UW rolls out AI tool for students, maintains instructor preference use policy – The Badger Herald

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The University of Wisconsin announced the release of Microsoft Copilot, a generative AI tool, to students March 19, according to a release from UW IT.

But, UW’s AI guidelines have not been updated along with the launch of Copilot, and permission to use AI tools for coursework will continue to be determined by instructor preference, according to an email statement from Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning John Zumbrunnen.

Microsoft Copilot is a generative AI software that uses the same large-language model as ChatGPT 4.0, but uses Bing to generate citations and does not store information put into it, making it more secure than its counterparts, according to the release. The launch of Copilot is UW’s response to the demand for AI tools in higher education, the release said.

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Students can access Copilot by logging in with their NetID, according to the release. Copilot can generate images, create code, summarize and write text, and more.

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According to Zumbrunnen, the rollout of Copilot does not mean that instructors are necessarily encouraged to allow the use of AI in their courses. Rather, Zumbrunnen said giving students access to Copilot is giving the student body a “level playing field,” because it is free. A subscription to ChatGPT 4.0 currently costs $20 a month.

“The launch of Copilot is intended to support instructors and students in exploring appropriate uses of AI — it’s not a signal of any change in policy,” Zumbrunnen said.

Zumbrunnen said the launch of Copilot does not indicate a change in UW’s statement on use of generative AI or AI use and policy guidelines. Students are expected to be aware of their instructor’s policies surrounding AI, and are encouraged to check with their instructor if they are unsure of the expectations.

“Our existing policies are serving campus well and we are prepared to update them if needed,” said Zumbrunnen.

Amidst the changing AI landscape, Writing Fellows and Writing Across the Curriculum Director Emily Hall has been working with staff and The Writing Center to develop critical AI literacy skills for students and faculty. Hall commends UW for being a university that emphasizes academic freedom, and acknowledges the difficulties surrounding the creation of guidelines that allow for academic freedom while adapting to the presence of AI in education.

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Halls supports department-specific policies that can acknowledge the wide array of AI’s applicability in education. She emphasized the host of problems that come along with AI, for example, how AI can reproduce bias in harmful ways.

“It’s really hard to create a single policy, and I think there needs to be encouragement around departments creating their own,” Hall said.

Hall has been working with faculty to mitigate the challenges that arise with AI’s integration into education. She has found that faculty opinions are relatively balanced — many see AI as valuable in the classroom and many do not.

Hall acknowledged the challenge for students in educating themselves on the ever-changing subject of critical AI literacy, and said The Writing Center and UW’s Division of Teaching and Learning are developing important resources for the UW community.

Specifically, Hall is leading a workshop on AI literacy April 5 for course instructors, and anticipates more resources and opportunities to be available in the fall.

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