Using AI as a Personal Tutor

AI is so hot right now. It’s probably been the hot topic of 2023 and everywhere you go there are conversations around its use (and misuse). In this blog post I talk a bit about how I use AI in my day to day, in particular, how I use it as a personal tutor.

I wanted to start by saying that the image for this blog post was generated by DALL-E. For a bit of fun I asked the AI to create an image of what it looks like and this was the result. Anyway…

Over the past year, I’ve experimented with several different AI tools: ChatGPT, Bard and Co-Pilot (for general ‘chatting’. There are the image tools DALL-E, MidJourney and Leonardo. There are also scholarly research tools, R Discovery, Research Rabbit, Consensus and Scite. Finally, for grammar and spelling help, there is Grammarly (which now comes with some built-in AI tools). There are different AI tools for different purposes, and as I’ve found (as with many things in the digital world), there isn’t one tool that fits all. I have to admit that I haven’t quite found a consistent workflow for the use of AI in my day-to-day work, but I do use it for quick things, such as making writing more concise or rewording for clarity.

I’ve found the new AI tools in photoshop really useful for making quick edits and creating imagery quickly. For example, I made this year’s Christmas card in Photoshop using an image of my dog and asking AI to add a Christmas hat to his head. It went down very well!

So far, I have to say that I do like ChatGPT the most for general chatting, for example, asking for help or generating or refining ideas. I also use Microsoft Co-Pilot as an advanced search engine when I am looking for something very specific online. I don’t like Bard as I found the responses it gave me a bit scary (like when I asked it why it gave me incorrect information, it said, ‘It was trying to be funny,’ and I didn’t appreciate that!).

Using AI for research purposes has also been incredibly useful. I started my PhD research before a lot of AI tools were mainstream and I think several of the scholarly tools would have saved me some time, especially regarding finding literature and evaluating its relevance.

I don’t want to bog this post down with too much information about the different types of AI available, as there are literally thousands of articles on the internet available on the topic. Instead, I want to share a little bit about how I’ve been using AI to as a personal tutor for learning to code, rather than just a personal assistant.

AI as a Personal Tutor – Coding Example

It all started with Python. I started a free beginner programming course to learn the language and struggled with several concepts. Compared to the JavaScript course that I did last year, I soon found that the course was not the greatest (note I eventually changed courses). The course materials were not the best and the class was so huge there was never going to be any chance that I’d receive timely feedback on any questions, so off I went to ChatGPT. Now, many people would probably just say, “Why not just get ChatGPT to write your code for you?” yes, of course I could do that, but firstly, that would be cheating, and secondly, why would I want to sabotage my own learning experience? I am intrinsically motivated to learn programming language – I genuinely enjoy creating and building things with code.

The first step in my approach was to complete the homework / activities myself by writing them in the IDE as you normally would. If I then had a question about a concept, I could paste my code in and ask ChatGPT to explain it. I also used ChatGPT “What have I done wrong?” when the code I wrote would not work. I would also ask ChatGPT to tell me what I had done wrong without changing my code, which mean it would not rewrite my code but instead highlight the specific problem area. This meant that I could go back to my code to see what I had done wrong and correct it myself.

What I’ve noticed is that people write code differently and there are some languages where one thing can be written in various ways. Sometimes, my code might not be the most efficient, but if I use ChatGPT’s answers, then I’m not going to be able to learn or build on my own code. What I try to do is learn the proper syntax by following the course curriculum and then making edits when and where appropriate.

I also found that ChatGPT is good when you want to ask a quick question about a specific function, e.g. “how can I make this section of the code output in uppercase?”. I find that using AI in this way helps me to be more efficient, as otherwise, I’d just be googling these questions.

I think it’ll be interesting to see how AI develops and I am especially excited to see how it can be used within education, learning and development.

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