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Business News/ News / World/  Harvard University's popular online computer course to use AI to for grading of assignments

Harvard University's popular online computer course to use AI to for grading of assignments

Harvard University's CS50 course is integrating AI into its curriculum, with plans to use the technology to grade assignments. The online education sector is set to triple in value to $348bn by 2030.

World’s most popular online learning course, Harvard University’s CS50 getting a ChatGPT-era makeover. 
World’s most popular online learning course, Harvard University’s CS50 getting a ChatGPT-era makeover. (AFP)

Harvard University's renowned CS50 course, a popular introductory computer science program, is getting a ChatGPT-era makeover. Professor David J. Malan, known for his dynamic teaching style, is spearheading efforts to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into the course curriculum, plans to use artificial intelligence to grade assignments, coding instruction, and personalized learning tips.CS50 is attended by hundreds of students on-campus and over 40,000 online.

Malan’s energetic and engaging teaching style is credited for turning dry, entry-level lectures on the basics of web development and software programming into an entertaining class full of interactive exercises. However, Malan said it faces the challenge of engaging a diverse student body with varying levels of knowledge and experience across different time zones. Despite having over a hundred teaching assistants, it has become increasingly challenging to provide tailored support to such a large and diverse cohort.

To tackle this issue, Professor Malan and his team are meticulously fine-tuning an AI system to evaluate students' assignments effectively. Additionally, they are testing a virtual teaching assistant (TA) that goes beyond mere error detection. The virtual TA utilizes rhetorical questions and offers insightful suggestions to facilitate the learning process for students, empowering them to improve their coding skills. Furthermore, this innovative approach is expected to provide human TAs with more time to conduct in-person or online office hours, enhancing student-teacher interactions.

“Providing support tailored to students’ specific questions has been a challenge at scale, with so many more students online than teachers," said Malan, in a telephonic interview. 

He said ,“Potentially, AI is just hugely enabling in education."

While the integration of AI in education holds immense potential, concerns surrounding cheating and plagiarism have emerged among educators. Some educational institutions have gone as far as banning the use of AI technology. The advent of AI has also impacted online education businesses, with companies like Chegg Inc. reporting a slowdown in subscriber growth due to the popularity of OpenAI's free chatbot.

Malan recognizes these concerns but believes that CS50's embrace of AI can improve the quality and accessibility of online learning, aligning with industry, Grand View Research forecasts predict that the online education market will triple in value to $348 billion by 2030.

Originally a single introductory course, CS50 has evolved into a multifaceted program, amassing over 1.4 million YouTube subscribers and offering branded merchandise like stress balls and t-shirts. Over the years, more than 4.7 million people have enrolled in the course. The course is now available on the digital learning platform edX, a collaborative initiative by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), providing individuals worldwide with access to university-level courses across diverse subjects.

While AI presents exciting opportunities, experts caution about the technology's current developmental stage and susceptibility to errors. Recently, chief executives of leading AI companies, including OpenAI and Alphabet Inc.’s DeepMind, issued a statement warning of the "risk of extinction" associated with AI. Furthermore, ethical considerations arise concerning data collection for personalized lessons.

Emma Taylor, an analyst at GlobalData Plc, emphasizes the need for transparent data collection processes and built-in privacy measures to safeguard student privacy in AI-driven educational platforms.

(With inputs from Bloomberg)

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Updated: 04 Jun 2023, 02:15 PM IST
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