November 16, 2023
Microsoft's artificial intelligence (AI) tool, formerly Bing Chat Enterprise and newly renamed Microsoft Copilot, is available to all Iowa State faculty and staff. Unlike other AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard, Microsoft Copilot includes commercial data protection that complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and others.
Kris Baldwin, ISU Extension and Outreach
Mindi Balmer, university human resources
Barb Biederman, office of general counsel
Matt Carver, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
Kristen Constant, information technology services
Kevin Houlette, operations and finance division
Angie Hunt, strategic relations and communications
Mike Lohrbach, information technology services
Matt Pistilli, student affairs division
Hridesh Rajan, computer science
James Reecy, office of the vice president for research
The tool is included in Iowa State's Microsoft license at no additional cost and became available in October. It's not currently available to students. To access it, log in to Microsoft Copilot and authenticate your ISU credentials. Once logged in, users see a confirmation that personal and company data are protected in the chat.
"The big difference with Microsoft Copilot is that it adds security for university data," said chief technology officer Mike Lohrbach. "It does not use any data entered by Iowa State employees to build the model, and none of the data entered resides in any Microsoft data center after the chat is closed."
Although ChatGPT offers an enterprise version, which ISU is inquiring about, Lohrbach said from a security standpoint, Microsoft Copilot, when authenticated with ISU credentials, is safer than the free version of ChatGPT.
Lohrbach offered several best practices for all faculty or staff using Microsoft Copilot:
Using an AI tool often is a series of trial-and-error questions. Typically, the more specific the search, the stronger the results. Microsoft Copilot allows users to choose a conversation style and provides sample questions to help users develop an effective style.
"We are encouraging people to test it out," Lohrbach said. "If it is something that doesn't require university or personal data, try testing it with Microsoft Copilot, ChatGPT and Bard to see what kind of responses you get."
Lohrbach is part of a 11-person universitywide task force (see box) that's examining AI's impact at ISU and will provide recommendations for its use. The task force formed in July, and is challenged because AI is so prevalent that new issues arise almost daily. Lohrbach describes the work as balancing opportunities with risks to determine the outcome.
The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has developed recommendations and resources for instructors using generative AI tools.
Members of the task force come from across campus because the impact of AI can be wide ranging depending on the task. Lohrbach said more safeguards are necessary when personal information is involved than when someone asks for help writing an outline.
"AI is everywhere, and everyone wants to know what they should be doing and what they shouldn't be doing," he said. "We have many different functions across campus, from teaching and learning to administrative to research, and no one person is able to provide all the information for every group."
The task force is considering an AI faculty fellow position for someone to dedicate more time to pursuing proper and safe use of AI on campus.
As universities across the nation determine how best to use AI tools, Lohrbach said faculty and staff can help Iowa State make those decisions by sharing how they use it and when they avoid it.
"It will help us identify the risks associated with these tools, and what policies and guidelines need to be put in place," he said.
Faculty and staff can email their AI experiences and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Work on several Iowa State Center parking lots will resume Nov. 20 for four to five weeks. It won't impact the Cyclones' final home football game or high school music events this weekend.
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