The university encourages students to use the ‘CS50 bot’ as their 24/7 learning assistant.
(Credit: Bloomberg/Contributor/Getty Images)
Harvard embraces generative AI in the classroom and adopts it as an official learning tool for its flagship coding course.
Starting this fall, students enrolled in Computer Science 50: Introduction to Computer Science (CS50) will be encouraged to use AI to help them debug code, provide feedback on their designs, and answer individual questions about messages error and unknown lines of code.
“Our own hope is that, through AI, we can eventually approximate a teacher 1:1. [to] student-to-student ratio in CS50, by providing them with 24/7 software-based tools that can support their learning at the pace and in the style that works best for them individually,” says the CS50 professor David J. Malan, as reported by The Harvard Crimson(Opens in a new window).
It’s a quick change from last school year: Harvard had no AI policy at the end of the fall 2022 semester.
The hugely popular CS50 course is taught in one large room. (Credit: Boston Globe/Contributor/Getty Images)
The new approach will not use ChatGPT or GitHub Copilot, both of which are popular with developers. Malan says the tools are “currently too useful.” Instead, Harvard has developed its own big language model, a “CS50 bot” that will be “similar in spirit” but will focus on “guiding students toward an answer rather than handing it to them,” she says.
CS50 is also available for non-Harvard students to use the edX online platform (opens in a new window). The new AI policy will be extended to the edX version. “Even if you’re not a Harvard student, you can ‘take’ this course for free through the eleven weeks of course material,” the site says. Professors at other institutions can also license the material for their own courses.
“Providing support that is tailored to specific student questions has long been a challenge at scale across edX and OpenCourseWare in general, with so many students online, so these features will benefit students both inside and outside. off campus,” says Malan.
The adoption of generative AI by one of the best universities in the country adds a new dimension to the use of tools like ChatGPT in an academic setting. Ever since ChatGPT launched in November 2022, teachers and professors have been having trouble getting students to turn in work generated by it.
A professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce refused to grade the paper which he believed was “ChatGPT crap.” Tools for detecting AI-written work have also gained popularity, but they focus on text, not programming languages.
“We will make it clear to students that they should always think critically when taking information as input, whether it is from humans or from software,” says Malan. “But the tools will only improve through feedback from students and teachers alike. So they will also be a very important part of the process.”