The increasing popularity of the AI tool ChatGPT is receiving mixed reactions from educators. While some embrace it as just the latest evolution in education and an opportunity to adapt, others fear that it will mean rampant cheating and the end of the college essay. Here is a closer look at the issue at hand and the debate.
On November 30th, 2022, the company OpenAI, backed by Microsoft, launched ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer). By December 3, it had surpassed 1 million users. As of February 8th, 2023, there are more than 100 million users. This rapid growth has educators worried that students will use the technology to cheat, and colleges and universities are scrambling to figure out what this means and how to react.
ChatGPT has tremendous capabilities. It can do anything from composing music and writing essays to debugging software and answering test questions. All you have to do is input a question or a prompt, and it will provide you with output. While this is impressive, ChatGPT certainly has limitations and is known to produce incorrect answers that still sound authoritative. However, it will only improve over time as it has more interactions.
Eventually, AI will advance to the point where it won’t need humans to input information to learn. It will be able to teach itself. And with access to the entire internet, it’s safe to say that it’s already smarter than most students.
Both Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Vermont are responding by rewriting their academic integrity policies to also cover plagiarism using AI. However, this approach still relies on the idea of academic honesty, and there are few ways to actually detect whether an essay was written by ChatGPT. The professor may notice some irregularities, or they could compound the use of technology by deploying AI-detecting software, but that just creates an extra step for educators.
Other professors are responding by completely changing the way they teach.
While some are a bit panicked about what ChatGPT means for higher education, others are excited about the possibilities. It certainly isn’t the first time educators have had to adapt, and it won’t be the last. Writers and educators Chris Gilliard and Pete Rorabaugh have drawn a parallel to when social media first entered the classroom. Instead of a distraction, it was a tool that connected students in real-time with people outside the classroom. When properly leveraged, different social media platforms have become valuable learning tools.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really any time to have a debate about the role of AI in the classroom in order to develop an intentional response. ChatGPT is here and for now, it is still free to use. This means that the vast majority of colleges and universities have been caught flat-footed.
But ChatGPT isn’t all doom and gloom when it comes to higher education. When I asked ChatGPT “How will Chat GPT affect colleges and universities?”, this is the response it generated, and it highlights some positive implications.
“ChatGPT has the potential to significantly impact colleges and universities in a number of ways, including:
Overall, ChatGPT has the potential to transform the way colleges and universities operate and deliver education. By providing personalized learning experiences, improving access to information, and supporting research, ChatGPT can help colleges and universities better meet the needs of their students and staff.”
Not bad for a robot.
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