📍Generative AI and the Future of the University: Three Events at the University of Manchester

May 10th, 17th and 24th – 3pm to 5pm at the University of Manchester

Since it was launched in November 2022, Open AI’s ChatGPT has enthralled millions with its uncanny ability to respond to queries in a conversational manner. Its capacity to immediately respond to natural language questions with detailed factual knowledge has sparked debate about whether the typical forms of university-based assessment can survive this technological innovation. While there are many 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 university sector that something fundamental has shifted. This rapid growth in generative AI’s capacity to automatically produce authoritative cultural forms presents a challenge to the university as a custodian of knowledge and conferrer of credentials.

In the months since this launch the underlying technology has already been incorporated into office software, search engines and productivity tools. The next iteration of Open AI’s GPT model has already been released, with vastly expanded capabilities, while universities are only beginning to come to terms with the implications of its predecessor. These developments will only accelerate as a result of intense competition within the technology sector, with capital flowing into investment in generative AI in pursuit of market dominance. Our students will work in environments where the automated production of content is ubiquitous, leaving us with the challenge of preparing them for this future while preserving the integrity of university assessments. Furthermore, our own working practices are already being changed by generative AI, with scholarly publishers already formulating policies about co-authorship with tools like Chat-GPT.

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 are organising three in person open discussions in May in order to map out three different dimensions of this issue, reflecting an agenda which emerged from our first event in March

  • How do we embed critical AI literacy in our teaching and professional training? What are the implications of generative AI for equity and social justice? What are the epistemic limitations and how are they changing? How can curricula keep up with the accelerating pace of technological change? May 10th, 3pm to 5pm, University of Manchester
  • How do we develop an agenda for assessment reform in a way which is adequate to these challenges? To what extent do existing definitions of ‘malpractice’ stand in the way of creative responses? Should we reconsider what we are assessing and why? How can we prepare students for a working world where generative AI is likely to be ubiquitous? May 17th, 3pm to 5pm, University of Manchester
  • How will training for academic staff need to change in order to cope with the speed of technological developments? What new systems and approaches could support more agile forms of knowledge sharing? What are the potential implications for academic labour and professional autonomy? May 24th, 3pm to 5pm, University of Manchester 

We 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. Each event will involve a series of these discussions with a view to opening out conversations within a small group and identifying areas for further collaboration. Numbers will be limited to facilitate open discussion so please register as soon as you’re able to confirm attendance. We will confirm registration and finalise schedules for the three events by April 28th

Please note these are not hybrid events and they will not be recorded in order to encourage the sharing of provisional ideas. It is entirely face-to-face with the intention of building on our existing scoping event in March. There are a number of online initiatives we have planned over the coming months which will facilitate participation by those who cannot attend these events in person. 

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