New ChatGPT course at ASU gives students a competitive edge

ChatGPT can spit out a sizable amount of information on practically any subject. But the key to eliciting a desired response is having the skills necessary to effectively prompt the artificial intelligence platform.

A new Arizona State University course will provide students with those skills, providing expertise that is becoming increasingly sought after.

Basic Prompt Engineering with ChatGPT: An Introduction is open this summer to students in any major, and despite the name, is not really about engineering. 

“As the popularity of ChatGPT has grown, there’s been an increasing awareness that using the technology effectively depends on how requests are crafted and the use of sophisticated techniques to design prompts that return responses which are as useful as possible,” said Andrew Maynard, a professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

The course in prompt engineering is the first of its kind at ASU, according to Maynard, who will be teaching the class. It was developed using ChatGPT and will be taught using ChatGPT — possibly another first. 

Basic Prompt Engineering is available during Session B, which begins June 29, and is offered through ASU Online and as an iCourse.

“There are a growing number of jobs that will require or expect prompt engineering skills,” said Maynard, an author and scientist in the field of transformative technologies.

That demand is translating to dollars. According to Fortune magazine, some prompt engineers are bringing in six-figure salaries. 

ASU News spoke to Maynard about his new class and the value of prompt engineering skills.

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Question: When did the need for prompt engineering emerge? 

Answer: The company, OpenAI, launched their public AI chatbot ChatGPT in November 2022. Since then, it’s taken the world by storm and is already being seen as an important — and sometimes essential — tool in many professions. With this, there’s also been a growth in interest in prompt engineering. According to Google Trends, there were nearly 30 times more searches for “prompt engineering” in the U.S. between November 2022 and March 2023, than prior to that time.

Q: At the risk of using a painful pun — what “prompted” the need? 

A: ChatGPT and the underlying technology of large language models is likely to change nearly every job that involves writing, analysis or otherwise processing information. Some people have compared the new technology to the introduction of digital calculators, the word processor or even the advent of steam power. All of these changed the way we work.

ChatGPT is another technology transition that will transform the ways we work and the type of work we do. And because of this, there will be a growing expectation that employees are not only proficient in using it, but that they have proof of this proficiency.

As a result, someone with prompt engineering skills will find themselves in demand across a growing range of professions, from coding and engineering, to marketing, management, law, research, product development, administration and many others. 

Q: How would you describe the class? 

A: This is a short — just one credit — class that provides students with basic hands-on training in leveraging the power of ChatGPT while providing resume-building skills in the increasingly sought after area of prompt engineering.

It uniquely uses ChatGPT as a learning environment where students simultaneously learn the techniques of prompt engineering while practicing these techniques. The class also addresses the societal implications of ChatGPT and similar AI-based technologies and the broader context within which the technology is being developed and used.

Q: Can a course with the word “engineering” in the name be intimidating to some students? 

A: We went with prompt engineering as this is the term that is being used by employers, but it should be understood as creating and designing instructions in everyday language, which is something that anyone who knows how to speak and write can do. 

Q: Who can benefit from this class? 

A: This class is for all students from all backgrounds and in all majors. The skills that make up prompt engineering are skills that anyone can learn and are not traditional engineering skills. Students studying English or other languages or the humanities or social sciences may find themselves in their element here as the key to effective prompt engineering is the clear and creative use of language. 

Q: Why did you decide to develop this introductory class? 

A: Two things specifically led to this class. The first was that there is an urgent need for students at ASU to learn these new skills and to have evidence of their ability to use them — no matter what their major is. The second was the realization that, despite ChatGPT becoming increasingly ubiquitous, ASU had no courses on the books that were designed to teach the basics of how to use the platform successfully.

In the next 12 months, graduates who have demonstrable proficiency in using ChatGPT will have an increasing advantage as they apply for jobs. Other institutions will be offering courses that develop these skills, and we have a responsibility to ensure our students remain competitive.

Top photo courtesy iStock.

Dolores Tropiano