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“Computer Age”: Getting Going With Generative AI In The Classroom Using WhatIf_WhatNow GPT & BioBuilder GPT

This blog is written by Dr Daniel Finkenstadt with Dr Rajinder Bhandal, and explores some of the takeaways from using GenAI in the classroom.

Here is an update on progress building on from our recent discussion “I heard you on the wireless back in ’52”: Generative AI from an educational perspective. Everyone appears to be grappling with the notion of AI in academia. We decided to take a positive and pragmatic approach on this. Here is what we have discovered so far…

My questions to Rajinder:

How have you used AI, including generative AI in the classroom?

First and foremost, I just want to say a huge thank you to you Dr. Daniel Finkenstadt for your support and patience. I really could not have done this without your wonderful guidance and mentorship. Co-creating Gen AI teaching content alongside you was rewarding from a professional development and student experience perspective. Thank you!

This year I have been experimenting with Gen AI in the classroom as part of my teaching by using the resources at Wolf Stake Consulting LLC, namely, BioBuilder GPT and WhatIf_WhatNow GPT. We are all familiar with delivering PowerPoint presentations, this time, as part of my teaching, I logged onto the Gen AI resources at Wolf Stake Consulting and that became the presentation. The students were given the floor to interact with the resources, under my supervision and support.

I teach second year undergraduate mechanical engineering students the subject of management. It was great to combine business world problems with engineering towards creating innovative solutions in the classroom. In the context of seminar delivery, I have combined traditional teaching styles with more creative styles which included layering in Gen AI, thanks to BioBuilder GPT and WhatIf_WhatNow GPT.

What reservations – if any – did you have about using AI in your class?

I had no reservations whatsoever! It was rather the opposite; I was keen to explore how Gen AI could enhance student learning by actually bringing it into the classroom for my mechanical engineering students. 

Were the students receptive to its use?

Oh yes, the students engaged well with the GPT’s that I used and gave a great overall response. I provided background context for each seminar, and which lecture material the task was in keeping with. With my guidance the students were quick to pick up what was needed in terms of the questions to answer in order to refine the task / issue they were exploring.

What lessons learned, and best practices have you discovered so far in using AI for education purposes?

It is important to plan the seminar session and stick to the flow and timeframe. Having said this, there is a need to be flexible and think on your feet especially when your plans don’t go as expected. What I mean by this is, the first seminar is going to provide a lot of learning in terms of how you conduct the second seminar and proceeding seminars. 

Is there anything unique or particularly well-fitting about using AI for your engineering students?

Using a scenario from the world of business definitely helped, this is because the students are very visual when it comes to conceptualizing design, they are also very focused on the problem and systematic in their approach to problem-solving.

I used and showcased the value of BioBuilder GPT as part of my seminar delivery. Creativity is increased when combined with the principles of management in the context of a scenario and having ‘hands on’ experimentation combined with Lego, towards design improvements inspired by the natural world for a car, jet aircraft, and motorbike.

In other instances, I used WhatIf_WhatNow GPT to present the notion of supply chain risk on key components relating to a robot alongside the PESTEL framework.

Were there any myths or misconceptions about using AI for education that you and your students disproved in this process?

It was apparent that Copyright was an important issue that was not previously considered or known about by the students. There were certain restrictions for example the use of certain types of designs that would infringe the rules, namely around branded logo’s, famous characters (fictional vs. non-fictional), and certain designs.

What recommendations or insights do you have for students, educators, administrators and potential employers with regard to the use of AI for educating the future workforce?

My mechanical engineering students were brilliant, and really creative at addressing business problems. This is true, particularly in the context of supply chain risk, which they told me that they had never considered before!

In my humble opinion, a methodology is needed, with guidance, a set of instructions, and real-world scenarios to work with. Very much in keeping with what has been highlighted above. Having spoken with many brilliant colleagues out there in industry across various sectors, including C-suite executives, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, the consensus is very much that more is needed to be done to prepare the students for what industry and the world of work has awaiting.

This article from the UK Government ‘Artificial intelligence in schools – everything you need to know’  is music to our ears, it is in the context of schools. This notion can easily be made applicable in the context of higher education in particular at university level.

On another important note, it is worth being mindful that the pace of technological development taking place is rapid. With the introduction of the latest GPT4o we now have the joys of combining sound and vision, thus all types of exercises (along the lines discussed above and more) can now be actioned by blending audio, imagery, and text. Thus, this just shows how quicky the technology is evolving since I started out exploring it back in December 2023!  

This horizon’s getting clearer, Computer age computer age, Computer age…

~ Neil Young, Computer Age ~