Hydrological Sciences

How has ChatGPT changed the way you teach hydrology?

How has ChatGPT changed the way you teach hydrology?

Have you ever used ChatGPT to teach hydrology? If so, when did you start?

I opened my account on openai.com in November 2022, out of curiosity, to test GPT-3 (Generative Pretrained Transformer generation 3). This was shortly before ChatGPT was launched (30 November 2022). Now, I even have a paid account to speed up the preparation of non-scientific texts, e.g. teaching materials on the use of Excel in hydrological analyses.


Screenshot of a ChatGPT prompt

ChatGPT has become a digital assistant for tasks that I would have otherwise delegated to a student assistant. The texts it produces require careful checking and rearranging, but they form an excellent basis for non-scientific writing on topics that have already been described by hundreds of people before. And of course, I only use it for topics that I perfectly master already, otherwise the checking step would be too time consuming.

But how far are we in terms of adapting our teaching? I just had a discussion with a 12-year-old who already had her first school exercises with ChatGPT: They had to analyze a French essay produced by ChatGPT based on the teacher’s instruction and assess if the text respected the instructions regarding the text structure.

And at university? The evolution is so quick that it is hard to keep up with the pace. According to this news article by Claire Chen (Stanford University, Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence), ChatGPT is “one of the fastest-ever applications ever adopted overall – and certainly in education settings”.

Based on  my own teaching experience, I have three urgent questions to address before the start of the autumn semester 2023:

  • Which standards do we establish for students to acknowledge the use of AI in their text and code production? What tools do we recommend to produce content?
  • How to best make use of AI to improve my hydrology teaching?
  • How to rethink my exams and assignments in times of AI? Can I still organise on-site exams on laptops or do I have to go back to paper? Can I still evaluate the writing style of assignments (which is an essential skill for my geography-hydrology students)?

Moreover, how do we rethink the skill sets of our students, knowing that those who are good at using AI will have distinct advantages in the future? How do we add a teaching component that focuses explicitly on best practices for using AI (how, when, what tools, quality control checks, …)? And should there be something like “prompt engineering” added to the list of general skills that all graduates need (i.e. after media literacy, professional expertise, research credentials, curiosity, social skills, responsibility, etc.)?

But all these questions are nische compared to the bigger questions on AI in university teaching, some of which are briefly discussed in this news article by the Standford University group on Human-centred Artificial Intelligence; for instance, a profound change in what is important for learners (i.e. Learning Objectives).

Caption: Screenshot of https://you.com/ an AI-tool that we currently recommend to our students because it includes references

We all will need to reflect and learn on how to adapt hydrology teaching in this new era. We will keep you updated with evolutions that we are aware of.

If you would like to share your experience in the use of AI for hydrology teaching via a blog post here, please feel free to contact me.


  • Read this paper to get an overview of AI in education and learning (AIED) and to make sense of ongoing developments:

Holmes, W., and Tuomi, I.: State of the art and practice in AI in education, European Journal of Education, 57, 542-570, 10.1111/ejed.12533, 2022, it is to date June 2023) cited 6 times on WebOfScience

Mallik, S., and Gangopadhyay, A.: Proactive and reactive engagement of artificial intelligence methods for education: a review, Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence, 6, 10.3389/frai.2023.1151391, 2023.

  • Recommendations from a recent training that was offered at University of Bern:

Mollick, E.R., and Mollick, L., 2022: New Modes of Learning Enabled by AI Chatbots: Three Methods and Assignments. SSRN Electronic Journal, 10.2139/ssrn.4300783.

Orlando Budelacci, 2023: Creativity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, in: Nummer, no. 11, Update Available: Transforming Education in Design, Film and Fine Arts, eds. Budelacci, O. Holzer, J., Weiberg, B., Luzern, pp. 56 – 59, Entire issue: doi:10.5281/zenodo.7418222.

An inventory of AI tools collected by Matt Wolfe: or https://www.futuretools.io/

Further reading on EGU blogs

Bettina Schaefli is a professor for hydrology at University of Bern (Switzerland). She was the head of the Catchment Hydrology Subdivision of EGU from 2016-2019 and was editor of the Hydrology and Earth System Sciences journal (2008-2022). She has been the lead editor of the Hydrological Sciences division blog since 2018.

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