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At The College of Hong Kong, a full embrace of generative AI shakes up academia


Hong Kong – Leon Lei, who teaches information science within the college of schooling at The College of Hong Kong (HKU), just lately produced a textbook – in 30 hours. 

Utilizing a mixture of generative AI and different instruments, Lei turned transcripts and slides from a sequence of on-line lessons he taught throughout pandemic lockdowns into textual content (15 hours), then edited and compiled it into a ten,000-word course e book (one other 15 hours). He additionally transformed chapters to thoughts maps – diagrams which present ideas in visible type – and created video clips. 

“College students have various studying types,” mentioned Lei, who’s operating AI clinics throughout the college on utilizing AI instruments for instructing. “Some wish to hear, watch. Some need a thoughts map first. Earlier than this, I didn’t have time to discover.”  

Generative AI is inflicting academics to rethink how they train and the way they will put together college students for the longer term. Directors are reframing what universities must be instructing that future employers will need.  

“When did we final have this type of shake-up?” mentioned Pauline Chiu, affiliate vice chairman for instructing and studying at HKU. “We’ve acquired the eye of academics, mother and father, college students. It’s a possibility to reinvent our instructing. Now that’s an enormous constructive.” 

Generative AI instruments – constructed on giant language fashions (LLMs) that synthesize huge troves of information to generate textual content, code, pictures and extra – are seen as the most important technological leap because the net browser and good telephones. However whereas the know-how is highly effective, it may well ship imperfect outcomes and studying establishments have been grappling in the previous couple of months over the right way to deploy it responsibly – if in any respect. 

The arrival of generative AI is elevating larger questions on what kind of future universities must be getting ready college students for. “What ought to we be instructing in college alongside it? What do future staff want? What sort of different human abilities can we must be instructing? How do you collaborate with different human beings, what about relationship constructing?” mentioned Chiu. 

Photo of a lady in animated dialogue sitting in front of a wall-mounted crest of The University of Hong Kong
Pauline Chiu, affiliate vice chairman for instructing and studying, sees a possibility for universities to reinvent how they train. Picture by Lam Hei Chun for Microsoft.

HKU, a research-led complete college based in 1911, is the oldest college in Hong Kong and identified for its medical faculty. It’s ranked as the highest college in Hong Kong and 35th  globally, in keeping with the Occasions Greater Schooling World College Rankings 2024. 

HKU initially instituted a ban earlier within the 12 months on utilizing generative AI instruments. “We knew it was momentary,” mentioned Chiu. In February, a activity pressure made up of employees, college students and technologists started assembly weekly to debate the implications of the brand new know-how.  

When Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service, powered by OpenAI’s GPT, grew to become usually obtainable in January, the college’s IT division acted first. “We mentioned AI is the longer term,” mentioned Flora Ng, chief info officer and college librarian. “It’s what we have to pursue to reinforce analysis, instructing and studying.”  

HKU was already utilizing Microsoft’s options and the IT division made an uncommon choice to go forward and fund Azure OpenAI Service to employees solely from April to June, so they might try it out and perceive the affect of generative AI. Normally, new IT funding includes tender paperwork with detailed necessities and buy-in from varied departments – which might take months.  

Photo of a lady sitting at a conference table pointing at a brochure
Flora Ng, chief info officer and college librarian, says “AI is the longer term.” Picture by Lam Hei Chun for Microsoft.

On this case, “no person knew what the whole necessities must be,” mentioned Ng. “Our IT division mentioned we are going to take a danger; we’re going to fund it. The technique for me was to shortly undertake, then if it fails, to pivot.” 

In June, the HKU senate formally endorsed a generative AI coverage that established it as a “fifth literacy” for college students, alongside oral, written, visible and digital literacy. On the finish of August, HKU and 7 different universities in Hong Kong introduced they have been making Azure OpenAI Service obtainable to all employees and college students, with few restrictions, when the brand new faculty semester began in September.  

“Our stance is to embrace it,” mentioned Chiu, including that it’s as much as academics in the event that they needed to restrict use for his or her programs or sure assignments. 

“There could also be conditions during which we wish college students to study the fundamentals by limiting using generative AI,” mentioned Chiu. “However it will likely be as much as the academics to make that call.” 

The college has rolled out a number of generative AI chatbots, constructed with Azure OpenAI Service. An IT helpdesk chatbot solutions easy queries, releasing employees as much as take care of extra difficult points. One other chatbot offers with administrative questions, resembling how to join a course, and one other one on undergraduate course choice. 

Employees and college students can even entry a extra common HKU chatbot for instructing and studying. 

Early utilization statistics have been encouraging. Within the first 20 days, because it was launched on September 1, greater than 10 p.c of the scholar inhabitants of 36,400 have used the final HKU chatbot. About 17 p.c of the employees inhabitants of 13,100 have achieved the identical. The IT helpdesk chatbot in flip obtained 1,276 inquiries between August 21 and September 13.  

To guard person information and privateness, the chatbots don’t hold any information on queries. “We don’t have a look at what they ask. We don’t hold any data,” mentioned Ng. 

College students are taught fundamental generative AI literacy in AI workshops run by HKU’s Educating and Studying Innovation Centre. They study that outcomes will not be at all times good, however that the HKU chatbot will be a good suggestion generator. Neither is it a search engine; it’s a language synthesizer. They’re advised to at all times test unique sources for accuracy. And so forth. 

The large concern, in fact, is that college students grow to be too reliant on generative AI to finish assignments with out actually understanding the supplies. Nonetheless, HKU academics is not going to be counting on AI detection instruments as a result of they aren’t correct or dependable right this moment. There’s a risk of false negatives and false positives, which may result in a scholar being wrongly accused of dishonest. 

As a substitute, academics are requested to reinvent evaluation, mentioned Cecilia Chan, director of HKU’s Educating and Studying Innovation Centre. “Precisely what do we wish the scholar to study?” mentioned Chan. “Take into consideration the training course of, outcomes and expertise, that’s what is essential.” 

Photo of a lady sitting with a screen in the background
Cecilia Chan, director of HKU’s Educating and Studying Innovation Centre, is asking academics to rethink how they assess college students on studying. Picture by Lam Hei Chun for Microsoft.

A trainer may, for instance, ask for a abilities demonstration or an oral presentation as an alternative of an essay. Or they might ask the chatbot to generate a lot of essays and ask college students to critique them. Are there factual errors? College students may add their opinions and possibly generate an essay plan. It’s a form of reverse engineering of an essay, the place “you’ll be able to nonetheless have all the training aims of an essay,” mentioned Chan. 

A scholar could possibly be requested to show competency by way of hands-on work at totally different stations like within the medical faculty’s Goal Structured Scientific Examination, stuff that AI can not do. 

Chan mentioned she herself makes use of generative AI instruments “like a private assistant,” together with to reply the various emails she will get asking her for interviews and to talk at conferences. To those that fear about counting on it an excessive amount of, she provides a comparability. 

“Are you able to think about life with out one among these?” she asks, waving her smartphone. “That’s what we’re getting used to.” 

College students are already figuring all this out for themselves. 

Lai Yan Ying, also referred to as Cheri, is a fourth-year scholar majoring in linguistics. She mentioned she wouldn’t use it for writing an essay however thinks it’s honest to make use of it to generate concepts, resembling questions for latest analysis mission the place she interviewed somebody about their expertise studying English. 

“I don’t suppose we are able to simply use ChatGPT for every part,” mentioned Lai. “Generally, I simply choose to go to a library and seize a e book.” 

For Yan Wing Lam, a fourth-year engineering main, generative AI is much less of a thoughts shift, “In engineering, we’re fairly into AI already. It’s identical to a instrument to me.” 

When Lai and Yan each labored on a latest mission collectively, they encountered each the promise and the restrictions of the instrument. For a course known as Digitizing Cultural Heritage in Larger China, they determined to make use of OpenAI’s DALL·E 3 picture generator by way of Azure OpenAI Service on the HKU chatbot to create photos of Chinese language legendary creatures – with their teacher’s blessings.  

They have been solely partially profitable. 

Juxtaposed images of digital art – one created with generative AI, the other drawn manually
For a course project, college students efficiently used the DALL·E 3 picture generator to create Qing Lengthy, an azure dragon god in Chinese language mythology. Makes an attempt to conjure up a likeness of Xiang Liu, a nine-headed monster snake, nonetheless, stored returning photos of single-headed snakes and this image was manually drawn by a scholar. Courtesy of HKU college students Lai Yan Ying and Yan Wing Lam.

A immediate for “blue dragon with horns and claws” efficiently introduced forth an image of Qing Lengthy, an azure dragon god in Chinese language mythology. Nonetheless, it took a couple of tries to generate a usable image of Chi Ru, a fish with a human face.

Makes an attempt to conjure up a likeness of Xiang Liu, a nine-headed monster snake, stored returning photos of single-headed snakes. Lai ended up making her personal digital drawing of Xiang Liu, which took about half an hour, versus simply seconds utilizing DALL·E 3.

The four-person group acquired an A on the mission.

Prime picture: Leon Lei, who teaches information science within the college of schooling, is utilizing generative AI instruments to create thoughts maps and brief movies for college students with totally different studying types. Picture by Lam Hei Chun for Microsoft.

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