A new class has students use AI to do their homework

Annenberg School for Communication lecturer Matt O’Donnell’s course ‘Talking with AI: Computational and Communication Approaches’ encourages undergraduates to play with AI.

Increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI) is able to generate content with astonishing human veracity. ChatGPT can write emails that sound like any real office memo. Web apps can create the perfect headshot without any posing whatsoever. AI-generated images regularly fool people to believe they are watching explicit private videos.

In lecturer Matthew Brook O’Donnell’s new course at the Annenberg School for Communication, undergraduates are testing the boundaries of this emerging world of AI tools, exploring their ability to create accurate, trustworthy, and coherent content for research, media, and everyday life.

Matt O’Donnell helps communication major Nancy Miranda during class.
Matt O’Donnell helps communication major Nancy Miranda during class. Students each kept a blog during the class, chronicling what they did with AI and what they learned. (Image: Courtesy of Annenberg School for Communication)

In the course, students examine large language models (LLMs) and use programming to “look under the hood” of generative AI tools and practice. The course emphasizes the human-technology partnership—using LLMs as collaborators to enhance their own human thinking. The students also spend significant time engaging in humanlike conversation with LLMs to understand what these models can and cannot do well.

O’Donnell—who has a background in communication, computational linguistics, and data science—wants students to not only understand how generative AI tools work, but also to question the ways in which humans communicate with these tools and how humans will use generative AI in the future.

“The dominant voices in the generative AI space are those with highly technical backgrounds,” he says, “but there’s room for a humanistic and social science viewpoint.”

One element of the students’ assignments is to simply experiment with AI and keep blogs about their progress.

"The idea of the blogs is for the students to try out different ideas and experiments using LLMs and then to write those up," O’Donnell says. "However, there is no restriction on them not using an LLM to write some of the text. We are going to try an experiment to see if given the 16 blogs written by each student, an LLM could generate a new one in their style."

Their experiments have included asking advice on how to comfort a friend with an unrequited crush, sussing out whether AI can understand Jean-Paul Sartre, creating a storyline for a new season of the television show "The White Lotus," and testing AI’s ability to solve riddles.

Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.