how this new technology is shaping their own attitudes and those of their students.
This is especially important when crafting your syllabus and assignments. Students will encounter many different attitudes towards AI in the classroom. What's true in one class will not be true in another, requiring each instructor to be explicit about their own attitudes towards AI and how that informs their policy.
Three Attitudes Towards AI
There are three useful attitudes towards technology and AI that can help you formulate your policies and understand where other instructors or students might stand.
Instrumentalism has a binary view that sees technology as distinct from humans. AI is just a tool.
There are two ways people leverage this binary … either to emphasize the role of the human or the role of technology.
If you are a humanist, then you emphasize our organic bodies and likely see AI as a detriment to society and the writing process.
If you are a technologist, then you see tools as an enhancement to our humanity.
Either way, technology is a passive partner that is separate from how we exist as humans. The essence of who we are as humans is unchanged by technology. Meaning exists in the human.
Formalism is focused more on getting words, texts, and ideas right, regardless of what technology is being used.
Meaning doesn’t exist inside the human, but in the words we use. Still a binary view of humans and technology, this perspective focuses on the forms of words and text to connect humanity. Meaning is how well humans put together words in the “right way.”
If you are a humanist, then your goal is to ensure ideas are communicated accurately and appropriately, regardless of the technology being used. AI hinders our ability to communicate and come up with ideas, because only humans can make meaning.
If you are a technologist, then you see AI as a part of the communication and idea-making process. AI can create meaning, especially for mundane writing, but not necessarily more complex writing. The meaning is in the text, not the human.
Either way, the source of communication and ideas is the human, not the machine, which remains a conduit that can enhance or inhibit the flow of meaning.
Posthumanism understands writing as a human-machine interaction … regardless of the technology.
Writing, ideas, communication, society — they all emerge through the interaction between people and machines. Now that AI is a part of this interactive network, it will always be a part of our writing and thinking … even if you lock students in a room with no computers or electricity.
When there is disagreement how we use AI, these conflicting mindsets often lie underneath.
Heuristic for Syllabus Policy
Once you know your mindset, you can use that to help you compose your GenAI policy. But be sure to make a clear distinction between the different ways of using GenAI. There are two very different use cases AI Generation and AI Assistance.
How you use these in your classroom will usually be determined by your mindset.
Will you allow generated text?
If so, under what conditions? If not, why?
This means using text directly from AI. For example:
Generating an entire text using advanced prompting
Generating entire texts and rewriting to a specific purpose
Generating single instances of short snippets to add to your writing
Generating multiple instances of specific word counts to be inserted
These all have their uses, but not for every class or context.
Will you allow AI-assistance?
If so, under what conditions. If not, why?
This means asking AI to offer tips, advice, or feedback. For example:
Asking to list ideas for a blog topic
Asking for an outline for a research paper
Submitting writing and asking for suggestions
Asking for ideas for audience adaptions
Every syllabus should have clear statements on how these will be used in class. Like default settings in an app, though, you may want to make changes for individual assignments later.
Heuristic for Policy Language
To give you an idea of what this might look like, here is a breakdown of each mindset and what each policy might look like.
Every syllabus should have at least these three elements.
Would you like to have AI draft your syllabus policy for you? Here is a prompt to try out.
Assistant: You are a [choose your mindset]. Mindset: [Describe your mindset or paste the description from the heuristic.] Task: Write brief rules for how students use AI-generated text, AI-assistance, and AI-free writing that match your mindset.