The University of Canberra’s (UC) Student Representative Council (SRC) have started semester two with a fascinating Town Hall seminar on artificial intelligence (AI) and the future of work. The Employment and Tech Town Hall followed on from the previous Town Hall seminar in which UC’s policies on the use of AI were discussed. The university’s position paper on AI was published and disseminated in semester one and can be accessed here. The paper confirms that the use of AI in the preparation of assessment items is considered cheating, unless authorised by the unit convener and properly referenced. With the rules now set, more interesting conversations have opened up about how AI might reshape our learning and future work opportunities. The Employment and Tech panel discussion highlighted UC’s willingness to embrace new technologies and panellists put the challenge to students to improve their employability by engaging with AI curiously and critically.
The Town Hall was hosted by SRC president Jacob Webb. The UC staff making up the panel were Stefan Alexander (Team Leader, Career Development and Education), Cait Greenup (Manager, Education Innovation) and Damith Herath (Associate Professor, Robotics and Art). A video message from Diane Phillips (Program Director, Bachelor of Business Degrees) was also screened and set the tone for the discussion. In recent years, Diane has been instrumental in incorporating new technologies into the teaching of business at UC. She oversees the faculty’s Nao robot named Ziggy, who is currently receiving software updates that will enable him to teach classes. Speaking about AI in particular, Diane’s message was that students should experiment and play, because without a knowledge of the technologies we are unable to assess their usefulness.
This sentiment was echoed by other panellists who agreed that AI tools such as ChatGPT are simply a new source of information. They can be useful, but we must understand their shortcomings. As we do with sources such as Wikipedia, students should retain a healthy scepticism towards the information AI provides.
In a comment from the audience, Dr Tamsin Kelly (Director, Learning & Teaching) spoke of possible changes to the way UC students are assessed. While learning objectives will remain the same, the capability of tools like ChatGPT may necessitate new methods of demonstrating that objectives have been met. Damith Herath placed these adjustments within a larger trajectory of change in the field of teaching. He pointed out that the democratisation of information has seen teachers take on the role of learning facilitators, rather than the dispensers of knowledge they previously were. In the modern world, a university degree is about developing higher order skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. These are seen as valuable by employers and will remain applicable to any future employment landscape that may emerge. These observations are not new, but it was interesting (and possibly even reassuring) to hear that UC educators do not foresee that AI technology will disrupt this existing paradigm.
Stefan Alexander said it is the responsibility of each student to inform themself of the ways emerging technologies are affecting their chosen profession. He commented that lifelong learning is one of the most important skills for students to develop, and adopting new tools for learning along the way is part of that. A further comment from Damith Herath reiterated that proficiency with new technology can make a student an expert in their field and this advantage is available to any student who chooses to seek it out.
Another unanimous claim from the panellists was that UC has a strong track record when it comes to adapting to new technologies. As well as Ziggy the teaching robot, a further example came from Cait Greenup concerning the use of VR technologies to simulate aged care settings as a learning opportunity for health students. It was pointed out that UC is also a leader when it comes to industry engagement. Cait spoke about the Faculty of Art and Design’s partnership with local game designers. Generative AI is now performing the tasks that these companies had previously contracted to UC students. However, this has not yet reduced student contracts, rather the role of students has shifted towards the ‘cleaning’ of AI outputs to make them more useful.
The future has always been impossible to predict, but this is more keenly felt the smarter our technologies become. An important observation of the Town Hall discussion was that we are all beginners when it comes to AI. It is only through curiosity and a drive to explore that we will learn, and learning will occur concurrently for students, teachers and industry partners.
AI resources including training modules are available from the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA): https://www.teqsa.gov.au/guides-resources/higher-education-good-practice-hub/artificial-intelligence#understanding-generative%20ai