Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Q&A: Students, faculty on the impact of AI

FAU students, faculty and the surrounding community react to the increasing importance of artificial intelligence in higher education.
Ryan Murphy
Engineering East

Artificial intelligence (AI) has sparked an intense debate in the world of education. The University Press interviewed students and faculty on the use of AI in higher education. Students expressed their appreciation for AI while faculty outlined their concerns. 

A BestColleges survey revealed that 43% of students say they have experience using AI tools such as ChatGPT. The rapid breakthroughs in AI can not only reshape the job market but the whole education system.

Today, higher education faces the greatest disrupter of the last decades as artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the world by pushing the boundaries of how human intelligence, critical thinking and learning can be defied by an automated bot.

FAU aims to become a University of Distinction for AI/Data. The university asked the State Government for $18.1 million in the 2022-2023 legislative budget request to support their AI/Data project, which got approved. 

Different warnings about the destructive potential of AI have been increasing in the last months. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, which runs AI application ChatGPT, said he’s “scared” of AI’s potential. As college students’ use of AI technology grows, so do questions about academic integrity, critical thinking and the potential benefits that might outweigh such risks.

The University Press interviewed several students and higher education employees from the state of Florida to explore the impact of AI in learning, teaching and how they foresee a future of higher education intertwined with AI. 

Note: The following conversations have been edited for clarity and concision.

Do you use ChatGPT or any AI application? How often and why?

Natalie Angel (Urban and Regional planner, Senior): Well for me, I struggle with ADHD. So with my writing assignment, if I can’t figure out a topic or subject that I want to write about, AI comes in handy. But I do believe that is being taken advantage of to the extreme. 

Michael Cook will be attending FAU next spring. Photo courtesy of Cook.

Michael Cook (Palm Beach State College student transferring to FAU next Spring): As a fully online student, teachers aren’t always accessible to contact, and artificial intelligence can be a helpful outlet to learn with limited support. I refrain from using ChatGPT and familiar AI applications, but I will use artificial technology when solving a complex problem or can’t understand it.

Ethan Levine is a junior Law and Society honors student. Photo courtesy of Levine.

Ethan Levine (Law and Society honors student, Junior): The only times I have used AI was to generate a study guide for finals, which was very helpful. The other example was that for my final in one of the law classes, it was required that I ask ChatsGPT about a supreme court case, and it showed that AI is not always accurate and does make stuff up.

How is AI changing teaching and learning experiences in higher education?

Stella Batalama is the dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. Photo courtesy of Batalama.

Stella Batalama (College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean): Specifically, AI enables, more than anything else, personalized learning and makes education more accessible. In terms of research and development, innovation is accelerated while, organizationally, AI creates time and labor efficiencies that allow for more meaningful and effective human interactions.

Steven Heath Mitton (Senior Instructor, FAU History Department)I think in the end, I know I speak for history faculty, they’ve realized that AI is just another form of plagiarism. If students are taking AI and they are writing better papers, that’s a great thing. But in the end, our job is to empower students intellect, not to improve their skills on using a new google. 

In just five days following its public release in November 2022, ChatGPT acquired one million users.

Gerald Sim (Associate Professor, FAU School of Communication and Multimedia Studies): ChatGPT, and this is a term by Emily Bender in the University of Washington, she calls it a really fancy form of autocorrect. It doesn’t understand anything. It really just knows the sequence of words that are in front and what the next sequence will probably be. And so people will need to understand the technology and not take the word of people who are very utopian about the potential benefits they see in it. Technology is never simply technological, it’s always political.

Gerald Sim is an associate professor at the School of Communication and Media Studies. Photo courtesy of Sim.

As the curriculum shifts to embrace an AI world, what disciplines will prosper, and which will languish? 

Sim: Journalism, history and humanities in general will be very crucial to keeping the development of AI and technology accountable and honest. People who do that work are critical thinkers but those occupations or disciplines are the first to be defunded or under resources, not because they don’t do valuable work, but because they don’t have institutional power. So history, journalism and humanities are in danger. But not because of what AI does. But the economic effect of it. 

Shermeen Yousif is an assistant professor at the School of Architecture. Photo courtesy of Yousif.

Shermeen Yousif (FAU Assistant Professor, School of Architecture): Universities must strategically balance the demand for AI-related programs with the enduring value of traditional disciplines. A comprehensive approach is essential, preserving the essence of liberal arts and humanities to foster well-rounded individuals proficient in critical thinking and creativity. 

When can we consider students are cheating with the use of AI if it is inevitable? 

Mitton: [AI] does not do well [with] what I call multi-level writing: ask students [to] invest into prep work for writing a paper: notes, assignments, readings, and films and then use those specific sources to write the paper. AI is not going to make the connections between all those sources. And when you force students to write a 5-page paper with 25 sources you can put all that in AI but it’s not going to sound like it’s supposed to, which is when we get to the voice signature problem, the second thing it can’t do well. Most often when people do AI, they turn something on and it sounds like a machine talking. […].The robot says a whole lot but says nothing. And that’s the main thing. AI will bring a level of scope but not depth to the answer.

James Capp (FAU Associate Vice President for Strategic Planning and Student Success): The university has launched workshops and panels for faculty to discuss this topic and share plans for responding to artificial intelligence – both in terms of countermeasures and in terms of redesigning assessments to apply these technical skills.

For instance, over half of college students surveyed (51%) believe that using artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT to complete assignments and exams is cheating. 

Will AI substitute human critical thinking?

John Licato (Assistant Professor, USF Department of Computer Science and Engineering): [AI] is definitely not going to replace critical thinking. It’s going to make the need for critical thinking even much more important. With AI and general language models, it is so easy to use them in malicious ways, like misinformation. And so it’s increasingly important that students are trained on how to actually pick a part of what they see. Like when they scroll through TikTok.

John Licato is an assistant professor at the USF Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Photo courtesy of Licato.

Capp: In most cases, artificial intelligence will supplement rather than supplant. Students can use these emerging tools to support their decision-making, but higher education will still aim to develop student capacity to be creative and to think about things through unique and critical lenses.

How do you think higher education will evolve with continuing developments of AI?

Sim: So how to deal with ChatGPT’s rising presence in the classrooms, is to raise the bar with the gatekeeping of your test. Education will need to change in a way that is smart about technology. And honestly everybody in Arts and Letters would like nothing more than to be able to construct a syllabus that requires more critical thinking. That requires more attention to students, smaller classes, time, and what’s preventing classes from being like that is financial pressure created because money that comes to the university goes somewhere and not somewhere else…The places in the university where critical thinking is most likely to thrive is at the same time the part of the university that’s been under-resourced.

Batalama:AI will certainly increase the competition at all levels, from services to innovation. The pace will increase.Of course, as with any disruptors, we need to be proactive and vigilant and create an environment that minimizes misuse. This may require major reevaluation and necessary changes of rules and norms. And we have to make sure that use of AI not only enhances accessibility but also empowers people in the pursuit of excellence.

Licato: I personally see more of the positives of it, but it’s like any other tool, it’s hard to just design a perfect tool. It’s like a washing machine, you don’t want to say that a washing machine has negatives and positives, I guess it does, but I wouldn’t want to go to the time when you had to wash all your clothes by hand.

Editor’s note: This story is in the UP’s latest issue, which can be found physically on the distribution boxes around campus.

Sofia De La Espriella is the News Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or message her on Instagram @sofidelaespriella.

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About the Contributors
Sofia De La Espriella
Sofia De La Espriella, Editor-in-Chief
Sofia is a senior double majoring in multimedia journalism and history. She is passionate about governance, foreign relations, and the Latin American region. On a determined path toward graduate school, Sofia aims to specialize in these fields and acquire an in-depth understanding of their intricacies. Ultimately, she aspires to become a respected political journalist.
Ryan Murphy
Ryan Murphy, Business Manager
Ryan is a graduate student in the College of Science. He started in 2012 as a staff photographer and has since won several awards for his work at the UP. Follow him on Instagram:  @rmurfles

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