Skip to main content

Cutting-Edge AI Arrives in Marshall Classrooms

Cutting-Edge AI Arrives in Marshall Classrooms

Marshall instructors wasted no time incorporating new technology into the learning environment.

Headshot of Miriam Burgos

Professor Miriam Burgos

[USC Photo]

Stay Informed + Stay Connected

AI is the new electricity.

This line, ORIGINALLY ATTRIBUTED TO PROFESSOR ANDREW NG, has been often recited as shorthand for the impact Artificial Intelligence may yet have on society. Almost a year ago, ChatGPT’s wider release sent shockwaves throughout the world, not just for technologists but for the public at-large. It was a bell that could not be unrung.

Of course, any new technology brings new concerns, and that perhaps has never been more true than with AI — especially in the classroom. Instant concerns over academic integrity and fears that AI will diminish students’ critical thinking ran rampant across college campuses. Many members of Marshall leadership recognized, however, that AI had changed the game, and there was no going back.

“This is an all hands-on-deck moment. This is something that every business professor needs to be talking about and thinking about in their own discipline,” said PETER CARDON, professor of clinical business communication.

One day in winter 2023, Cardon approached Dean GEOFF GARRETT and insisted that Marshall not bury its head in the sand. The school needed to lead. Garrett agreed and, coincidentally, so did RAMAN RANDHAWA, the senior vice dean for academic programs. Just one hour after Cardon left Garrett’s office, Randhawa walked in with the exact same message.

Garrett asked the pair to work together to bring Marshall up to speed.

Randhawa and Cardon stood at a pedagogical crossroads. Generative AI was advancing faster than educators could keep up. Just weeks earlier, ChatGPT version 3 consistently failed the bar exam. By March, the new model — ChatGPT 4 — passed with an A.

In May, the pair brought together over 100 faculty members for a forum and demonstration on generative AI. For skeptical instructors, Randhawa and Cardon pitched a simple but powerful theory: AI could eliminate busy work.

“We started with creating a syllabus,” Randhawa explained. “I went to ChatGPT and said, ‘I’m a professor at a top business school, I’m building a new class on sustainability. Can you give me an outline?”

The chatbot instantly generated a competent syllabus, but Randhawa didn’t stop there. He asked the AI to flesh out the content, alter lessons, provide detailed summaries, and even add the class schedule to his calendar. Tasks that would’ve taken hours or days were finished in a matter of minutes.

“The faculty were looking on, and their jaws dropped,” Randhawa said.

Clearly, this new technology had untold benefits. Yet, many faculty members still harbored concerns about AI’s potential drawbacks. Would students use the programs to cheat? Would large language models stifle their creative thinking skills? Would professors be replaced?

“This is an all hands-on-deck moment. This is something that every business professor needs to be talking about and thinking about in their own discipline."

— Peter Cardon

Professor of Clinical Business Communication

To better learn where faculty members stood, Randhawa and Cardon asked the instructors to fill out a survey expanding on their experience with the technology and their concerns. The results were illuminating.

“The people who never used [AI] cared almost 100% about academic integrity,” Randhawa said. “And the ones who most often used it cared most about leveraging it.”

Randhawa and Cardon believed more frequent use would mitigate some of their colleagues’ concerns. The pair instructed the faculty to take out their laptops and log onto ChatGPT. Everyone had to become an expert.

One of the most enthusiastic embracers of ChatGPT was MIRIAM BURGOS, associate vice dean for teaching and innovation and professor of clinical marketing. Burgos herself would admit that she wasn’t an AI expert. Still, she refused to let herself or her students fall behind.

“I don’t want to fight the use of ChatGPT. It’s pointless, and it’s the wrong thing to do, pedagogically,” Burgos said. “To have a blanket policy that says [students] may not use ChatGPT under any circumstances when [they’re] learning, I think is the wrong approach.”

That spring, Burgos allowed her students to use large language models on some assignments. It was an experiment for them and for her. She hadn’t yet formulated rubrics for grading AI-assisted projects. Nevertheless, if her students didn’t learn how to use these tools, she believed they would be at a serious disadvantage in the job market.

“I absolutely believe that [AI] will become an indispensable tool for our graduates,” Burgos said. “It will be just like: ‘Are you comfortable using Excel? Are you comfortable using Powerpoint? Are you comfortable using Prezi? Are you comfortable using ChatGPT? Are you comfortable with priming prompts?’”

By fall 2023, most of the school hit the ground running, as professors across Marshall RELEASED POLICIES ON AI and assigned projects centered around its use. Burgos’s own lesson plans took exponential strides.

My students would say things like: ‘I spent less time on menial tasks. I spent more time being creative.' 

— Miriam Burgos

Associate Vice Dean for Teaching and Innovation / Professor of Clinical Marketing

Now, she assigned tasks that specifically required students to use generative AI to create marketing taglines and company logos. Then, she asked the students to analyze, critique, and improve on the chatbot’s ideas. Burgos claimed this allowed her students to think more critically and worry less about busy work.

“My students would say things like: ‘I spent less time on menial tasks. I spent more time being creative,’” said Burgos.

Randhawa and Cardon hoped to capture a wider view of AI integration at Marshall. They sent a new survey to the faculty, asking them to detail their general incorporation of AI into their classrooms. Roughly 93% of responding professors permitted at least some AI use, with more than a third fully embracing the new technology.

Faculty shared that some students used ChatGPT and other generative AI services to provide support in grammar, generate new ideas, and even assist in team projects. Instructors also often turned to AI to create quizzes, respond to student questions, and push pupils to develop their critical thinking skills by analyzing AI responses.

Just over a half a year since the release of ChatGPT’s latest version, the data seems to paint a clear picture: USC and schools all over the world stand on the precipice of a new kind of education. What matters most to Burgos, Cardon, and Randhawa now is ensuring Marshall students are as prepared as they can be for a future with AI — the new electricity.

“Every single business person who is adopting AI right now is going to have a huge advantage in their career,” Cardon said. “The people who are testing it and experimenting with it in all kinds of new ways — I think they’re all positioned to become that much more efficient, productive, and creative. It’s going to be a nice head start.”

The future of technology is full of uncertainty, but Marshall appears poised to meet the market in stride. No one knows for sure where we’re going, but there’s no denying we’re headed there anyway.