AI can be useful in the classroom, UTA Social Work professor says

Monday, Mar 06, 2023

By Valerie Fields Hill
School of Social Work

Karen Magruder 
Karen Magruder, Assistant Professor


ChatGPT, the new artificial intelligence chatbot that can do everything from write sophisticated literary essays to create complex blocks of computer code in mere seconds, has many academics up in arms.


Karen Magruder is not one of them.


“As an educator, one of my first thoughts was surrounding implications for plagiarism and academic integrity,” said Magruder, a School of Social Work assistant professor of practice, echoing many scholars’ concerns across the globe.


Then, Magruder tried out the platform that created ChatGPT. She quickly changed her mind.


Instead of viewing the tool as a threat to academic honesty, she saw potential for its functionality as a “digital muse” and quickly found a way to incorporate it in student learning.


“As a Social Work educator and Social Worker, we strive to use a strengths-based perspective with our clients and students,” she said. “And I wanted to apply that here to the new technology as well.”


OpenAI released ChatGPT as a model last November. The artificial intelligence chatbot answers users’ questions in plain English with high quality responses gleaned from many different domains of knowledge.


Scholars worldwide immediately criticized the creators, saying among many things, that some of ChatGPT’s responses are incorrect and such artificial intelligence interferes with students learning critical thinking.


Last month (Feb. 24), Professor Magruder dispelled some of those criticisms in an eight-minute “Faculty Spotlight” video where she demonstrated how she used ChatGPT in a graduate cognitive behavioral therapy course. Her video was hosted by UTA’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning Excellence.


“It definitely can be alarming to maybe think about some of the implications for this development, but there’s also a lot of opportunities and ways that we can harness this for the social good in the classroom and beyond,” she said in the instructional video.


“That’s what got me interested, about how to leverage this new technology to benefit student learning rather than being afraid of what it might mean.”


Her students overwhelmingly appreciated their experiences using the chatbot. Their assignment required them to use ChatGPT to research a theory, then analyze its response for accuracy, biases or misleading information. Later, students presented their findings to peers in class.


“It was really neat. It got us to really think critically about what we read,” one student wrote.


Another student compared the experience of using ChatGPT to searching for information using Google.


“I think sometimes we are so quick to believe what is on Google is correct, but this exercise is great in making us slow down and make sure that important information is correct,” the student wrote after evaluating her usage of ChatGPT in her classroom experience.


Magruder sent her students’ assessments of ChatGPT’s answers to OpenAI to help improve the platform’s responses to social work-related queries.


Watch Professor Magruder explain her use of ChatGPT in her classroom: