AI-powered Tools Policy for CS 111
Intentionally breaking this policy is considered a violation of Wellesley’s Honor Code.
Using AI-powered tools (see below what is included) is considered equivalent to consulting a student who took CS 111 in prior semesters or any other CS knowledgeable person. Given that such consultations are prohibited, the use of AI-powered tools for learning and completing any type of assignments is also prohibited. Read below our longer rationale for this decision. There is one exception to this policy, read item 2 to learn more.
- AI-powered tools, especially those in the category of “generative AI”, are some of the most powerful and sophisticated tools that computer scientists have built to date. Furthermore, there is much excitement about them in the general public as well as hype in the media. We want you to be well-informed about the potential of such technologies. Therefore, we have modified our course in two ways:
- We will have weekly readings about generative AI, in the context of one of the big ideas of this course: interdependence. This readings will be part of our Connections Topics module. We want you to understand the origin of these tools, how they work, and whether they are ethical or not. In class, we will be discussing these readings together every Friday.
- Toward the last third of the semester, we will assign you one project task in which you are explicitly asked to engage with one of the new AI chatbots, to test their powers and limitations in the context of programming. In addition to the task, you will reflect about this experience.
Rationale for our policy
Some of the most powerful AI-powered tools, such as ChatGPT, have been around only for a short period of time. We know from extensive news reporting that they are prone to hallucinations. Initial research in adopting such tools for programming has indicated that novice learners might be more harmed rather than benefit from using them, since these learners don’t know yet enough about programming to detect such AI hallucinations. We will be reading some of this research during the semester, including testimonials from prior CS 111 students who participated in one such research study. Meanwhile, the initial research evidence is mixed about how useful these tools are to experienced programmers. Advanced CS courses might have different policies about the use of such tools in the classroom.
Any new technology is initially very attractive. The immediate benefit might be the first thing we notice about them. However, some of the harms are often invisible for a while. As an example, social media companies (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) were initially heralded for the benefits of their products (connecting people to one another, providing real-time news, etc.). But over the many years that we have been using them, we have identified the potential harms they are inflicting on the society at large, such as spreading conspiracy theories and disinformation, inciting hate and toxicity, and affecting the mental health of children and youth. On the latter point, the US Surgeon General issued a strong advisory recently. We believe that the use of powerful technology in education should follow the lead of medicine’s practice of informed consent.
Before trying any new technology that we don’t understand yet, we should learn as much as possible about its benefits and risks and only use it very cautiously, until the evidence shows that the benefits outweigh the risks.
List of AI-Powered Tools
- Generative AI tools - these are tools such as ChatGPT or DALL-E2. They are capable of generating text or images on demand. Many of these tools have web interfaces in which a user can enter a prompt and get a response about any topic. When asked for help with a programming problem, they often generate a code solution. There is a long list of these tools. Another name for the text-based ones is LLMs (large language models).
- AI-assistants embedded in IDEs - an IDE is an integrated development environment that is used for programming, Thonny (that you will be using in this class) is an example of an IDE. Jupyter notebooks are also an example of IDEs. Several other IDEs already have embedded AI-assistants. We ask that you only use the IDEs that we have asked you: Thonny and Jupyter, without trying to add extensions that involve AI assistance.
- Search Engines - Search engines like Google and Bing have been using AI for decades. Google researchers invented the technology known as transformers, which now powers most LLMs and chatbots, (The acronym GPT is short for Generative Pre-Trained Transformer.) Furthermore, most search engines now have chatbots embedded in their operation, and asking questions in them is handled by their AI.
Where to ask questions or look for help?
If you have questions about the material, which you would typically “google”, we suggest the following alternatives:
- Pose the question on our Sakai Q&A forum. It is anonymous and your questions might be helpful to all your peers. This way, everyone benefits from your curiosity.
- Browse the materials on our website. A good resource for particular Python concepts is the index of our book, Think Python 2e. To immediately locate a term on this page, use Command+F (in MacOS) or Ctrl+F (in Windows).
- Visit the help room with our amazing TAs, they love helping you.
- Attend the office hours with the faculty.
- Ask any of your peers who are taking CS 111 this semester with you.