Today I met a class of English majors who love writing, and who expressed concern that AI writers will put them out of a job.
“Think about what we want to nurture,” said Joseph Helble, president of Lehigh University. “In the pre-internet and pre-generative-AI ages, it used to be about mastery of content. Now, students need to understand content, but it’s much more about mastery of the interpretation and utilization of the content.”
ChatGPT calls on higher ed to rethink how best to educate students, Helble said. He recounted the story of an engineering professor he knew years ago who assessed students by administering oral exams. The exams scaled with a student in real time, so every student was able to demonstrate something. Also, the professor adapted the questions while administering the test, which probed the limits of students’ knowledge and comprehension. At the time, Helble considered the approach “radical” and concedes that, even now, it would be challenging for professors to implement. “But the idea that [a student] is going to demonstrate ability on multiple dimensions by going off and writing a 30-page term paper—that part we have to completely rethink.”