Artificial intelligence incorporated in new English course


Abram Anders, associate professor of English, created this image using the AI tool Midjourney.

Artificial intelligence [AI] technology is making its way into the education system and curriculum at Iowa State through the new English 222X course.

After its launch in November, many students began using the ChatGPT to write things like essays and apology letters. The latest version of the program is even able to interact with images and media.

But one Iowa State instructor took it a step further and decided to use it to his advantage. Abram Anders, associate professor of English, took interest in the creation of the program and designed a course that combined the use of a variety of AI services, while catering to the research that he would later use to build a course curriculum.

English 222X, introduction to artificial intelligence and writing, is a new experimental course that dives into the developing world of AI technology and services. The course’s curriculum gives students the chance to gain experience with services like ChatGPT, Midjourney and OpenAI.

Anders will be instructing the course in the fall of 2023. He said has had extensive experience with artificial intelligence.

“One of the things we’ll do in the course [will] help people learn how to understand AI and writing technologies,” Anders said.

Anders said AI tools can be used for things like copywriting, e-mail, coding, 3D and speech, and no matter the major, this course will cater to many different interests. He said with proper instruction, it’s possible that this technology can become a prospering success.

“So I’ll be teaching students in the course how to create prompts that embed information like this, the AI’s role, the knowledge, the task, all that kind of stuff,” Anders said.

Anders said the main function of this course is to introduce students to the creative side of AI and how it can be used to create inspiration and fun within the coursework.

Anders added at the end of the course, students will get the chance to create their own multimodal story. He said this gives them the opportunity to collaborate and compete in creative challenges.

“They could do a fiction piece with images, a podcast about the future of the world with generative AI, a visualization of a movie or even an essay that makes an argument,” Anders said.

Anders said that since it’s become possible for AI technology to become a main part of the curriculum, it’s important to note that it will start to become part of the workforce in the foreseeable future.

“As you move out into jobs in the workforce, probably in the next 5 to 10 years, being aware of AI is important,” said Matthew Carver, a senior manager in the Center for Excellence in Learn and Teach (CELT). “Microsoft and Google are going to some sort of incorporation of it at some point in the future.”

Carver said that just like the printing press, the calculator and the computer, AI tools will be the next thing to change the world and make everyday life more efficient.

For the English department, Carver said he believes it is important for students to know how to use them effectively while also understanding the problems that come along with it.

“We talked about the interest that this might generate in our field,” said Volker Hegelheimer, an English professor and department chair. “We teach a lot of writing courses and that we feel that AI is going to have an impact on writing,”

Hegelheimer said as society grows accustomed to new technology, it’s important to understand the purpose of AI and why it can be a useful tool in the curriculum.

“We want to be at the forefront of this, and not be taken by surprise of what’s possible,” Hegelheimer said. “We almost have an obligation to look at this more closely and think about how we can guide students.”

Hegelheimer said it is important to recognize that English is vital for these AI programs to function. He said the department is gaining a lot by adding these services.

“In my role as department chair, I’m intrigued by the possibilities that AI offers for this department,” Hegelheimer said. “What AI is able to do or capable of doing right now is just a new chapter in what is possible.”