NEHA March 2024 Journal of Environmental Health

ability to make copies of materials for stu- dents changed the landscape for completing assignments, studying for exams, and deliver- ing content. When calculators entered educa- tion in the early 1970s, teachers feared that it would interfere with the ability of students to learn basic mathematics and prohibited their use. This viewpoint has certainly changed as calculators are now welcome in many class- rooms, especially those subjects that employ higher-level mathematics and statistics. The personal computer came on the scene in the early 1980s and compounded concerns about if students would still be able to develop critical thinking skills. Many of today’s fac- ulty members remember evolving from the chalkboard to transparencies to PowerPoint slides in the 1990s and some will even debate if this transition has been good for education. Then came the 2000s when education tech- nology accelerated as the internet became a powerful educational tool. Some of us who have been teaching during the past 20 years have witnessed such a rapid evolution of technology that we are constantly changing our courses and curricula to keep up. This evolution is transforming the design, deliv- ery, and assessment of students (Ramsey & West, 2023). It also includes the emergency shift to mostly online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic changed the face of teach- ing and required faculty to develop ways to deliver course content using technology out- side of the classroom. Faculty were forced to implement completely di erent ways of teaching, which was especially di‡cult in the sciences where labs are essential. This invol- untary and rapid restructuring of courses led to inconsistent quality that might a ect workforce preparedness soon. Virtual envi- ronmental health internships that were nec- essary at the height of the pandemic mean that students did not obtain experience in organizational and interpersonal communi- cation, some of the most important skills that internships provide. Faculty went back to changed universities in 2021. At first, we accommodated students by providing hybrid classes so students could attend in person or online. We were teach- ing in masks and requiring our students to sit in assigned seats so we could minimize the distance between students and would know when a student was absent. This classroom

layout minimized group work and collabora- tion as teaching strategies. Most of us were completely back in person by 2022 and in November, ChatGPT emerged and forced us again to examine and adjust our teach- ing methods, especially in terms of crafting assignments and evaluating student work. Artificial Intelligence and Large Language Systems AI is more than just ChatGPT; however, ChatGPT is currently open to all without a subscription. ChatGPT and other AI pro- grams are referred to as generative AI because they create new content when a user asks a question. In educational settings, this new content includes responses to essay prompts on exams, entire term papers, discussion text, and more. In the workplace, it could be used to write letters, enhance inspection summa- ries, generate reports, and more. At the time of writing this column, ChatGPT has been available for approximately 1 year and it is probably the most revolutionary educational technology that we have ever seen. The Chronicle of Higher Education , an influ- ential publication, has been following the impact of ChatGPT on colleges and universi- ties. After a survey of faculty, the Chronicle reports that the response and integration of this technology is wide-ranging (McMurtrie & Supiano, 2023). Some faculty are embrac- ing AI and specifically including assignments that require students to use it. Others are explicitly forbidding its use in their courses. Others are ignoring it. Universities do not seem to be o ering faculty much guidance except for providing examples of language to include in syllabi and encouraging depart- ments to come up with their own policies. One of the most important challenges with ChatGPT is that it eludes plagiarism detec- tors. So, it is almost impossible for faculty to document if students are misusing the tech- nology and violating student codes of con- duct. Businesses have popped up claiming to solve the problem of plagiarism with Chat- GPT, for a monthly fee, but university learn- ing management systems such as Blackboard and Canvas do not have such technology yet. We can no longer enter parts of student writing into accessible university plagiarism detectors and be certain that the outcome is accurate. This situation underscores the warnings about the impact of AI on ethics.

This one example underscores the impact that ChatGPT could have on learning, critical thinking, and comprehension. Students deal- ing with a heavy course load and limited time to complete high-stakes assignments might seek assistance from AI, especially if they believe they will earn a better grade this way. Ask any faculty member if they suspect that their stu- dents have used AI to complete an assignment and the answer will be either yes or not sure. Even high-achieving and motivated students in our environmental health program have admit- ted to occasionally using this technology due to time constraints and grade anxiety. Universities and colleges are struggling to address the role of AI in the curriculum and educate faculty about its risks, benefits, and applications. Because we were caught o guard by the rapid ascent of AI, many of us are focusing on addressing potential ethical issues such as plagiarism as students increase their use of this technology. If we look at the history of educational technology, however, there are lessons to learn from how we man- aged to maintain educational integrity in the face of revolutionary changes. History of Educational Technology It might seem silly, but we can go back to the advent of pencils as learning tools and imagine their impact on teaching more than 100 years ago. This “technology” meant that students would no longer have to remember what was written and erased from a chalk- board; they could take notes that would allow them to study after the lesson ended. Teach- ers back then could have been concerned about the same things we are now. These con- cerns might have included wondering how to motivate students to engage in discussions as they are busy writing everything down and being alarmed about the relevancy of lectures when students could get notes from others. Probably no one would argue that pencils were bad for education, but they revolution- ized content delivery at the time. It might be di‡cult to think about pencils as technology, so let us consider when projec- tion film and slides were added to classrooms in the 1930s, followed by the mimeograph in the 1940s. Just like today, educators were probably struggling to keep up with this new technology and figure out ways to best use pictures to emphasize their points and dem- onstrate key concepts in the classroom. The


March 2024 • Journal of Environmental Health

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