Harvard announces it will teach students using an artificial intelligence instructor next


Ivy League students at one of America’s most expensive colleges will be taught by AI next year.

The teachers of Harvard University’s popular intro-level coding course — which typically gets about 1000 students each semester — are ‘experimenting’ with a ChatGPT-powered teaching assistant.

Professor David Malan, who runs the course, justified plans for the introduction of the ‘CS50 bot’ by noting that the course has often deployed new software in its syllabus. 

A ChatGPT AI teacher, he said, was simply an ‘evolution of that tradition’, he said in a statement. 

‘Our own hope is that, through AI, we can eventually approximate a 1:1 teacher:student ratio for every student in CS50… providing them with software-based tools that, 24/7, can support their learning at a pace and in a style that works best for them individually.’ 

The teachers of Harvard University's popular intro-level coding course, CS50, are 'experimenting' with a ChatGPT-powered teaching assistant. Above, the Radcliffe Quad undergrad housing at Harvard University in Fall 2013, before the AI teachers came

The teachers of Harvard University’s popular intro-level coding course, CS50, are ‘experimenting’ with a ChatGPT-powered teaching assistant. Above, the Radcliffe Quad undergrad housing at Harvard University in Fall 2013, before the AI teachers came

In his statement to the Crimson, Harvard’s newspaper, Professor Malan specified that he and the course’s staff were ‘currently experimenting with both GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 models.’

Outside of the Ivy League, however, developers and software engineers have struggled to incorporate maker OpenAI’s new ChatGPT-4 into their workflow, calling into question their new algorithmic co-worker’s ability to code.

‘Is it just me or GPT-4’s quality has significantly deteriorated lately?’ asked one user of the Silicon Valley start-up incubator Y-combinator’s Hacker News forum.

Outside of the Ivy League, developers and software engineers have struggled to incorporate OpenAI's new ChatGPT-4 into their workflow, calling into question their new AI co-worker's ability to code

Outside of the Ivy League, developers and software engineers have struggled to incorporate OpenAI’s new ChatGPT-4 into their workflow, calling into question their new AI co-worker’s ability to code

‘It generates more buggy code,’ the user wrote, ‘and overall it feels much worse than before.’

Others in the community described the AI’s software skills as  ‘significantly worse‘ than past versions of ChatGPT, prone to ‘superficial responses‘ and nearly ‘lobotomized‘ in its answers to coding prompts.

With the full cost of a four-year degree from Harvard hovering somewhere $334,000, based on rates for the 2022-23 school year, paying students will likely want and expect that the CS50’s staff’s ‘experimenting’ with ChatGPT will have fully worked out the kinks by September.

CS50, according to the Crimson, is one of Harvard’s most popular offerings on the online learning platform edX, which the school launched in collaboration with MIT in 2012.

The two universities sold off edX to educational technology company 2U for $800 million in 2021 — with the stipulation that the platform be run as a public benefit entity that also offers its courses as ‘free to audit.’

While Prof. Malan did acknowledge that ‘early incarnations’ of AI programs like ChatGPT have been likely to ‘occasionally underperform or even err,’ he nevertheless voiced his belief that his own AI teaching assistant will cut down on busy work. 

‘[A]ssessing, more qualitatively, the design of students’ code has remained human-intensive,’ Malan said. 

‘Through AI, we hope to reduce that time spent, so as to reallocate [teaching fellows’] time toward more meaningful, interpersonal time with their students, akin to an apprenticeship model.’

College, as the saying goes, is not about teaching students what to think, but how to think — and Malan’s parting comments on the new CS50 bot echoed this teaching philosophy.

‘We’ll make clear to students that they should always think critically when taking in information as input,’ Malan said, ‘be it from humans or software.’



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