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Why one ASU student is concerned about the university's OpenAI partnership

Arizona State University announced earlier this year that it would partner with OpenAI, the firm behind ChatGPT.

In a release announcing the collaboration, ASU said it was the first institution of higher learning to do so, and that it would “empower faculty and staff to explore the potential of generative AI to enhance teaching, learning and discovery, while also ensuring increased levels of privacy and security.”

But in a new column in the State Press, student Katrina Michalak asks whether the potential benefits of the new arrangement are worth the potential risks to students.

Michalak is a sophomore journalism student at ASU, and Community and Culture Desk Editor at the State Press. She joined The Show to talk about what got her interested in this partnership between ASU and OpenAI.

Full interview

MARK BRODIE: And Katrina, what got you interested in this partnership between ASU and Open AI?

KATRINA MICHALAK: I was hearing a little bit about it. My colleagues at the State Press had written a couple of articles about it, and then we kind of started digging a little bit, and when the news broke, I just, I just kept thinking that there were kind of a lot of holes. There wasn't a ton of information at first released about what this partnership would look like. The logistics, kind of like we're still figuring it out.

But my first thought was that there wasn't a ton of information for the public to kind of know. And then my second thought was OK, how will this impact students?

BRODIE: Well, so what did you hear from students about A) how they are using it or not using ChatGPT in their classes? And B) what they thought about the university entering a formal partnership here?

MICHALAK: So it's funny, I haven't heard a ton from my peers, that hasn't come up in friendly conversations or whatever. But for one of my sources, I was interviewing, his name is Andrew Maynard and he's a professor at ASU and he said something really interesting that kind of stuck with me. Because he was teaching a class, I believe last semester, and he reached out to his students and was like, hey, like, what do you think of ChatGPT for student learning? And there were two responses in particular that he wanted to point out to me. The first one was that it was the student who's there to learn, right? Not the machine itself. So why would they have the machine do the work for them if it got to that point? The second response was they were the one paying for this degree. So why are we gonna make a machine do the work that they're supposed to be doing when they're putting the time and effort into this degree.

So those were the two responses that he had pointed out to me, and those really stuck with me because I had these mixed emotions about ChatGPT. And I am a little bit concerned about how it could impact student learning. But it was nice to know that there are other students out there, even if it's not coming up in daily conversation, they have those thoughts.

BRODIE: What do you make of the fact that it, it isn't really much of a topic of conversation unless somebody specifically asking about it? Because we hear so much about how, you know AI programs, ChatGPT specifically, are, you know, at least have the potential to really change the way college operates.

MICHALAK: I think for me personally, I think it's a couple of reasons. I think the first one might be because we're still kind of in uncharted territory here. We kind of don't know what the future implications are going to be. It's really hard to have a conversation about this technology when it's continuing to change. Like literally as we speak right now. I think the second thing is we just don't know what to make of it. We don't have a lot of information yet about how it's going to impact our learning. And we can make assumptions or try to draw conclusions, but we really don't know where this technology is going to take us.

BRODIE: What have you heard from the university itself? And you mentioned there's sort of a lot of questions about how this partnership would work and what it would look like look like. Have any of those questions been answered so far?

MICHALAK: So to my knowledge, there is no new news, but I could be wrong on that. But I know with the partnership itself beginning in February researchers and faculty could submit proposals on how to use this technology. And then students would potentially be able to submit proposals at a later date, which is unknown.

BRODIE: Did you get the sense in talking to people that there's maybe sort of a wait and see attitude? That people might want to see maybe what the first round of proposals looks like and then say, oh yeah, well, how about this idea or that idea before sort of being the first one to, to put their idea forward.

MICHALAK: I think so. Yeah. And I mean, for me, this is speculation, but I think it's hard at first because you don't have a lot of proposals to compare it to. You don't have a lot of other ideas to kind of bounce off of in the beginning. And this is one of my main concerns with ChatGPT. Is like, what are the guidelines like? How do you draw the line between, OK. This use is OK. And then crossing that line and no, that's unethical or no, we can't do that. And I feel like that guideline or that line is really unclear.

BRODIE: I guess that makes sense. You kind of want to know what the rules of the road are before you say, hey, let's try it this way or let's try it that way.

MICHALAK: It's also kind of a scary thing. I think this technology is, we haven't really learned how to harness its power yet. And I remember when I was talking to Maynard, he had taught a course about kind of using ChatGPT and AI and like how students can really capitalize on that. And he's not teaching the course again.

BRODIE: It got outdated really quickly, right?

MICHALAK: It got, the technology developed so rapidly that the course essentially wasn't useful anymore for students.

BRODIE: So based on both students and faculty members with whom you spoke, do you sort of have a sense of maybe how the university could be using ChatGPT down the road? Like what some of the ideas are for potential uses specifically maybe at ASU.

MICHALAK: Yes, I know one off the top of my head, a potential proposal could be the use of personal tutors, which I can see the benefit to that. I mean, I do think there are benefits to ChatGPT. The use of a personal tutor could be helpful if say a professor is teaching a lecture with upwards of 3000, 400 students. So I understand there like why it might be beneficial.

So that's one potential proposal. I would assume a lot of researchers might submit proposals to further their research, enhance the field that they're in. But again, a lot of that is kind of really unclear.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.