How university students can use AI in their studies | Top Universities

How university students can use AI in their studies

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated November 24, 2023 Updated November 24, 2023

Sponsored by Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has evolved rapidly over the last 12 months, with tools like ChatGPT and Bard causing universities to rethink how students are both taught and assessed. 

Far from a blanket ban on use of AI in education, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU), an international university located in China, has asked its academic staff to find innovative ways to use AI to benefit their students.  

From providing inspiration to finding errors in coding logic, here are some notable examples of how AI is benefiting the student experience. 

Design partner 

“In my academic experience, it’s clear that the creative process can be isolating,” said Dr Juan Carlos Dall’Asta of XJTLU’s Department of Architecture, remarking on the challenge of starting a completely new project from inception. 

To help architecture master’s students get beyond that creative hump, he designed coursework to introduce them to the concept of using AI as a design partner.  

Three years ago, his architecture students began experimenting with feeding images to machine-learning AI platforms to see whether and how they could help the creative process.  

“Most of the time, what it produced is completely unexpected,” he said. “That is the good thing about AI. It will surprise you,” 

As the machine learning system is fed images or prompts, the system is learning and creating a profile based on that input. But, as the system generates images in response, the user is also learning about how the system sees things. 

“You will understand that the way you observe things is completely different from the machine.”  

Coding helper 

In the lab for his introduction to programming course, Dr Erick Purwanto is experimenting with how generative AI can support students as they learn to code.  

For example, students can prompt it to generate ideas for solving a problem they’ve encountered.  

“I don’t want the students to use AI to just generate a solution code, as they won’t learn anything from it. However, they can utilise AI to generate ideas on how to solve the problem,” Dr Purwanto said. 

Students can also use it to create multiple ‘test cases’ for checking whether their code is working. Since writing test cases is time consuming, this is a notable time-saver. 

Many coding programs will be able to alert programming students to typos or functional errors, but not logical errors. However, AI can. 

“For beginner programmers, this is where they get stuck,” he said. “And the good thing is that the AI we are using doesn’t just suggest us the corrected code, it will give us the reasoning behind it.  

“If students don’t understand the explanation, they can ask the AI to explain it in another way.” 

Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University student

Beyond tradition 

For the last two semesters, Angela Xia, Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching at XJTLU’s School of Languages, has offered postgraduate students a new workshop series called AI-Enhanced Literature Review.  

“I wanted to raise student awareness that you can do a review in a quite different way than the traditional method using a library database. And I wanted to show them where they could look for help,” she said.  

The series explores how AI can be used to help students find appropriate literature for their review efficiently. 

She said: “Students or researchers relying on Google, Google Scholar or library databases usually need to sift through a large amount of information, and they are not necessarily able to find what they want.” 

With AI-enhanced literature review tools, students can start by inputting one article they are interested in as a ‘seed paper’. 

“Based on the seed paper’s reference metadata, AI can create a map or a graph, and identify other articles which the algorithm considers similar,” she said. 

“This can save the researchers or students a great deal of time because they can use AI to accurately identify other papers that are relevant.” 

AI can also save time in this process by producing a clear summary of the main ideas of a paper, explaining any challenging sections and providing notes for the student to refer to. 

“If you highlight a section of the paper, you can ask the AI technology to explain it to you,” Xia said. On some platforms, the AI can explain it at varying levels of simplicity or complexity, depending on the student’s needs. 

This article was originally published in November 2023 .

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