Generative AI and the future of assessment: an open discussion at the Manchester Institute of Education 

This is an internal event we’re organising at the University of Manchester but I’m sharing it here to gauge interest in a subsequent public facing event:

Since it was launched in November 2022, ChatGPT has enthralled millions around the world with its uncanny ability to respond to queries in a conversational manner. Its apparent capacity to immediately respond to natural language queries with detailed factual knowledge has sparked a conversation about whether the typical forms of university-based assessment can survive this technological innovation. While there are many empirical questions remaining to be answered about how different groups within the student community perceive these developments, and the extent to which they are already being used in assessment, there is a widespread belief within the academic community that something fundamental has shifted. This development comes after essay mills, essay banks and paraphrasing tools have already raised questions about the integrity of assessment within universities. 

While ChatGPT is undoubtedly impressive there are limits to it which are quickly encountered when experimenting with the chatbot. However it is expected the next iteration of OpenAI’s underpinning model, GPT4, could be released this year, suggesting a significant development on the horizon. It seems likely that generative artificial intelligence, systems capable of producing novel content after being trained on large datasets of existing content, will be the service which large technology firms look to in order to reignite their share prices during a downturn in the sector. For instance, Microsoft have announced they intend to incorporate ChatGPT into Microsoft Office and their Bing search engine. Google has also issued an internal ‘code red’ and will seek to leverage their considerable resources to match the accomplishments of ChatGPT.

We likely stand on the verge of an innovation arms race between technology giants with enormous social, economic and cultural implications. If generative AI continues to develop in this way then any field which involves knowledge production or knowledge exchange will inevitably be transformed. This has profound implications not only for how we teach and assess our students, but also the working lives which they will lead over coming decades. Many questions are raised by these developments including: How do we prepare our students for these developments? How do we help them distinguish between better and worse uses of generative AI? How do we ensure they understand the epistemic limits of these systems? How can we support students in finding ways to work creatively with generative AI rather than relying on it as a substitute for their own engagement? There is little prospect of final answers in the near future but it feels urgent for us to begin discussing the questions. 

It is for this reason that DTCE Research & Scholarship and LANTERN have organised an open discussion about generative AI and the future of assessment. This event is intended as an informal exchange in which we can begin to grapple with the implications of these issues. Please e-mail us by Jan 27th to confirm your attendance. We also invite colleagues to propose a 5-minute conversation starter in which they informally raise an issue which can be discussed with other attendees. This would be an informal suggestion of an issue for discussion rather than an expectation of a detailed proposal or formal presentation. This is entirely optional: if you would like to propose a topic then please include this in your confirmation email. Topics for conversation starters might include: 

  • Incorporating the reflective use of generative AI into assessment 
  • Working with students to critique and contextualise the outputs of generative AI 
  • Exploring student evaluations of the use of generative AI in assessment 
  • Exercise for exploring how generative AI can be used in student-led creative projects
  • Ideas for empirical research to better understand how students relate to generative AI

Our expectation is these conversations will be about pedagogy and practice rather than the underlying technology. The intention of the event is to leverage our expertise as an educational community in beginning to think through how we ourselves respond to these developments, as well as the broader issues confronted in formulating such responses. While this initial event is designed for colleagues at the Manchester Institute for Education and a few invited collaborators, we are considering a subsequent public facing event if this initial experiment proves useful and would welcome collaborators in planning this.

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