A newly released form of AI is challenging higher education this year. ChatGPT has the ability to write a copy based off of a prompt it is entered. The answer it gives is nearly untraceable, as it creates an original piece of work based on information it has previously been given.
Some people in higher ed are concerned about students using ChatGPT to complete assignments and whether it can be considered plagiarism. Others see the chat bot as a tool that could be used in the classroom.
In response to “What is the theme of Romeo and Juliet,” ChatGPT wrote, “The theme of William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is primarily about the power and nature of love.”
Following this opening statement, the chat bot wrote several paragraphs giving examples of the theme in the play and a concluding statement on the play’s relevance in modern literature.
AI has had an effect on higher education for as long as it has existed. Jon Craton, assistant professor of computer science, who has taught upper-division courses on artificial intelligence in the past, said AI can be “systems that are trying to behave like a human would behave. So they’re trying to artificially do what we do.”
Craton describes a cycle to the development of artificial intelligence. When a new discovery is made there is a wave of excitement, funding and trained professionals in the computer science field. Then, he said a discovery can “hit a wall.” Progress slows and funding diminishes in what is called an “AI winter.” Then AI will find a new discovery and the cycle repeats.
He said that society had been in an AI winter until 2012, when the discovery of deep learning pushed the field into a wave of progression.
In late November 2022, ChatGPT, a chat bot that responds to entered prompts, was released. Craton describes the chat bot as a large language model. It is based off of a technology that has been around for about five years.
Dr. Cara Miller, associate professor of English and director of first-year writing, points out that Google was released in her lifetime and has “radically changed” the research process and classroom structure.
Miller said that ChatGPT, like Google, could be easily misinterpreted or flooded with faulty statements. She said, “I think there’s room for misinformation and disinformation. And people are going to be like, well, the chatbot said it so it must be true, just like people say about Google.”
The discussion around what ChatGPT is also brings up how it can and should be used in higher education.
According to Miller, ChatGPT could have a place in creative writing or research classes “to see how it’s developing plot structures, for instance, or integrating source information and analysis. It would be interesting to compare ChatGPT’s writing to the nuanced, complex writing conventions that exist in particular fields.” She also mentions its uses in communications or business to efficiently interact with clients or in IT in order for students in these fields to “stay relevant in the job market.”
Miller said, “I don’t think we can ignore it and I certainly don’t think it should be banned, but I think we need to model best practices for something like this.”
She mentions her skepticism of ChatGPT’s abilities, questioning whether it has the “creative insight, cultural and historical context, and critical thinking that would go into writing a social media post or blog article that’s engaging, that responds effectively to the rhetorical opportunities and constraints.”
Because ChatGPT gathers data from sources it is fed to create original work, the fear is that students will use ChatGPT to submit essays and assignments, not of their own writing, but of the chat bot’s generated response to their assignment prompt. If students were to use AI technology this way, it could be considered plagiarism and cheating.
“ChatGPT does pose a new challenge to the age-old problem of plagiarism,” Peter Elliott, an associate professor of English said. He acknowledges that plagiarism is inevitable, but points out, “I think procrastinating on assignments is a key factor in this, although there are other reasons, no doubt.”
Sophomore social studies education major, Jacob Keith expressed his concern about plagiarism through ChatGPT as a future teacher. He said, “It can really, really be detrimental to how much students are actually getting out of school.”
Junior computer science major, Emmalee Paarlberg compares using ChatGPT to writing an essay without citing sources. She said “taking in and using information in itself is not plagiarism,” but she mentions that the chat bot doesn’t cite the origin of information.
Craton said ChatGPT’s fault of being inaccurate, yet sounding intelligent, and connects this to human capability to do the same. He admits to being able to answer a student’s question sounding intellectual even if he doesn’t know the direct answer. Students can do this in assignments as well. He said, “So there’s a certain quality that it can produce that is superior to some of the things I write or some of the things that students write.” However, Craton said he does not believe that the chat bot would be able to replace students or professors yet.
Craton said that plagiarism has always been possible, mentioning paying someone to write a paper. He said, “ChatGPT just makes it more affordable, essentially.”
He also mentions the method ChatGPT uses to develop its response. He said, “It’s trained on all this content, and sort of distilled it into its own internal knowledge. And then it uses that internal knowledge to generate text probabilistically.”
Craton doesn’t hope that higher education helps students produce content quickly without thought. Instead, he said, “We want you to have really grown and developed in your knowledge, so that you can go out and apply it in brand new ways.”
Anderson University Provost, Dr. Courtney Taylor said, “Higher education at its best is less about the transfer of knowledge and more about the development of clear thinking and of ways of looking at the world.” He acknowledges that AI can improve the organization of information, but “it [AI] is powerless to make you a better person.”
Taylor said that “Education is mediated through relationships: between faculty and students, between peers, between coaches and athletes, between RA’s and dorm residents to name just a few” and that AI can’t replace that.
Some professors at AU already have plans that limit the amount a student can get away with using ChatGPT.
Elliott, who develops assignment strategies with his colleagues, said that he will have students write longer assignments in smaller chunks as the semester goes on because it “helps relieve some of the stereotypical cramming” and “allows us [instructors] to assess students’ authentic writing voice.” This is an aspect of writing that AI lacks.
Miller agrees that writing assignments won’t have to change too much because assignments are generally structured specifically and with requirements specific to the class or project.
Paarlberg has already seen this in effect. She said, “AIs such as ChatGPT have led to professors increasing focus on process-based assignments. With the fear of cheating, there is more emphasis on writing about what you did and presenting it with understanding.”
However, ChatGPT can also be seen in a positive light.
Craton compares it to a calculator, pointing out that there is a time and a place where educators would use ChatGPT and times where it would not be allowed.
Miller said, “It might open up opportunities if people really know how to use the bot well, and how they can maybe leverage it to improve some functionality on a website or on a social media platform.”
Several members of faculty and staff encourage conversations about ChatGPT to take place.
Elliott said, “I think, as educators, we need to be open and honest with our students from the beginning of the semester on in terms of what is acceptable. It is important to be up front and recognize the temptation to use AI or other online resources by students exists and to have frank conversations with them about it.”
Taylor recognizes the need to discuss AI openly and said, “We are likely to have an informational session as a faculty in a few weeks for professors who want to learn more about the topic, and think about how ChatGPT could be used in the classroom.”
Taylor said even the conversations sparked by ChatGPT could be a learning opportunity in the classroom. He mentions the AI technology could be useful in brainstorming, summarizing or Q&A.
Taylor asks, “Can an algorithm ever be as intelligent as a person? How trusting should we be of the results of ChatGPT or any AI? What limits should exist for the use of AI in the church and society? What should be the true nature of education, and can any technology change this?”