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Starting Small with AI in the Classroom

This resource is part of our suite on Teaching and AI. See also Teaching in the AI Era and Course Policies on Generative AI Use.

This resource provides small-scale and easy-to-implement ideas for adapting your course in the AI era. How or if you choose to adapt your course will depend on your teaching style, your course design, and your learning goals for students. Whatever you decide, we recommend starting small and testing a few strategies that you think might be most relevant to your teaching.

Thank you to the following GSB faculty who provided insights and input included in this resource:

  • Susan Athey, The Economics of Technology Professor
  • Mohsen Bayati, Professor of Operations, Information & Technology
  • Julien Clement, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior
Note: In the new resource on Responsible AI at Stanford, UIT has advised the Stanford community to avoid inputting information that should not be made public when using a generative AI tool. This includes materials containing students’ personal information and proprietary or copyrighted materials (which may include case studies, course assignments, data sets, and more). Information you enter into a generative AI tool may be shared with third parties, and the tool may use your prompts or questions to inform content generated for other users.

Setting Your Course Approach to AI Use

Top tip! Share a Course Policy on AI Use

For syllabus statement templates, the updated course policies and norms form, and other tips on setting your course approach to AI use, see our resource on Course Policies on Generative AI Use.

Use Your Goals to Guide AI Use

Use your course’s goals to guide how you might encourage and/or limit students’ AI use. Choose an assignment, activity, or other learning experience and reflect: 

  • Which elements of this assignment or activity should students be able to develop or execute entirely on their own to demonstrate their achievement of the course’s learning goals? 
  • For which elements of this assignment or activity can students get support or gather ideas from other sources (e.g., from a tutor, a classmate, an AI tool) without undermining the learning goals? Could students go so far as to borrow an existing template or use AI-generated materials for some portions?

Exploring AI

Test out your course’s assignment(s) using one or several AI tools. Discuss your findings with your students and explain how the AI tool’s output compares to your expectations for their work. 

Note: Be sure to choose an assignment prompt that does not contain proprietary, copyrighted, or other sensitive information.

Try some or all of the following experiments with your chatbot tool of choice (e.g., ChatGPT, Bing Chat, Google Bard, Claude). How does your AI tool of choice respond to each test?

  • The copy-and-paste test. Copy-and-paste the assignment prompt directly into the tool and see what response the tool generates.
  • Refine the response. ‘Chat’ with the tool to refine its response. For example, ask the tool to revise the response according to a rubric, include new material, re-write in a specific tone of voice, or fix shortcomings.
  • Personalize the response. To test how a response can be personalized, input the assignment prompt again but with a few additional starting points (e.g., instruct the chatbot to ‘incorporate the following three ideas into your answer…’).
  • Revise a sample response. Draft a quick sample response yourself and input this into the AI tool. Ask the tool to provide feedback on or make improvements to your response based on the assignment prompt and/or rubric.
  • Adjust the prompt. If the AI tool provides a good response, are there ways to adjust your assignment prompt to make the AI answers less satisfactory? For example, could you ask students to refer to specific in-class experiences, explain their process for coming to a conclusion, or apply course concepts to an area of personal interest or expertise?
  • Test out data and file analysis. Upload a data file (e.g., 2020’s most popular Halloween costumes) or a publicly available article into a chatbot that can accept files (e.g., Claude, Poe, ChatGPT+).Then ask for a summary or ask questions.
  • Compare different tools. Input the assignment prompt into a different AI tool to see how the outputs differ. 

What if an AI tool gives a good response to your prompt? See Reframe Existing Coursework and Short In-class Activities for ways to lean in and help students explore constructive uses of AI tools. See Emphasizing Student Learning Over Tools for tips to ensure that student learning continues whether or not students use the tools.

For more, see our FAQs on Getting to Know AI

Based on your course goals, consider providing guidelines that encourage or limit students’ AI use for assignments without redesigning them. State the assignment goal with the assignment prompt, so that students are aware of and understand why AI tools (or other supports) should not be used for certain elements of their work.

One written response assignment, three variations. See the following examples of how a writing assignment can be adjusted to invite different applications of AI tools depending on the assignment goal.

VariationAssignment goalSample AI policyDescription
1Assess students’ core ideas or argumentsUse AI only for: Generating feedback on drafts or refining final draftsStudents must generate a full draft themselves, but may use AI tools to refine the writing or make an original draft more persuasive.
2Develop persuasive communication skillsUse AI only for: Producing initial drafts (not revisions)Students may use AI tools to help produce an initial draft, but must improve or make the writing more persuasive on their own by applying a course-specific or other framework to the AI-assisted initial draft.
3aPractice all-around skills for delivering written content for publicationNo AI use allowed AI use is not allowed for the assignment, though students may use AI tools for practice (e.g., students may use AI to draft sample content on a different prompt, analyze the output, then produce their own script without help; students may use AI tools to give them feedback on their writing using an unrelated writing sample in preparation for the assignment).
3bPractice all-around skills for delivering written content for publicationUse AI only for: Formatting based on the style guide and copy editingAI use is not allowed for the drafting, development, or writing phases of the assignment. Students may only use AI tools at the final revision stages, for formatting according to a given style guide and copy editing (i.e., checking for spelling and grammar).

For additional ideas on using AI tools in the classroom, see our FAQs on Using Generative AI Tools in the Classroom.

Consider adapting or trying out one of the following short activities into your course: 

  • Critique AI outputs. Generate AI responses to a course assignment and take 10 minutes in class to comment on (or ask students to comment on) how the responses are lacking and/or could be improved.
  • Compare AI-assisted experiences. Invite students to use AI freely for a single assignment only, then take 10 minutes in class for students to compare their learning experiences between the assignment that allowed free AI use and assignments in which AI use was limited. 
  • Track and report AI tool use. Allow students to use AI freely for their assignments, but ask them to submit a short paragraph with each assignment to explain how they used AI tools, if any. Take 10 minutes in the middle or at the end of the quarter to report back to students how assignment performance trends correlate to AI tool use and discuss potential takeaways for more productive AI tool application. Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior Julien Clement describes the approach he took in his Spring 2023 course:

During the Spring Quarter, I allowed all students to use ChatGPT for their assignments as long as they reported how they used it. This allowed me to run analyses about how ChatGPT is used and how this correlates with grades, which I shared with the students in the last session.

  • Invite student perspectives. Invite a student (or two) to take 5–10 minutes of class time to highlight creative or productive methods for using AI in their coursework, if it’s allowed in your course. 
  • Invite industry perspectives. Invite a guest speaker to take 10 minutes of their presentation to share how they see AI tools being used in their industry.

Emphasizing Student Learning Over Tools

Adapting your course to the AI era can go beyond engaging with AI tools directly. We can still promote students’ deep learning, regardless of whether they use AI tools. Below are strategies to emphasize and enhance student learning by making learning visible and connected. 

  • Brainstorm initial arguments in class. Direct students to use 10 minutes of small group work or discussion time to construct initial arguments before working on individual assignments.
  • Ask students to discuss their assignment takeaways in class. After students submit an assignment or project, have a few students share their approaches and conclusions with the class. Or, have students present their work in small groups and ask one another questions about how they formed their arguments or conclusions.
  • Ask students to submit a short paragraph with major assignments explaining their process. They might discuss tools or resources they used, challenges they encountered, and/or what they learned from completing the assignment.
  • Incorporate context into assignment prompts. Ask students to elaborate on their in-class experiences, personal expertise, or current real-world contexts in their prepared answers.
  • Break down large projects. Provide intermediary deadlines for a larger project, even if intermediate submissions are not graded or only given a small completion grade. 

For more, see Strategies for Promoting Deep Student Engagement with Assignments.

Additional Resources


This article draws from the Artificial Intelligence Teaching Guide, Stanford Teaching Commons.

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