The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Webb’s Academic Program

By Matthew R. Werner
Dean & ABS Chair of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering


Much has been said and written about the rapid development of AI, and the opportunities, challenges, and risks that this technological revolution creates. In academia, concerns have been raised about the dangers to academic integrity that tools such as ChatGPT pose.

Will term papers be the product of a student’s labor or the output of an AI-powered language model? How can a course instructor be assured that the solutions on a student’s exam were not sourced through an online resource that uses the latest in AI. This past summer, Matthew Collette ’99 Professor of Naval Architecture at the University of Michigan posted to LinkedIn that through his testing he found that ChatGPT was able to score a “B” on typical questions from his hydrostatics course, and therefore validating the concerns of educators.

Images created by Dall-E

Image created by Dall-E

The faculty at Webb shares the concerns about academic integrity expressed by our peers throughout academia. At the same time, as engineering educators we cannot help but to be excited about the capabilities and possibilities of AI. AI tools have the promise to greatly augment the abilities of naval architects and marine engineers. Over the past several years, projects at Webb have explored the use of AI and machine learning on problems such as planning craft ride control and autonomous vessel maneuvering and collision avoidance. There are many ongoing projects across the breadth of the marine industry that seek to benefit from the capabilities of AI. Recent journal articles and news reports explore opportunities to improve ship design, construction, and operations through the application of AI tools.

Webb is fortunate to have the tradition of a robust honor code that is integral to our academic program. The faculty feel confident that the honor code and Webb’s collaborative learning environment will allow the school to navigate the implementation of incorporating AI in an undergraduate program. The faculty’s direction to the students can be summarized as follows: AI is a powerful tool that can enable learning, and it is appropriate to use AI tools for the acquisition of knowledge and the development of skills. Academic integrity is violated when AI is used to do the work for the student, such as writing a paper or solving a complex math problem. The intentional misuse of AI on academic assignments and assessments is an honor code violation.

To ensure that there is a clear understanding between students and faculty of what constitutes acceptable AI usage, this semester the faculty members added statements explaining the limitations on the usage of AI tools in their course policies. In addition, course instructors were encouraged to discuss with the students at the start of the semester their expectations regarding the use of AI in their course. Technology, subject matter, and teaching methods may evolve over time but the commitment to academic integrity and honor are Webb standards that must be and will be maintained.

Images Created by Dall-E