Business students use AI tools in class to prepare for today’s workforce

Marketing 495 students working on laptops and standing around a table.
Students work in Andy Perkins' Marketing 495 class during spring semester 2024 (photo by WSU Photo Services).

To resist using artificial intelligence tools in the classroom is like fighting against a tidal wave — there’s no way to stop it and no way to catch it, according to marketing Professor Andrew Perkins.

While he has colleagues at other universities who make AI tools illegal or use outdated technology to catch students using ChatGPT, Perkins is one of several Carson College of Business faculty to proactively integrate new technologies into the classroom under the premise they will make students more competitive in the workforce.

His senior capstone class “Marketing Management” uses large language models like ChatGPT to enhance students’ academic performance and ability to communicate effectively in a digital world.

“These tools level the playing field for everybody and have a huge societal component. The combination of an internet connection and access to AI, even a free version, allows anyone to leverage their skill set up to 100 times over what they would be able to do by themselves,” Perkins said. “That allows anybody in the world to educate themselves and start a business, get hired, or build skills.”

Perkins says AI allows him to be more creative as a teacher and more efficient with time, freeing him up to work on engagement, discussion, teamwork, and assessment instead of spending hours writing a case study or classroom activity.

AI has changed a lot about the way Perkins teaches, but not everything.

No matter the topic or grade level, Perkins strives to put students at ease while challenging them to use AI tools. Relaxing jazz music plays in the background during class, and he often uses games to reinforce learning.

“The real-life economy projects we’ve worked on over the semester are my favorite and have been a super fun experience. You can tell Professor Perkins cares about us a lot and wants us to succeed after we graduate,” said Lucas Smith. “Using ChatGPT really expanded my outlook on what the future workforce is going to look like and how our future employers will expect us to use AI models.”

Simulated business settings enhance learning

Perkins leans over a table as three students work on laptop computers.
Andy Perkins works with students in his marketing class during spring semester 2024 (photo by WSU Photo Services).

Perkins integrates simulations to illustrate marketing concepts. In a BIKES marketplace simulation, student teams developed a brand, product, budget, communication strategies and market segments for 3D-printed bicycles. At the conclusion of the simulation, each group wrote papers to discuss their results and recommendations and created a final presentation summarizing the last two quarters of the simulation and team performance.

In a different exercise, students used AI to characterize customer profiles for one of Tesla’s electric vehicle, battery storage, or solar power markets. They predicted how Tesla customers would change over time and how Tesla should adapt communication strategies and products for optimum customer appeal and retention.

Students also used ChatGPT image generation to design prototypes and logos for fictitious companies they created and for real entities such as the WSU Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living. They designed a marketing plan for the institute including a T-shirt and tagline to make senior living industry careers appealing to college students.

Perkins infuses financial literacy into the curriculum through a game focusing on the importance of cash flow and the role of banks. Students formed teams simulating a bank, three companies, and employees. Equipped with a box of coins, teams learned to pay rent and wage expenses and practice lending money, investing in assets, and charging interest to generate income.

Freedom and variety ramp up classroom engagement

McKenna Cato appreciated the freedom to experiment and Perkins’s emphasis on AI as a tool rather than something that takes away from the learning environment.

Three students sitting at a table with laptop computers.
Students work in Andy Perkins Marketing 495 class during spring semester 2024 (photo by WSU Photo Services).

Cato said she learned the most when using ChatGPT to design a coffee machine powered by a Bitcoin miner, which is a networked computer that processes transactions in exchange for a payment in Bitcoin.

“Before this semester, I never used ChatGPT or any other large language model tools, and I didn’t understand how they worked,” said Cato, who has already used her new AI skills to create custom GPTs for her dad’s company and an accounting/finance study guide. “I would say I’m now significantly above proficient in using the tools.”

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