The faculty for health science embraces the use of AI in teaching  

Wits looks at the father of medicine, Hippocrates, to help it navigate the use of artificial intelligence in the health sector.  

The Centre for Health Science Education hosted a focus day on July 19, at the Parktown Education campus which looked at the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in health care and health science training.  

The day created a space for discussion and participation around the theme of the day “From Hippocrates to AI.” Hippocrates was the father of medicine, who described many diseases and their treatment in a scientific manner. 

AI has significantly advanced in medicine; and it has improved medical image recognition better than humans when it comes to things such as X-rays. 

Shirra Moch, the organizer of the event said the purpose of the day was to make the academic community feel at ease with AI being incorporated in education.” Our aim with this session was to demystify for lecturers the use of AI in health science education and give them a hands-on experience to fight the fear of not knowing what it involves.” 

They looked at three topics:  ‘Induction to AI in health science’ which looked at the use of AI in the health science education; ‘Curating resources to encourage student learning’ this focused on how students can incorporate AI in their learning to enhance critical thinking and ‘Academic integrity and the role of AI in authentic assessment’, which examined how AI chatbot such as ChatGPT can be used in a way that students do not plagiarize, this was facilitated by Jannus Van AS the academic and blended learning coordinator. 

Richard Cooke gives shares his thoughts on the focus day and gives action points. Photo: Aphelele Mbokotho

Van As said, after reading on Instagram that lecturers put students’ assignments on ChatGPT and ask if the student wrote the paper or not. He decided to put his work that he had written onto the chatbot and asked it if he had written the paper and ChatGPT said yes. He explained that he realized that ChatGPT recognized his paper from the questions he asked. Van AS emphasized that it’s important to know the right way to prompt it so that students work is not discredited unfairly.  

Nabeela Sujee, coordinator of the simulation activities looked at the use of replicas in health science education. Simulation is a way in which they replicate a real-life environment; for example, a simulation lab is created to look like a hospital theatre.  

Sujee said, “These simulations are achieved through tech-enhanced mannequins that can breathe spontaneously, have heart, lung and abdominal sounds which makes the student not need feedback from the facilitator but get it directly from the mannequin.” 

She further explained that they cannot use these mannequins all the time, so sometimes they us CHATGPT, where they ask it to pretend to be a patient and the student asks it questions to arrive at a diagnosis. 

One of the attendees and the head of family medicine and primary care at Wits, Richard Cooke said incorporating AI in their teaching and learning is beneficial for students especially in the clinical space, where the use of ChatGPT helps with facilitating the class; and helps students work by themselves without needing a facilitator.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Shirra Moch, the organizer, takes action points from the attendees. Photo: Aphelele Mbokotho


PROFILE: Chemistry student uses AI in water treatment plants

Young prodigious scientist’s unwavering determination makes her strike gold.

Master of science student Taskeen Hasrod wowed judges during the Wits’ leg of the FameLab international science competition and scooped the first-place position.

Wits hosted the FameLab competition on May 10, 2023. FameLab is the biggest science competition that takes place annually around the world, it is designed to challenge science researchers and foster their communication skills in front of a panel of judges and an audience in just three minutes.

Hasrod grew up in Lenasia and has always been interested in maths and science from a young age. The young scientist’s interest grew exponentially by the time she reached high school. Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela Hasrod said, “I really like chemistry, learning the fundamentals, how really small things give really big effects.”

Taskeen’s mother, Nasreen Hasrod, says her daughter has always been drawn to chemistry, “our kitchen has witnessed many scientific experiments” throughout her childhood. She added that Taskeen still has her first kiddie’s laboratory equipment set.

The 23-year-old is currently pursuing her master’s degree in chemistry at the Wits school of chemistry. Her research focuses on applying artificial intelligence (AI) to environmental chemistry particularly in water management. Using AI, Hasrod predicts water quality in acid mine drainage treatment plants.

“Instead of doing the experiments to test the water for values we need, we would use historical data to train the models to predict it without having to do experiments,” said Hasrod. She added that the usage of AI has proven to be more efficient and cost-effective.

It was this research, coupled with her charisma, that made a lasting impact on the judges which got her the first-place finish. Hasrod was able to present clearly what her research is about in a simple way without using too much scientific jargon. The competition equips participants with communication skills and provides a platform for networking as it is centred around interacting with both participants and the judges. It also provides training exercises to its participants.

Professor Hlanganani Tutu, who is her research supervisor, says Hasrod has “a commendable sense of purpose in her research”. Tutu added that Hasrod is “dedicated and focused as a student.” Which has made the supervising experience enjoyable, he added.

Tutu, said Hasrod’s “research findings will have far reaching impacts in dealing with big data from water treatment plants and as well as how the treatment process will be improved.”

FEATURED IMAGE: The outside of the chemistry building with the periodic table on the windows. Photo: Sbongile Molambo.


SLICE: Creating futures of our own imagination

 Imagining a future when South Africans are part of creating global technologies that take on board local contexts. 

In 2017 I took a course called Utopian Studies offered by the department of political studies at Wits University. Utopian Studies allows us to construct a coherent imagined future, and to consider all philosophical, ethical and theoretical possibilities, to determine an ideal towards which we can strive because when we do not have a collectively imagined ideal, it becomes harder to know what we are working towards.

This made me think about what an ideal South African state should be. Should it be one where everyone is happy, or one where everyone has money?  

At the time that I did this course, the university was coming into a self-awareness of the way that institutions have a culture that is historically white, and was seeking ways to transform itself into a space that was accessible to all the people in it.  

So, in this context, the coordinator of my Utopian Studies course, Julian Brown, began to deconstruct the ways in which media genres that offered projections of humanity in the future (mostly sci-fi films and books) were often predicting “a vision of a [white] future where assimilation, not diversity, is the goal”.

It speaks to the extent to which a diversity of voices and ideas exist within the spaces where the media content is produced. 

This provides a lens to understand the need for a diversity of voices where artificial intelligence (AI, the programming of machines to mimic human intelligence) development is concerned, to place a diversity of developers in the spaces where AI is trained. Because we run the risk of recreating much of the socio-political dynamics we have today, in our more technologically advanced future. Unlike with search engines and social media platforms, AI requires us to develop the technologies that make a South African AI possible.  

In November 2022, OpenAI, a US technology research lab, launched ChatGPT, an AI computer programme that can interact in a chat-based conversation with humans. The programme is trained on data from across the internet and is able to mimic human cognitive processes in its conversational responses to a prompt.  

This means that unlike regular search engines such as Google, ChatGPT uses deep learning techniques to build context and give more in-depth answers in a way that a human would. This is an incredible developmental milestone for AI technology considering that until now, most AI programmes could do little more than just following an instruction.  

Now, because AI technology is dependent on being pre-trained by human beings, it makes sense that it possesses, to a certain degree, subjective, biased and sometimes even prejudiced data.  

For this reason, the arrival of AI technology as advanced as ChatGPT creates a serious impetus for South Africa to invest more intentionally in the development of our own AI technology. Not necessarily to compete with Open AI, but because we know that the knowledge and information generated by foreign AI may not be sensitive to our cultural contexts and may continue to perpetuate a false sense of cultural and moral universality that makes us the ‘other’.  

The AI Institute of South Africa (AIISA) launched an AI hub at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria on March 24, 2023, in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg. Reporting on their website, the two institutions promised that through their hubs, they would “generate knowledge and applications that will position South Africa as a competitive player in the global AI space”. 

The hubs provide us with an opportunity to create futures of our own imagination. This has the potential to create global technologies that take into consideration local and contextual issues.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Morongoa Masebe, Wits Vuvuzela student journalist. Photo: File


Wits Vuvuzela, April 2021.

Wits Vuvuzela, May 2021.

Wits Vuvuzela, Oct 2019.