Blight or blessing? AI chatbot muddies waters for educators

January 23, 2023, 3:11 pm

ISTANBUL – An artificial intelligence chatbot, ChatGPT, can generate texts based on written prompts and answer questions by users as it interacts in a conversational way.

Launched by San Francisco-based OpenAI in November, ChatGPT's popularity quickly surged as it gained more than 1 million users in five days with its detailed and human-like responses in dialogue format, challenging incorrect premises and answering follow-up questions.

It has great potential to transform the way we collect information while its capabilities quickly draw attention.

Twitter's CEO Elon Musk praised the program, defining it as "scary good."

While many experts argue that ChatGPT's capabilities can provide opportunities to innovate in diverse fields, including education, the challenges that the AI bot poses for students and teachers alike also demand consideration.

Darren Hick experienced one of these challenges when he caught a student cheating with the program to write an essay.

"I was immediately worried about what the future looked like. This is a game-changer for plagiarism. It's free, it's nearly instantaneous, and it's designed to get better. This will be very enticing to students who are considering plagiarizing," he told Anadolu in an explanation about his thoughts when he realized the student was cheating with ChatGPT.

Hick, who teaches philosophy at Furman University in the US state of South Carolina, warned that teachers or instructors should always be on guard against cheating and so need to be aware of it, and what it can do.

"Plagiarism isn't new, and I don't think we're going to see an enormous rise in the number of plagiarists out there, but I think we'll see a lot of the students who would plagiarize turning to ChatGPT and similar AI,” he said.

Mary L. Churchill, an associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement who serves as program director for the Higher Education Administration at Boston University, struck a more conciliatory tone as she told Anadolu that teachers should "adapt to the reality of ChatGPT."

Still, some schools and universities see the program as a threat, with possible negative ramifications on student learning, while educators raise concerns that ChatGPT could inspire cheating and plagiarism.

US school districts in New York City, Los Angeles and Baltimore have responded to the chatbot by banning it on public school devices and networks.

Jenna Lyle, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education, said that ChatGPT, while answering questions quickly, does not "build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success."

The leading Group of Eight universities in Australia changed how they would run assessments in 2023, including "greater use of pen and paper exams and tests."

However, it is not difficult to see that students are likely to find a way around restrictions, which Churchill said will fail to prevent the use of ChatGPT.

"We will need to find creative ways to use this tool in our teaching. For example, asking students to create a first draft of an assignment with ChatGPT and then asking students to critique that draft,” Lyle said.

Great transformative potential, but needs time to adapt

Hick highlighted that ChatGPT makes factual errors in responding to questions.

"If a student doesn't already know the material, then they can't tell what ChatGPT has gotten right and what it's gotten wrong," he said, while also opposing its banning in schools. "Helping students to know what ChatGPT can't do is probably more useful than simply restricting access."

ChatGPT is a new technology and needs time to adapt to education, but so far, it has demonstrated that it offers a lot of potential for different industries.

Hick noted that figuring out how best to use it in the classroom is an issue.

"Certainly, I now have to think about ChatGPT every time I give an assignment to students, but I can also ask how I might actually use it in the classroom," he said.

"For instance, I teach about the nature of the mind, and the old question of whether computers could have minds. ChatGPT raises the bar here, and I would be remiss in not having my students play with it."

He added that creative educators could come up with ways to incorporate it into the classroom.

"But, at the same time, it is a loaded weapon," he concluded. (Anadolu)