Carnegie Mellon University
October 25, 2023

Advancing Student Learning at CMU Through Generative AI

By Michael Henninger

Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation is launching a Generative Artificial Intelligence Teaching as Research (GAITAR) Initiative, which will include several new efforts to bring generative AI to classrooms across CMU. The Center launched a series of GAITAR Institutes to promote instructor-led innovations and educational research designs across diverse contexts. Additionally, the Eberly Center is now seeking applicants for its GAITAR Fellowship 2023.

New to the Eberly Center’s portfolio of offerings, the GAITAR Fellowship provides $5,000 for a CMU instructor to design and implement a teaching innovation using a generative AI tool in a spring, summer or fall 2024 CMU course. They must then measure the impacts of the innovation on student learning and disseminate their findings at CMU and beyond. The deadline for applications is Nov. 1.

The fellowship aims to incentivize and lower barriers to innovation, implementation and the dissemination of educational research findings.

“In many ways, CMU is the birthplace of both learning science and AI and machine learning, dating back to the Newell and Simon days,” said James H. Garrett Jr., CMU’s provost and chief academic officer. “If anybody should be advancing the research and application of AI in education, it should be Carnegie Mellon. We embrace this as an inflection point to take these tools and new ways of thinking to enhance our teaching and learning strategies.”

The Eberly Center recently finished delivering a GAITAR Institute on campus, a four-session program that generated ideas for teaching innovations implementing generative AI in CMU courses, preparing instructors to study the results with tangible Eberly Center support from start to finish.

Since 1996, the Eberly Center has brought pedagogical and technological issues together to support Carnegie Mellon faculty and graduate students in their roles as educators. The center, which fosters a culture of experimentation, innovation and iterative improvement through collaboration, approaches the use of AI with empirical questions — where do AI tools enhance student learning and experience? What do students consider as the benefits and tradeoffs of using AI? How can equitable access and outcomes be ensured when using AI?

CMU’s University Education Council will be convening town hall sessions in early November to hear students' and educators' perspectives on the most pressing needs and opportunities related to AI and its potential for impact on education. The full spectrum of community input will inform broader university strategies to advance the applications of generative AI in education. 

“Many articles have shared that education is being upended by these new tools,” said Amy Burkert, vice provost for education. “There are, indeed, many changes taking place, but the question is, ‘How can we help our community leverage that potential into an asset rather than a cause for concern?’”

The theme of the Eberly Center’s 7th annual Teaching and Learning Summit, held on Sept. 21, was “Adapting to Generative AI in Teaching.” During the Summit, faculty members from the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute discussed their use of AI in the classroom.

We want to make sure that our entire community’s voices are heard, especially those of our students so we can better understand their most pressing needs and the exciting opportunities they see related to generative AI,” Burkert said.

“We are taking a very scientific approach to this — a learning science approach,” said Marsha Lovett, vice provost for teaching and learning innovation and co-coordinator of The Simon Initiative, CMU’s learning-engineering ecosystem that works to improve student learning outcomes. “We are actively supporting our faculty members to lean in, learn about generative AI, and incorporate it into their teaching where it can benefit students. On top of that, we are actively supporting faculty to study its impacts on student learning and the student experience. We must continue to be data-informed on this.”

The work to apply generative AI tools and techniques in the classroom is only one part of a broader university strategy to advance the next generation of artificial intelligence’s impact across education, research and society. The university has been increasingly called upon for its AI expertise by public and private sector partners. Most recently, Gov. Josh Shapiro visited CMU to announce an executive order on the use of generative AI in Commonwealth agencies. CMU’s Block Center for Technology and Society one of the nation’s leading research centers working to shape the impact of these technologies, will partner with the Shapiro administration on this effort.