Tippie professors integrating ChatGPT into the classroom

The AI program has been incorporated into assignments and studies by UI professors to better understand students’ reactions and use of the software.


Cody Blissett

Professor Pamela Bourjaily teaches her class on Wednesday, March 22. Bourjaily is teaching her students proper business writing. (Cody Blissett/The Daily Iowan)

Archie Wagner, News Reporter

Professors at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business are incorporating artificial intelligence into their courses and research months after ChatGPT’s launch last November.

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence tool developed by OpenAI that is designed to engage with its users in a conversational format.

Pamela Bourjaily, a Tippie associate professor of instruction, incorporated ChatGPT into an assignment for the business communication course she teaches.

“I knew that students would be using it, and I knew that I wanted to harness it as a communication tool so that students could practice using it effectively,” Bourjaily said.

Bourjaily said she took an assignment from a previous semester and fed the prompt to ChatGPT before giving her students the AI’s 250-word generation. She then told students to revise ChatGPT’s memo to meet the seven criteria of effective business writing.

“I told them, ‘I do not care how you get your memo to meet these seven criteria,” she said. “You can revise the ChatGPT without using it at all — just your own writing — or you can start feeding more specific prompts into ChatGPT to get it to generate language that’s going to meet the criteria of the assignment.’”

The assignment’s criteria included an introduction, three brief content sections, a conclusion, headers for the content that established a position, effective claims, and a takeaway message, Bourjaily said.

“Just talking about ChatGPT in the classroom was fascinating. In a class of 24 students — most of them juniors, some seniors, some sophomores, I don’t have freshmen — some had used it before in other classes to fulfill or complete assignments,” she said. “Some had never heard of it.”

Bourjaily said most students thought the AI activity served as an efficient in-class tool.

For other functions including writing effective claims, using strong verbs, and utilizing accurate sources, Bourjaily said her students found ChatGPT less capable.

“For another assignment, I had students using it to try to locate sources, and it would give them these sources that sounded plausible, and then they’d click on the link and it’s like, there’s no such thing, the source didn’t exist,” Bourjaily said.

In the assignment, reflection questions were included to gauge how students engaged with the tool and their experiences, she said.

“I’m just curious to see what the data might suggest,” she said.

Carl Follmer, UI Frank Business Communications Center interim director, has also incorporated ChatGPT into assignments in the business communication and protocol course he teaches.

The Tippie College of Business decided to embrace the technology rather than fight against it, Follmer said.

“The truth about cheating is that there’s only so much that instructors can do to stop it. If people are determined, they’ll find a way to do it,” Follmer said. “It’s kind of like locking the doors to your house. If somebody really wants to get in, they can, but you just want to make it so it’s not as easy as possible to do.”

RELATED: UI student cheats the system with AI program ChatGPT

While students have started training to use ChatGPT academically this semester, professors are making plans for the AI program for the upcoming academic year, Follmer said.

“From an instructor’s point of view, if your prompts are specific enough and your rubrics are specific enough, you’re probably fine,” he said. “But simply assigning a five-paragraph essay on the ethics of euthanasia is probably not something that’s going to be effective anymore.”

Follmer said further research into changing assessment mechanisms is needed to decrease the effectiveness of using ChatGPT on assessments.

“[ChatGPT]’s a hot topic when it comes to business communication professionals and instructors, and I can guarantee you that at our upcoming conference this October, it’s all anybody’s going to be talking about,” he said.

Patrick Fan, a UI Henry B. Tippie excellence chair professor in business analytics, teaches courses related to data management, data visualization, and social media analytics.

Fan said he is no stranger to utilizing AI applications in the classroom and thinks ChatGPT can be a tool for students who are shy about asking questions in class.

“You use ChatGPT more like as a learning companion,” Fan said. “To me, I feel like this is the things that I really want the student to use, you know, to help them to succeed in the classrooms.”

However, Fan said he wants his students to refrain from using ChatGPT as a quick homework solver because it will not benefit students in the long run.

“We really want you to learn,” he said. “We do not want you to say that we can just use a robot to do everything. That defeats the purpose of learning.”