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Workshop: Generative AI for Education (GAIED): Advances, Opportunities, and Challenges

Paper 15: Efficient Classification of Student Help Requests in Programming Courses Using Large Language Models

Jaromir Savelka · Paul Denny · Mark Liffiton · Brad Sheese · Jaromir Savelka

Keywords: [ Intelligent Tutoring Systems ] [ Programming assistance ] [ Student help requests ] [ Generative Pre-trained transformers ] [ zero-shot classification ] [ Large language models ]


The accurate classification of student help requests with respect to the type of help being sought can enable the tailoring of effective responses. Automatically classifying such requests is non-trivial, but large language models (LLMs) appear to offer an accessible, cost-effective solution. This study evaluates the performance of the GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 models for classifying help requests from students in an introductory programming class. In zero-shot trials, GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 exhibited comparable performance on most categories, while GPT-4 outperformed GPT-3.5 in classifying sub-categories for requests related to debugging. Fine-tuning the GPT-3.5 model improved its performance to such an extent that it approximated the accuracy and consistency across categories observed between two human raters. Overall, this study demonstrates the feasibility of using LLMs to enhance educational systems through the automated classification of student needs.

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