Generative AI at Simon: Preparing for the “Sea Change”

Generative AI at Simon: Preparing for the “Sea Change”

September 8, 2023 | By Bret Ellington

The impact that generative AI will have on the business world and business higher education cannot be overstated. An idiom in the English language that aptly encapsulates this paradigm shift is sea change.

Dating back to the early 1600s and used by literary giants like Shakespeare and Dickens, a sea change is a complete transformation—a radical shift in direction, encompassing not just attitudes and goals but the alteration of an entire landscape. In the context of business, when a sea change occurs, companies and institutions must adapt to navigate its waters. Some will float … others will sink.

While most institutions have taken a more cautious approach, Simon has chosen to embrace generative Al. While we have yet to grasp the technology’s full potential, what we do know is that it is rapidly evolving. The faculty at Simon are confident they are nimble and forward-thinking enough to evolve with it. At Simon, the focus has always been on preparing students for the workplace of the future, and today, that includes instructing students how to use generative AI tools for the business world of tomorrow.  

Simon has a history of staying ahead of these turning tides. For instance, Simon was the first business school in the US to introduce a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-designated option for each of its full-time MBA specializations. Simon was also the first institution to offer a comprehensive pricing specialization within the MBA program.

In addition to being an early adopter of analytics, entrepreneurship, and innovation, Simon has also been a pioneer of equity, diversity, and inclusion. In 1968, the institution became the fourth business school to join The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management—an alliance of leading graduate business schools and organizations with a mission to enhance diversity and inclusion in global business education and leadership. This relationship continues to this day.

Simon being one of the first business schools to adopt generative AI should come as no surprise.

Generative AI in the Classroom

Dan Keating is a clinical assistant professor and faculty director of academic support at Simon.
His areas of expertise include business, analytics, computers and information systems, general business, and management communications. He notes that while these fields have employed AI for decades, generative AI (or a large language model) differs in that it uses neural networks to identify patterns within existing data to generate new and original content.

Recently Keating has also taken on the role of faculty director of academic support, which leads the Instructional Technology and Innovation (ITI) team—a group consisting of an instructional designer and four instructional technologists. Among other responsibilities, this team is tasked with assisting professors in meaningfully incorporating generative AI into their courses.

 “The ITI team collaborates closely with faculty to help them create new assignments or modify existing ones that teach students best practices in generative AI,” said Keating. “We have formulated a policy for the School that enables each professor to determine how much generative AI will be allowed in their course and to what extent, whether in the classroom, during exams, projects and other assignments.”

Christine Perrotti is the instructional designer for Simon’s ITI team. Her role encompasses supporting instructors in leveraging the latest tools and technology to enhance course learning. In addition to incorporating shortcuts to coding in software like Python, Perrotti mentioned that professors are employing this tool in various creative ways.

"Professors have used ChatGPT to furnish problem examples and demonstrate multiple solutions, sparking discussions on the effectiveness of different approaches," she explained. "Generating this many examples would have been a time-consuming task without ChatGPT."

Perrotti also shared in detail how professors like Zach Roth, a clinical assistant professor at Simon, are incorporating ChatGPT into their teaching. In Roth's Foundations of Python course, generative AI acts as an instructor, teaching a programming concept, in this case, f-strings. Students then discuss their learning experiences and interaction with ChatGPT through reflective questions in a classroom discussion led by Roth.

Perrotti also points out that ChatGPT does make occasional errors, offering professors another valuable teaching opportunity for their students.   

"When this tool is employed in a classroom setting overseen by an instructor, it enables the class to observe potential mistakes and learn how to rectify and avoid these errors," Perrotti explained.

Goals of Generative AI Instruction

The purpose of teaching generative AI in business classrooms is to give students a theoretical understanding of the technology along with practical application abilities. Ultimately, the goal is to equip students with the skills to effectively leverage generative AI in their future careers.

According to Keating, this learning process entails much more than presenting complex business problems to applications like ChatGPT and receiving ready-made answers. The best use of this technology, he suggests, involves breaking down intricate business concepts into manageable parts. Students should approach ChatGPT one step at a time, comprehending all components of the business challenge before moving on to the next one.

“Students must be taught to engineer prompts, asking questions that deepen their understanding of certain business concepts. There are ways to step through a process and check your work as you go along. This results in a more meaningful learning experience for the student,” said Keating.  

Generative AI Policy at Simon

The generative AI use policy for all student work and exams varies in each course and is determined by each instructor. In each project, the professor assigns a color—red, yellow, or green.

Regarding student work and exams, a red designation signals that all work submitted must be the students’ own and generative AI cannot be used for these tasks. If the assignment is identified as yellow, students should refrain from using generative AI unless the instructor explicitly grants permission for its use in specific areas. For assignments or courses marked as green, students are encouraged to employ generative AI when it proves beneficial, except in areas specifically prohibited.

Each professor will also incorporate a citation and disclosure policy. In some cases, students are only required to include a citation of the generative AI, the version number used, and a sharable link containing the prompt and chat for each instance used in their work. In other cases, a citation along with a description is required, which includes a sentence or two explaining how generative AI was applied in the work. Other professors may choose to implement a Citation + Description + Reflection policy.

Perrotti said the AI policy is getting positive feedback from the instructors and students. She attributes this to it being straightforward, understandable, and flexible to meet the course and student needs.

“Because expectations vary from course to course, the policy could be confusing if not clearly outlined,” she said. “That’s why we have developed what I believe to be a highly intuitive policy and made it easily accessible in the syllabus of each class and in applications we use such as Blackboard.”

Prompt Engineer Workshops

In the pre-fall of 2023, students participated in prompt engineering workshops during orientation. No grades were assigned; however, attendance was mandatory. During these workshops, students were given a background on how the new technology would be integrated into their coursework and were informed about the expectations regarding its usage.

Along with explaining the benefits and pitfalls of this technology, the students received tips on using generative AI. It was emphasized that Chat GPT is currently a production model and is not really “understanding” these business ideas in the sense that a human would.

Students were cautioned that the technology in its current form only uses data up to 2021. It can also “hallucinate,” frequently fabricating information. The best course of action is to review their work thoroughly.

Applications like ChatGPT also require a substantial amount of context. The students were advised to be precise and direct when interacting with ChatGPT, specifying as many details as possible such as word count, audience, tone, and many others. Keating said more workshops like these are planned in the months to come and throughout the year.  

"There will be additional sessions for returning students and they will be quite comprehensive, lasting for two to three hours each. They will also be mandatory for all programs, including MBA, MFA, MSA, MSMA, and MSBA," said Keating.

In addition to training students and faculty, Simon began conducting workshops in July for staff as well. Departments within Simon such as the Ainslie Office of Student Engagement, Benet Center for Career Management, and the marketing department, for example, are encouraged to leverage generative AI to enhance efficiency in their work and simplify tasks.

In the ever-changing landscape of business education, Simon Business School continues to chart a course toward innovation and adaptability. Generative AI has the potential to enrich the learning experience and prepare our students for the challenges of tomorrow. As we navigate the uncharted waters of this 'sea change,' it's not just about embracing technology; it's about empowering our students with the skills and insights to harness it effectively.

Bret Ellington

Bret Ellington is a senior copywriter and content creator for the Simon Business School Marketing Department.

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