Harvard Provides Guidance on Integrating Generative AI in Education


  • Harvard’s Arts and Sciences Faculty shares guidelines about AI in education, allowing professors to add AI to courses.
  • The guidelines underline professors’ control over courses, open communication with students, and cautious AI usage while not recommending AI detection tools.
  • Though promoting AI, gaps in AI policies appear in various department syllabi, showing difficulties in embracing uniform AI approaches.

In a significant step, Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has issued comprehensive guidelines on incorporating generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools into higher education. This move highlights the rapid growth of AI and its potential impact on diverse academic fields.

Just a year ago, the term “ChatGPT” was largely unfamiliar. However, the scenario has transformed remarkably, with Harvard University’s academic leadership endorsing the concept of extensive AI integration within higher education. The FAS, the university’s largest academic unit, recently unveiled its first-ever public guidance to aid educators in effectively integrating generative AI into their instructional methods.

Navigating AI integration with guidance

The Office of Undergraduate Education at Harvard, responsible for releasing these guidelines, has embraced a comprehensive approach. The guidelines offer an overview of generative AI’s functions and potential educational applications. However, these guidelines prevent imposing a unified AI policy across the FAS. Instead, they present preliminary language for three distinct approaches educators can consider regarding AI integration: a “maximally restrictive” policy, a “fully encouraging” policy, and a combined strategy.

Christopher W. Stubbs, the Dean of Science, emphasized that the central tenet of these guidelines is to afford faculty members control over their courses. He stressed that a universal course policy is impractical and encouraged educators to gain in-depth knowledge about AI’s influence on learning objectives. Furthermore, the guidelines underscore the importance of clear and consistent communication between educators and students about the course’s AI policy.

Harvard’s AI guidelines and initiatives

The FAS’s guidelines build upon Harvard University’s broader AI guidelines disclosed earlier in the year, prioritizing safeguarding non-public data. The FAS guidance explicitly advises educators against inputting student work into AI systems, acknowledging that third-party AI platforms retain ownership of user prompts and AI-generated responses.

Harvard University Information Technology is partnering with third-party AI enterprises to craft an “AI Sandbox” tool to facilitate responsible AI exploration. This tool, set to debut shortly, provides a secure environment for Harvard affiliates to experiment with generative AI without compromising security or privacy. The tool aims to mitigate potential risks while ensuring that any data entered remains private and won’t contribute to training public AI tools.

Educating educators about AI’s impact

Acknowledging the significance of well-informed faculty members, Harvard organized informational sessions on the influence of generative AI in STEM and writing courses. These sessions, accessible to the public through recordings, highlight potential applications of AI as an educational tool, such as real-time information synthesis, code generation, and argument evaluation. The sessions also provide strategies to design coursework resilient to AI, including written exams and multi-step writing processes.

However, despite this proactive approach, the FAS discourages the use of AI detection tools, as Stubbs notes, their unreliability for effective application.

Addressing AI policy gaps

Harvard’s endeavor to embrace AI integration isn’t without its challenges. A survey revealed that 57 percent of faculty respondents in the previous semester needed explicit AI usage policies. While the FAS emphasizes the importance of clearly defined AI policies, numerous courses across different departments still lack such guidelines.

For instance, scrutiny of available syllabi for the fall semester reveals disparities in AI policy adoption. In the Government Department, 29 out of 51 syllabi omitted mention of AI usage. Similar gaps were identified in the English Department, where 20 out of 47 syllabi lacked an AI policy. Even in departments closely associated with technology, like Molecular and Cellular Biology and Computer Science, several course syllabi did not include AI policies.

Diverse AI policy approaches

Syllabi that include AI policies showcase a diverse range of strategies. Some courses categorically prohibit using tools like ChatGPT, while others permit their use with appropriate acknowledgment. Many courses outline unacceptable applications of AI, such as addressing homework questions or writing code, while others permit AI only for specific assignments.

Harvard University’s FAS is positioning itself at the forefront of AI integration within higher education. By empowering educators to make informed decisions about AI integration and cultivating a secure space for experimentation, Harvard is paving the way for responsible and meaningful integration of AI tools across diverse academic domains. As AI continues to shape the educational landscape, Harvard’s approach is a notable example of how institutions can embrace the future while upholding academic integrity and transparency.

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Written by Brenda Kanana