The use of artificial intelligence (AI) for teaching in universities is a promise that is beginning to take its timid first steps in Córdoba.
The topic is on the agenda of higher education institutions around the world, in Argentina and also in the province of Córdoba. Its debate transcends the specific disciplines, which use it as a subject of study, and is positioned as a discussion that must be held urgently.
At the National University of Córdoba (UNC), for some time now a committee of specialists has been talking, proposing and suggesting actions. “We are still a little disoriented about what to do, but we are constantly sharing experiences between universities in the country and the world,” explains Francisco Tamarit, professor at the Faculty of Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics and Computing (Famaf), principal researcher at Conicet and specialist in neural networks.
Tamarit is one of the many experts summoned by the Secretariat of Academic Affairs, through the Continuing Training and Curricular Innovation Program and the Institutional Distance Education System (Sied), and by various faculties, for advice.
Until now, discussions have been held and spaces for reflection have been opened in different academic units on the opportunities, challenges and implications of AI in teaching. But starting next year other actions will be developed; among them, training for teachers and students.
The Secretariat of Academic Affairs, headed by Claudia Torcomian, is working on a multi-step project to accompany classroom practices.
But there is still a long debate and a way to go, in a sea of questions. How will AI impact creative processes and critical thinking? How is this tool articulated with teaching? How much training is required?
In practice – beyond the Famaf courses, where this technology is crucial – teachers from different academic units are already experimenting with some AI applications such as Chat GPT, Chat GPT4, Perplexity and DALL-E-2. Software for data analysis or simulations has also been used for many years.
“They are very fragmented experiences and have to do with the expertise of each teacher in the use of technological tools in each disciplinary field,” says Gabriela Salbusky, head of Sied. There is still no systematization of these practices throughout the university. That is why it is planned, before the end of the year, to inaugurate a space to socialize innovative practices.
The fourth technological revolution
Francisco Tamarit explains that AI is a tool that grows at such a speed that there is no time. “We have to run from behind and Argentine universities are doing it,” he says.
“I talk about speed and, in truth, what is interesting and novel is that these processes typical of this fourth technological revolution are ‘accelerated’ processes. Until not long ago, technologies had a constant speed. They were not accelerated,” maintains the researcher.
In this sense, he explains that accelerated means that the process changes but its speed also changes. In this case efficiency grows rapidly.
“In the most common technologies, their effectiveness changes by the same amount each year. Today, these disruptive technologies are accelerated, that is, the speed also increases year after year. And what is more interesting: they are very fast growing processes, they are part of the so-called ‘exponential’ processes. The accelerated nature is what is new, what is surprising and what generates a lot of uncertainty about how things will be in a few years,” he remarks.
New ways of learning
The Academic Affairs project on the use of AI in teaching is advancing along several lines.
The first is literacy in artificial intelligence, intended for teachers and students in modules that can be done optionally. The training, scheduled for next year, seeks to understand in order to use, evaluate and judge the ethical aspects of AI.
The idea is to accompany teachers in the development of teaching practices in AI contexts. To do this, the draft of the project indicates, we must start from the basis that students are permeated by AI technologies that guide and build new ways of learning, of relating with others and with the contents.
Also, there are systems that automate actions that were traditionally human, such as text production, and it is possible that many students take these practices to university classrooms.
The other line of work is to think about how to introduce this topic into the career curricula, since AI is putting professional profiles into discussion.
“AI developments are going to be increasingly complex and our students have to be prepared,” says Salbusky. She indicates that the professional practice of future graduates will be crossed by AI technologies that, potentially, can answer some questions in the professional field.
The next actions at the UNC will be the workshops given by specialists for teachers and by disciplinary fields and the production of audiovisual materials that serve to accompany them.
Salbusky says that these are the first steps and that he hopes that the program will be sustained over time and come to fruition in the next three years.
The training seeks, among other things, to promote the use of AI for research and teaching practices based on real work situations, which will allow us to understand the potential and limitations of these technologies.
“Each academic unit, to a greater or lesser extent, is concerned about these issues. The value lies in being able to look at the whole and offer spaces in which we can advance in literacy, the incorporation of AI in curricula and, therefore, in teaching practices,” Salbusky insists.
Know it to apply it
The dean of the Faculty of Chemical Sciences, Marcelo Mariscal, believes that although AI presents opportunities, it also forces us to reflect.
“This tool can positively transform education, but it includes challenges (…) It is necessary to analyze its implications in the generation of greater technological dependence, in the impact on teaching and administrative employment, as well as in professional practice. We are also concerned about how AI can impact the creative processes and critical thinking that we seek to develop in our students,” he says. And he points out: “However, we do not reject it but seek to know it.”
Some teachers from the Faculty of Chemical Sciences have been developing spontaneous experiences, which are now being organized through the Modernization and Academic Advice Program (Promaa).
“The experiences are varied, from the use of Chat GPT to generate content and diversify exams, to the use of more interesting tools such as DALL-E-2, to create quality images from descriptions or stimuli; something very useful in our discipline,” Mariscal details.
Other teachers use litmaps to generate connected conceptual maps and track the development of concepts or theories through scientific articles.
How private universities are advancing
In private universities, the use of AI tools is disparate, although there is agreement on the need to incorporate and learn about them.
In general, they are not used in all academic units but are initiatives that begin little by little and usually start in faculties linked to technology.
At the Catholic University of Córdoba, for example, there are experiences in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
The Siglo 21 University, meanwhile, has an educational innovation area that, together with the academic body, designs and updates the teaching of different subjects so that they are carried out with AI.
“In the case of applied sciences, for example, there are careers such as Marketing and Digital Animation or the Bachelor’s Degree in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics that are unthinkable without the incorporation of AI in the different subjects,” explained Pablo Rivarola, vice-rector for Affairs. Academics.
In Engineering it is used for programming or design and in Law for jurisprudential analysis or, in Criminology, for the construction of sociodemographic contexts that allow altering variables and generating preventive strategies against different crimes. It is also applied in Health, Management or Social Sciences careers. All of this implies a teacher training process.
Regarding the use of AI by students, the vice-rector raised the need for responsible use, not as a replacement for knowledge, but as a tool for experimentation in simulated contexts and in the creation of alternative scenarios that allow them to prepare for a professional practice different from the current one.
“It should not be ignored, AI is already present and constantly developing. It is not possible to stigmatize it, as it allows many skills, knowledge and aptitudes of the human being, which had been left aside due to the mechanization of certain repetitive and routine jobs, today to be valued again. AI must allow us to recover something that is essential in the person: time,” he noted.
On the other hand, Rivarola stated that the use of AI in the teaching-learning process enhances reasoning in situations of greater complexity and leads to asking better questions, allowing dialogue between different disciplines.
Waldo Geremía, director of the Computer Engineering degree and the degree in Digital Business at the Blas Pascal University, explained that the University seeks to promote the use of AI and not prohibit it; use it as input for students. This forces, among other things, to seek new evaluation proposals. “As you allow them to use it, the AI raises the bar. You are no longer going to evaluate what the student remembers or whether they read correctly. The GPT Chat is going to tell you what you had to study before, now we are going to tell you to try to reason,” he indicated.
At the UBP, use in classrooms is in its initial phase. Geremía admitted that it is a task that has just begun. “It is an ant job, which involves teacher training,” she understood.
Argentina, leader in the region
A study promoted by the National Center for Artificial Intelligence of Chile (Cenia), presented last August, reveals that Argentina is the country with the best public policies to promote the convenient use of AI in Latin America.
The Latin American Artificial Intelligence Index brings together information from 12 countries. Argentina leads the public promotion of AI in the region through policies aimed at adopting artificial intelligence in the public and private sectors, such as the Artificial Intelligence and Data Science Promotion Program in the country. In the case of universities, this program provides subsidies and financial contributions to develop extension, purchase equipment and train teachers.
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