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AI-powered professors to teach Harvard coding class: ‘Eventually approximate a 1:1 teacher:student ratio’
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AI-powered professors to teach Harvard coding class: ‘Eventually approximate a 1:1 teacher:student ratio’

Harvard University recently announced that it plans to introduce artificial intelligence-powered professors to its flagship coding class, according to the Harvard Crimson.

Students enrolled in Computer Science 50: Introduction to Computer Science for the upcoming semester will have the opportunity to learn to code using an AI-power bot.

The course’s professor, David J. Malan, told the university’s paper that AI would help students find coding errors and provide design feedback. The AI model, similar to ChatGPT, would also have the ability to explain error messages and answer students’ questions.

While the AI program will help students find bugs in their code, it will not provide them with “outright solutions.”

Malan noted that CS50’s staff are “currently experimenting with both GPT 3.5 and GPT 4 models” while the course’s summer school students are beta-testing the “CS50 bot.”

“Our own hope is that, through AI, we can eventually approximate a 1:1 teacher:student ratio for every student in CS50, as by 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,” Malan stated.

Malan hopes the bot will be “similar in spirit” to AI software like ChatGPT but notes that program is “currently too helpful.” Instead, the CS50 bot will work by “leading students toward an answer rather than handing it to them.”

Students taking the course’s online edX version, a partnership program between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, will also have access to the AI program.

“Providing support that’s tailored to students’ specific questions has long been a challenge at scale via edX and OpenCourseWare more generally, with so many students online, so these features will benefit students both on campus and off,” Malan said.

The AI program will also allow the course’s staff to save time by speeding up the grading process.

“Assessing, more qualitatively, the design of students’ code has remained human-intensive. 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,” Malan stated.

The professor noted that he expects the early iterations of the CS50 bot to “occasionally underperform or even err” but anticipates that the program “will only get better through feedback from students and teachers alike.”

The Harvard Crimson noted that the university recently adopted an AI policy during the fall 2022 semester.

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