Enduring The Test Of Time

Amidst an ‘intelligence revolution,’ Gettysburg College remains ahead of the curve as it navigates the rise of artificial intelligence... |

IF you ask ChatGPT about the future of artificial intelligence (AI), it will reply with some variation of this response:

The future of AI holds great promise and potential, but it is also accompanied by challenges and ethical considerations. Society’s choices and decisions will shape the direction AI takes in the coming years.

In its rapidly computed response, the chatbot will list several key trends and possibilities that determine the extent to which the simulation of human intelligence by machines will impact life as we know it—AI in creativity, AI in research, AI in education, AI in jobs, and others. These are all variables on the minds of educators, and in turn, students at Gettysburg College who are curious and committed to being well-equipped to learn, live, and lead in an ever-evolving world.

Since the summer of 2023, Psychology Prof. Richard Russell has been in the process of creating a podcast with Rajesh Kasturirangan—a mathematician and cognitive scientist who co-founded the Socratus Foundation for Collective Wisdom, which is committed to asking important questions to solve complex problems. The podcast, “HumAInity,” is an outlet for Russell and Kasturirangan to explore, out loud, how AI is changing and impacting what it means to be human—sharing their musings with others who may be grappling with similar questions.

“That’s part of what’s unsettling about AI: It simulates some of the core aspects of what it has meant to be human—thinking and integrating ideas,” Russell said. “Artificial intelligence hasn’t reached a human level; it’s not anywhere close, but it’s doing some of the things that used to be specifically human that are not specifically human anymore.”

Though unsettling in some ways, Gettysburgians are leaning into the challenge—pivoting, evolving, and keeping an open mind. From those who graduated years before these futuristic technological advancements made their way into higher education to current students who are now navigating learning in the age of AI, there’s an unwaveringly synergistic belief that a Gettysburg College education is all enduring.

“One of the values of going to a school like Gettysburg College is that you’re encouraged to explore new experiences and areas of expertise. Professors and faculty push students to wrestle with and appreciate new identities and perspectives that we aren’t familiar with,” reflects Kayode Balogun ’22, who has learned to use AI in his career. “Our ability to critically think, and explore different approaches and viewpoints, makes us all more efficient and more valuable citizens in the world.”

An AI-forward approach to teaching and learning

The year 2022 brought AI into the mainstream. Health Sciences Prof. Josef Brandauer and English Prof. Melissa Forbes felt a moral obligation, as educators, to stay on top of the trends—diving into the basics of AI on the internet; exploring its potential implications on teaching, learning, and working; trying it for themselves; and dialoguing about it with one another.

“When we’ve spoken with representatives from other similar liberal arts colleges, it turns out that the work that we’re doing puts Gettysburg pretty ahead of the curve,” said Forbes, who worked alongside Brandauer, the director of the College’s Johnson Center for Creative Teaching and Learning (JCCTL), to create and compile AI resources and guidelines for their fellow educators. “We were in a lot of conversations in early August, where people were asking, ‘So, what are you guys thinking of doing at Gettysburg?’ And I thought to myself, ‘Thinking of doing?’ We were already in action.”

The JCCTL, which began in 2001 after Gettysburg received a challenge grant from the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation, is a resource and outlet for faculty to hone their pedagogical skills, explore collaborative and experiential learning techniques, and incorporate technological innovations like AI. Embracing the mission of the JCCTL, Forbes and Brandauer led several AI-focused sessions last summer, and more than 100 faculty and staff members showed up with open minds—eager to challenge their current perceptions.

“The overall tenor of all of these conversations was heartening, as everyone—whether they were starting from square one with learning about AI or looking to advance their strategies—was most focused on ensuring students learn,” Brandauer said. “It was about getting our students to grapple with these important topics in the context of a new tool.”

The JCCTL also created an online resource for faculty and staff to reference throughout the academic year, touching on topics including how to determine whether your classroom is open, conditional, restricted, or closed with relation to AI; develop AI-embracing and AI-resistant assignments; and handle undesired use of AI. JCCTL’s proactive approach to preparing Gettysburg College faculty for AI and its emerging influence in higher education even garnered the endorsement of The New York Times.

“The key is helping students understand that it’s not that we don’t want them to take shortcuts,” Forbes said. “We need them to know which shortcuts are going to be good and which shortcuts are going to be bad. You don’t want to shortcut around the learning that’s going to enable you to go forward into the future and fully know how to do things.”

This critical concept of not shortcutting learning has stuck with Kris Nguyen ’27, who initially learned about AI in his First-Year Seminar with Interdisciplinary Studies Prof. Vernon Cisney. Cisney explained to his students that a college education helps students become better thinkers. The only way to do that is to work on clarifying their ideas, expressing them clearly, and subjecting them to critique. There is no shortcut for this process.

“AI is a tool like a calculator. It helps you do more complex things,” Nguyen said. “When you go to middle or high school, you start to work with complex mathematics programs, and that’s when you begin to work with the calculator. It’s sort of life-changing in the ways it can help you. But still, it doesn’t do all the work. It’s just a tool. You have to know the basics of the equation, and you have to know how to use it.”

Not every professor approaches AI the same way as Cisney. Still, they’re all mindful of it and its current and future impact on students, continually considering how to leverage it in the classroom. English Prof. Joanne Myers encourages her students to analyze the depth of thought and originality that AI-generated writing does or doesn’t achieve. Computer Science Prof. Todd Neller has also designated a portion of his introductory programming courses to allow unrestricted use of GitHub Copilot, which auto-generates code, while maintaining the expectation of assessment without the aid of AI.

“The reason why it’s working is because of the people who are leading the way—the instructors,” Brandauer said. “There is this implicit trust that we’re doing this together and sharing the common goal of educating the next generation—and people buy into that at Gettysburg.”

“We are investing in the future of the workforce, in some ways, by helping our students learn to approach these tools thoughtfully,” added Forbes.

A group of people using virtual reality glasses

Human automation: A new workforce revolution

From the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the 1760s, economies based on agriculture and handicrafts were transformed into an increased need for work in mechanized manufacturing and factories. New machines, new power sources, and new ways of organizing work made existing industries more productive and efficient—all the way up to computers, the internet, and today’s rise of AI.

“Our CEO says we’re entering a new kind of revolution—an intelligence revolution,” said Elizabeth Hilfrank ’18, a content marketing manager for the AI-powered buyer engagement platform Drift. “Just like every other revolution, the industrial or agricultural, for example, it’s all about how we leverage these new tools. If you adopt it early and get familiar with it, you will succeed.”

A portriat

Balogun is especially familiar with this need to be open-minded to change. When he graduated from Gettysburg with a degree in business, organizations, and management, he wouldn’t have self-identified as tech-savvy. But, he was open to trying something new when offered a job as an account executive and business development representative with TalentESO, an organization invested in upgrading the IT development process with AI-powered technology.

“In my classes at Gettysburg, I enjoyed questioning the existence of reality—the existence of truth—and always asking, ‘Why?’” Balogun said. “I had no previous experience working with tech, but I approached it with critical thinking and curiosity, and I picked up on the concept of AI and its benefits relatively quickly. I was familiar enough with it and believed in its capabilities enough to talk with businesses about how they could implement automation or AI into the work they do.”

He recently transitioned into a job in the hospitality industry, working more closely with people, an affinity he developed as president of the Black Student Union and a resident assistant at Gettysburg. He’s already thinking about how he can leverage his newfound familiarity with AI to automate tedious work in his new role, such as improving the efficiency of database processes. With the help of AI, inputted information could be quickly scanned, resulting in time savings.

For Carly Théodore ’26, the reality that AI could play a significant role in his future job is energizing, as he developed an interest in bionic technology following the devastating earthquakes in his home country of Haiti in 2010. The opportunity to focus on AI is one of the motivations that led Théodore to choose Gettysburg College, and he hopes to study abroad next year to take more AI-focused classes to further his knowledge and experience in the field.

“Haiti is an island where earthquakes and natural disasters are frequent. AI can contribute to advanced prosthetics for individuals who have become physically disabled due to earthquakes, as well as enhance natural disaster management.It can establish and oversee a continuous system, providing early warnings hours before a disaster strikes, and it can also help with post-disaster relief coordination,” Théodore said. “The possibilities of how AI can positively impact my community back home are endless.”

Commonplace through the revolutions of the past and the one still unfolding today is that while innovation undoubtedly impacted some jobs, and workers were challenged to think in new ways, new job niches became available, and the core of humanity prevailed—a concept that Drift, Hilfrank’s employer, is particularly committed to.

“We’re doubling down on AI to make marketers’ and sellers’ jobs easier, essentially getting them back to what they were hired to do,” Hilfrank said. “AI can take care of the busy work.”

Preserving humanity

The preservation of creativity, humanity, emotion, passion, and the parts of jobs that are most inherently “human” is something that workers across industries haven’t taken lightly. When the writers’ strike started in Hollywood last summer, many streaming companies said, “We’ll just use AI to write all of our programming.”

“America responded by saying that replacing all these artists with machines was repulsive,” Forbes said. “This was a great PR coup for humans—a very public declaration that we are not OK with our humanity being outsourced.”

There’s no denying that AI can do many things humans can. While its future capabilities are likely more extensive than we can currently imagine, without humans working hand-in-hand, its functions are limited. People are the masterminds who created AI and continue to fuel its knowledge.

“The way large language models work is they read millions and millions of pages of things that have already been written, and then every answer they give comes out of that pool. So, all they can do is echo ideas that have already existed. That means some of the things that they’re echoing are wrong, and some of the things that they’re echoing are biased,” Forbes said. “Qualities like attention to detail, audience awareness, empathy, and the ability to have original insights and thoughts that we’re trying to cultivate in our students are things that ChatGPT can never have.”

Evidenced through this reflective and forward-looking work of our educators, and the persistent curiosity that radiates at the core of Gettysburgians current, past, and future, an education that endures the test of time—the unpredictability and inevitability of change—is rooted in a desire to know, challenge, and grow. The knowledge and enduring skills gained at Gettysburg College through the Gettysburg Approach are proving more important than ever.

“As we think about AI, its implications, and the skills that our students will need to have in 20 or 50 years, it really does come down to something that we’ve focused on with our liberal arts and sciences education here at Gettysburg—having a level of flexibility, being able to integrate different ideas, and having a holistic approach,” said Russell.

In many ways, the larger picture of such an education is the lifelong pursuit of understanding the world, its people, and the tools and components that comprise it to be fuller participants of and contributors to society as it ebbs, flows, and evolves—from AI to whatever creation comes next.

“If we can maintain some connection to that spark of humanity and the ability to view ourselves as multifaceted and fluid in our identities in the workplace and the world,” Russell continued,“I think that could be the key to the future.”

All images in this story generated using Adobe Firefly from various prompts.

By Molly Pavlovich
Posted: 02/13/24

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