This article is a translation of a text published in Eductive’s French edition.

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an indispensable tool. In my opinion, it’s the responsibility of the college network to train students to use it, especially in the technical sector. If our graduates enter the job market without knowing how to use it, they will lack a significant skill. But here’s the thing: knowing that ChatGPT needs to be addressed is one thing. Knowing how to do it is another matter…

Lately, I’ve been teaching web development in the ACS program in Interactive Design and Web Integration (Design interactif et intégration web) at the Cégep de Sainte-Foy. This course includes HTML and CSS programming, as well as other technical elements. Generative AI can perform many tasks for the students. However, if AI does all the work for them, students won’t fully understand the basics of programming. Yet, understanding the basics is essential to be able to validate the productions generated by AI.

Therefore, I decided to let the students decide whether to use (or not) AI and to encourage them to do so mainly for textual content (writing texts to fill the pages of websites created by the students). However, the students who want to experiment further and use AI more extensively for their assignments can do so, provided that it is done with transparency by mentioning that AI is being used. They obviously cannot assign their entire work to AI.

Examples of tasks AI can do for the students in my course

One of the things I encourage my students to do is using AI to generate text to “fill” their website mockups. Instead of using lorem ipsum, students can use ChatGPT to produce appropriate text in a matter of seconds. A proposed mockup will be more appealing for a client if it contains real text, without requiring more effort from the developer.

Here’s another example: generating an HTML form can be painstaking. It requires using a whole series of tags properly. While there are web tools available to do some of the work automatically, ChatGPT does it even better, faster, and in a more personalized way. Therefore, I encourage my students to use AI to generate their forms. To make sure that the work from ChatGPT is correct (which is not always the case), students must know the meaning of the tags used and understand the basic concepts related to HTML forms. And the students always have to modify some of the code generated by ChatGPT to format the form properly and make sure it complies with all the web accessibility standards.

My approach is to use AI to enhance my teaching. The use of AI by students is optional, but by presenting them with ways to use it, I introduce them to the tools they will have access to once on the job market.

I personally use ChatGPT to be more efficient in creating pedagogical material. For instance, when I write a text for course notes, I can ask ChatGPT to put in bold the words that seem most important and then create a glossary of these words by providing the definition of each word along with an additional resource with a hyperlink. (I use the paid version of ChatGPT. In this version, ChatGPT has access to the web, so it can do real-time research and provide hyperlinks for its sources.)

Of course, I check the work done by ChatGPT (just as I tell my students to do!). But it saves me time, for a relatively simple task that I might not have time to do as thoroughly otherwise.

If a student wants to use AI to generate more content or parts of code for assignments in my course, they can do so. I tell them to inform me and indicate the prompts they gave the AI, or even show me their conversation with it.

The pedagogical potential of generative AI

In general, I find that ChatGPT has excellent pedagogical potential. When given an instruction to generate HTML code for a specific purpose, it doesn’t only write the code so we can copy and paste it elsewhere. It explains the steps, presents different portions of the code with sentences, etc. Then, if part of the code generated is unclear to the student, they can question ChatGPT about it to obtain further explanations.

Students can certainly learn by interacting with AI. However, whether it is to generate code or regular text, ChatGPT is not infallible. Sometimes, it produces code that simply doesn’t work. Other times, it writes code that is functional, but doesn’t meet the user’s specific needs because it overlooked an important element of the context. To be able to provide all the necessary content to AI, the student has to thoroughly understand what to ask and determine the key information the AI will need.

I think it would be better for 1st-year students in the DCS in Computer Science Technology not to encourage them to use AI right away. This would give them time to understand the basic concepts. But, later on, teaching how to use AI properly would be essential, in my opinion.

The importance of teaching the use of AI to all college students

This reminds me of my own experience as a CEGEP student in the early 2000s. The internet was relatively new, and many teachers refused to let us use it, telling us to do our research at the library instead. Today, can you imagine someone receiving a diploma of college studies without having used the web? I imagine that, in 10 years, it will be the same with AI: not knowing how to use ChatGPT would be a form of illiteracy.

The Computer Science Technology program was revised just before the rise of generative AI. I don’t expect a new version to add competencies specifically related to the use of AI anytime soon. However, every teacher still has some flexibility, within the existing competencies, to introduce students to contemporary tools and guide them in their use.

The importance of teaching students how to use generative AI goes beyond programs related to computer science and multimedia development. This is why my department teamed up with the Philosophy department to offer a new multidisciplinary complementary course on the ethics of AI. In fact, the Psychology department already offers a course on the topic, but we will revamp the format by collaborating with them. Philosophy teachers will continue to address ethical issues from a philosophical perspective. On our part, we will provide practical demonstrations of AI usage and engage students in hands-on experiences.

When it comes to such a topic, I know some people might fear that we are teaching students how to cheat. In fact, it’s quite the opposite! By guiding students in their adoption of AI, and by teaching them the guidelines to follow, we reduce the risk that they use it recklessly, without thinking. By educating students on AI, we reduce the risks of them ceasing all efforts on take-home assignments, thinking that AI can do everything perfectly for them without them needing to understand anything. AI requires a competent human to provide relevant prompts. That being said, an individual who doesn’t want to do the work, who wants to cheat, has always found ways to do so: AI is not responsible for the emergence of plagiarism in colleges.

Once this complementary course is set up, I already have a 2nd one in mind: teaching the use of AI in everyday life (personal life; at home or in leisure activities).

On a different note, it’s important to raise awareness that using ChatGPT to get information easily found through a Google search is a waste of energy. Open AI servers use a significant amount of energy; AI is a massive machine. I tell my students that using ChatGPT when Google could have done the work is like getting up in class and bothering a classmate to ask them a question to which the answer is already in the course notes right under your nose. In fact, it’s so inefficient that, to me, it’s a type of failure.

There is certainly a lot to do to teach our students how to use AI, but in my opinion, it is not an option; it’s our duty!

About the author

Jimmy Gilbert

Jimmy Gilbert is a web designer and developer with over 8 years of experience in his field. He also worked for more than 10 years in the IT sector as a computer consultant and technician in different companies. He holds a DCS in Computer Science Technology and Multimedia Integration and a bachelor’s degree in Technical and Vocational Education.

He initially worked as a web developer for the Université du Québec à Montréal. Then, he taught at various institutions, such as Collège O’Sullivan de Québec, Cégep Édouard-Montpetit, Collège Maisonneuve, Cégep Garneau, and most recently, at the Cégep de Sainte-Foy as a teacher in Computer Science – Web, Mobile, and Video Game Programming, and at the college’s continuing education services in different roles.

He is motivated by sharing his passion for technology and the positive impact it can have on our lives. Nevertheless, he remains critical in assessing the limitations of each tool. For the past 8 years, he has been teaching in va

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