Free Class at Utah Tech Teaches Students, Public How to Use AI

Instructor Konnor Young's prompt engineering noncredit class is open to all. He's also working with professors to enhance learning with example ChatGPT prompts for lectures.
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Published on September 8, 2023
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  • The class is open to anyone — from community members who don't know how to work a computer to advanced students at Utah Tech University.
  • Konnor Young and Eric Pedersen are working to implement ChatGPT into other disciplines across the university.
  • Young said that if you don't want students to cheat with ChatGPT, present it to them and teach them to use it as a tool.

Utah Tech University in St. George offers a new free class to anyone who wants to learn how to use OpenAI's generative artificial intelligence (AI), ChatGPT. The instructor's goal is to eventually implement it across every major in the school.

Utah Tech opened its generative AI "prompt engineering" class Aug. 30, led by recent Utah Tech graduate Konnor Young. The class runs every Wednesday through Dec. 6 from noon-12:45 p.m. in room 105 of the Science, Engineering & Technology building.

"People that don't know how to work a computer could pick up this course and learn how to ask ChatGPT questions," Young told BestColleges. "The only real constraint to it is the number of seats in the room. If there's no seat for you, then you can stand in the back, or you can come next week."

There's no homework. The class activities are challenges Young writes on the board. Students must craft prompts to solve problems as quickly or simply as possible.

Young collaborated with Eric Pedersen, dean of Science, Engineering, & Technology at Utah Tech, to create a learning environment for people who want to use the new technology.

The project evolved into a broader free pop-up class after Pedersen and Young explored what prompt engineering would look like in other disciplines like biology and engineering.

"We started to explore prompt engineering by discipline and how it can be a learning tool within the disciplines so that it is basically a great tutor for you," Pedersen told BestColleges. "And I think that's kind of how it evolved into a much broader open pop-up class that we wanted to invite a broader community to be involved with."

Pedersen worked closely with Young and thought he'd be perfect for the new class; Young did his senior project and most of his last semester classes with ChatGPT.

When Young didn't know how to do a part of his senior project, he asked ChatGPT to do it.

"It worked, and then it didn't work. It broke, and I had no idea how to fix it," Young said.

He didn't know all the specifics of his project's issues, so he changed the precision of his prompts and gave ChatGPT different constraints based on the information he wanted.

"And within two weeks, I had taught myself — not only finished my senior project but taught myself — how to finish my senior project and got to the point where I could explain all of the code and aspects of it to other people," Young said.

Young wanted to create an introductory course that was accessible to first-year students but wasn't trivial to seniors. The class is open to all, but Young wants first-years to understand and tutor themselves with prompt generation.

The course is free because it's on early technology. Pedersen and Young wanted to understand the AI and see how students and community members interact with ChatGPT. That understanding will drive the university to explore for-credit offerings on the topic.

"It's funny telling students to sign up for another class, and they're like, 'Oh, I can't, I have too many classes already,'" Young said. "I'm just trying to explain to people there's no credit involved, there's no credentials. It's just solely for informational purposes right now to just get people to understand it as quickly as possible."

Using ChatGPT Prompt Engineering in Every Major

Young's curriculum is weaving its way through Utah Tech. He is working with the dental hygiene program and other Science, Engineering & Technology professors to create a tailored course.

He's had fun getting professors involved and teaching them about how their students can learn with it. He hosted a class educating some professors from the Science, Engineering & Technology department when one professor said:

"Hey, I have a whole table full of resources for my students to look up for all of the different lectures. What if I added a column for possible prompts?"

Young said he went through chapter by chapter, lecture by lecture, creating prompts on each week's topics. The prompts could deepen students' understanding of each class and help them catch up if they missed anything.

Pedersen told Young to do the same thing for his tech entrepreneurship class. Pedersen also plans to use ChatGPT in his tech entrepreneurship class as a brainstorming tool.

"It's kind of like a brainstorming session on steroids," Pedersen told BestColleges. "And all of a sudden, creativity just starts to ooze out of the experience. I think you'll see that in a variety of courses where it can augment, supplement, and even build on creative and other processes that I haven't seen great tools for in the past."

Young says ChatGPT is not going anywhere — even if a professor prohibits it on the syllabus, students are still going to use it.

"If you're worried about your kids using it to cheat, then just hand it to them as a tool — like a calculator," Young said. "Say, 'Hey, here's this really cool tool that will help you finish your assignments and help you understand what you're learning.'"

Pedersen acknowledged the risks of embracing generative AI right now. ChatGPT is an evolving model and sometimes gives false information or faulty instructions. But it will only get better with innovators.

"I think there's some reason to have some founded concerns," Pedersen said.

"But there's usually someone out there where anytime there's a problem, there's usually someone out there, like Konnor, who wants to solve that problem, who wants to innovate on that problem, and who wants to create a tool or an experience that really meets the needs at the level that eliminate those concerns or significantly reduce those concerns."