Embracing Leadership and Unveiling Impact of AI in Education: Q&A with 2019 Scholar Owen Rask

What motivated you to become a leader in the Colorado College Honor Council?

What motivated me to become a leader at CC’s Honor Council was the experience of serving under previous leadership on the council. When I joined the council, I served under two incredible individuals, one even being a fellow Boettcher Scholar (Megan Koch ’18). They cultivated a welcoming, tight-knit, yet professional environment, encouraging those of us who were passionate about academic issues to pursue leadership positions, so I ran and served as executive officer of Education and Outreach for a year and then decided to follow in their footsteps and run for Co-Chair of the council. 

Can you talk about a tough situation you faced as a leader in the Honor Council and how you handled it positively?

I will have to talk in general terms due to the need for privacy and confidentiality in Honor Council cases; however, I oversaw a case where a student had a unique situation occur that triggered a backstop in the Honor Code, increasing the severity of their actions. As Council processes must follow strict rules, I had to see the case to completion. During this process, the student’s faculty advisor was justly concerned and strove to get the department involved, making everything more complicated. To handle this evolving situation, I spent a significant amount of time meeting in person with the professor, student, department, and administration to provide the requirements of our processes with the acknowledgment of the student’s situation to figure out how, in line with our honor code, the student could receive a just verdict. Since the conclusion of that case, we have reviewed and been working to correct this backstop in the code so similar situations do not arise.

How do you think AI can make learning better? What problems might come up if we use AI in education?

AI can make learning better by reducing the time it takes to do monotonous tasks such as source finding and citing, providing students a baseline to start and edit to make their own (thus teaching students to be better editors), and primarily, AI forces good teachers to rethink their assignments and classwork, as they must assign classwork that requires students to think and create rather than summarize or recite. To the second part of the question, I would like to add that the question is not “if” we use AI in education, as I can assure you it is already occurring on a large scale. Thus, the primary problem I see with AI usage in education is that it makes students less critical of the information they find: this is a twofold issue. When students use AI/chatbots to provide all their sources or information, they become more accustomed to believing that the chatbot’s output is accurate (when AI makes up information constantly). Additionally, students do not know who the author or source of the information they are using is and thus have no grounding of what bias is inherent within the AI information (and since AI is based on everything we humans have written, everything it outputs is inherently biased). 

Tell me a little about your hobbies, many involve working with your hands, how did you get into these?

I have many hobbies that have come and gone; however, the ones that I have stuck with are music (singing and playing the trumpet), theater (musical theater and comedies), dance (mostly partner dance such as Latin or barn), blacksmithing, weightlifting, and stand-up comedy. The stark truth of how I initially got into many of these pastimes is that I generally like doing something with my free time, especially trying something new—most times, the decision process before first trying out for these activities was: “I wonder if I would enjoy it.” However, I have stayed with the more tactile hobbies because they employ the entire creative process and require holistic control of one’s body. They allow me to envision and produce a final product or piece of art that I can call my own unique work. 

What do you want to do after you finish college? Do you have any ideas about the kind of job or career you’d like to pursue?

I am fortunate that I recently received and accepted a post-college offer—although I have not been officially hired yet—that propels me towards my desired career. Starting in July, I plan to be a pre-doctoral researcher at Yale under Dr. Joseph Altonji and Dr. John Eric Humphries, studying topics related to the economics of education. After two years in this position, I plan to apply for a Ph.D. in economics. I plan to have a future career as an academic studying the economics of education, mobility, and inequality. 

Living with three other Boettcher Scholars, how have they helped you during your time at Colorado College? Can you share a time when they were especially supportive?

One of the best decisions I have made in my college career has been my choice of roommates. They have been some of my closest confidants throughout college and have helped in numerous ways, from emotional support during breakups, bouncing paper topics off each other, having them come and support my dance, musical, and stand-up comedy performances, and general camaraderie. A specific instance of this support is when I finished my senior thesis, and they all came together to help me celebrate by hosting a house videogame tournament before further social events that evening.

Any advice for Scholars interested in AI?

First, frequently read up on developments in AI (probably weekly at least); it is one of the fastest-developing areas, and being well-informed is essential. Second, read up on opposing opinions of AI to your own. If you are optimistic about how much time it will save people in the workplace, read about the professions and livelihoods it will or is currently eradicating. If you believe it makes the human race dumber, explore all the fantastic scientific advancements AI has permitted experts to discover. Lastly, AI is nothing more than a tool, and if you are interested in it, use it daily to form your own opinions and understand its strengths and weaknesses. 

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