ChatGPT, a chatbot software launched by the AI company OpenAI in November 2022, synthesizes online data and communicates it in a conversational way. The chatbot generates articulate and nuanced text in response to short prompts, with people using it in a variety of ways including their schoolwork.
ChatGPT could be a useful tool to prepare students for the real world where critical thinking is more important than rote memorization. However, it can also be used as a cheating tool because of its ability to provide answers to questions on take home assignments and exams. With the rise of the new chatbot ChatGPT, colleges are restructuring some courses and taking preventive measures.
The use of ChatGPT by students to deal with course assignments raises ethical questions, many of which were addressed in a blog I wrote last week.
Responses of Colleges
Some educators, however, see ChatGPT as an opportunity, not a threat. In an LA Times op-ed published in early 2023, psychologist Angela Duckworth, PhD, argues against banning the bot, explaining that it and similar technologies are here to stay—and that instructors should learn how to incorporate it into curricula.
However, other colleges point to the difficulty of controlling cheating by students. A New York Times article highlights instances of cheating with ChatGPT in college courses and instructors redesigning curricula to prevent academic dishonesty. Some schools are blocking the technology altogether.
While grading essays for his world religions course last month, Antony Aumann, a professor of philosophy at Northern Michigan University, read what he said was easily “the best paper in the class.” It explored the morality of burqa bans with clean paragraphs, fitting examples and rigorous arguments. A red flag instantly went up.
Aumann confronted his student over whether he had written the essay himself. The student confessed to using ChatGPT to write the paper.
Alarmed by his discovery, Mr. Aumann decided to transform essay writing for his courses this semester. He plans to require students to write first drafts in the classroom, using browsers that monitor and restrict computer activity. In later drafts, students must explain each revision. Aumann, who may forgo essays in subsequent semesters, also plans to weave ChatGPT into lessons by asking students to evaluate the chatbot’s responses.
“What’s happening in class is no longer going to be, ‘Here are some questions — let’s talk about it between us human beings,’” he said, but instead “it’s like, ‘What also does this alien robot think?’”
Writing for the New York Times, Kelley Huang points out that: “University professors, department chairs and administrators are starting to overhaul classrooms in response to ChatGPT, prompting a potentially huge shift in teaching and learning. Some professors are redesigning their courses entirely, making changes that include more oral exams, group work and handwritten assessments in lieu of typed ones.”
Responses of Administrators
In higher education, colleges and universities have been reluctant to ban the A.I. tool because administrators doubt the move would be effective and they don’t want to infringe on academic freedom. That means the way people teach is changing instead.
“We try to institute general policies that certainly back up the faculty member’s authority to run a class,” instead of targeting specific methods of cheating, said Joe Glover, provost of the University of Florida. “This isn’t going to be the last innovation we have to deal with.”
At many universities, ChatGPT has become the most pressing issue because it affects all aspects of education including how courses are structured, assignments used, the learning process, the grading process, and other administrative matters. Administrators are establishing task forces and hosting university-wide discussions to respond to the tool, with much of the guidance being to adapt to the technology.
Effects on the Curricula
Some professors are phasing out take-home, open-book assignments — which became a dominant method of assessment in the pandemic but now seem vulnerable to chatbots. They are instead opting for in-class assignments, handwritten papers, group work and oral exams.
Universities are also aiming to educate students about the new A.I. tools. The University at Buffalo in New York and Furman University in Greenville, S.C., said they planned to embed a discussion of A.I. tools into required courses that teach entering or freshman students about concepts such as academic integrity.
“We have to add a scenario about this, so students can see a concrete example,” said Kelly Ahuna, who directs the academic integrity office at the University at Buffalo. “We want to prevent things from happening instead of catch them when they happen.”
Other universities are trying to draw boundaries for A.I. Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Vermont in Burlington are drafting revisions to their academic integrity policies, so their plagiarism definitions include generative A.I.
The misuse of A.I. tools will most likely not end, so some professors and universities said they planned to use detectors to root out that activity. The plagiarism detection service said it would incorporate more features for identifying A.I., including ChatGPT, this year.
More than 6,000 teachers from Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Rhode Island and others have also signed up to use GPTZero, a program that promises to quickly detect A.I.-generated text, said Edward Tian, its creator and a senior at Princeton University.
Lizzie Shackney, a law and design student at the University of Pennsylvania, said she saw both the value and limitations in A.I. tools. She has started using ChatGPT to brainstorm for papers and debug coding problem sets. “There are disciplines that want you to share and don’t want you to spin your wheels,” she said, describing her computer science and statistics classes. “The place where my brain is useful is understanding what the code means.” However, she has concerns about using ChatGPT, pointing out that it sometimes incorrectly explains ideas and misquotes sources.”
Some students are sharing on forums like Reddit that they have submitted assignments written and solved by ChatGPT — and sometimes done so for fellow students too. On TikTok, the hashtag #chatgpt has more than 578 million views, with people sharing videos of the tool writing papers and solving coding problems.
Integrating any new tool into the classroom should be done with caution, and ChatGPT is no exception. Educators must consider ethics, cheating, and equity, just as they would when integrating other technologies into their courses. But with the right approach, ChatGPT can be a useful—and as some psychologists argue, revolutionary—tool to prepare students for their future careers.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, PhD, on June 8, 2023. Find out more about his professional activities on his website (https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/).