Friday, March 31, 2023

How university faculty plan to tackle and make the most of revolutionary ChatGPT

NewsCampus NewsHow university faculty plan to tackle and make the most of revolutionary ChatGPT

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Professors around campus are encountering a new challenge this semester: ChatGPT. 

The artificial intelligence, which launched last November by a developer called OpenAI, can respond to questions within a matter of seconds, provide statistics, cite sources and give examples, expanding the bounds of what a Google search or online summary might provide.

At first glance, ChatGPT may look dangerous to academia, specifically writing, but university students and faculty see much more in the online service than a path to plagiarism. 

“I don’t know anything about coding, but I was like, ‘Make a five-function calculator,’ and it just spits out all the code,” Nick Kirkikis, a sophomore international relations and economics major, said. “It’s crazy, it’s awesome.”

Kirkikis said he has toyed around with the chatbot to learn its capabilities and limits, and sees it as useful in some instances. But he does not plan on using it for writing assignments or essays.

“If I’m actually trying to learn something, I would definitely not use it,” Kirkikis said. “I think you’re cheating yourself, too.”

Professors are learning about the new resource day-by-day just like students. University professors and faculty have permission to create their own guidelines for their classes, allowing them to determine on their own how to handle the tool. The university’s Center for Teaching & Assessment of Learning (CTAL) released four approaches for professors to choose from when trying to decide whether to permit ChatGPT’s usage in their courses.

Those approaches range from prohibiting the tool fully to allowing it with permission or acknowledgment, or simply allowing at all times. Kirkikis said not many of his professors have mentioned the tool yet, but junior English major Arianna D’Avolio has heard from her professors, and most of them chose an option somewhere in the middle of full permission and no permission.

“They were like, ‘I understand that this is a resource, but if you do use it, do so sparingly or make sure it’s not writing your entire paper for you,’” D’Avolio said.

William Lewis, an education professor at the university who specializes in English language arts at the K-12 level, is already adjusting his teaching methods to ChatGPT instead of rejecting the new tool.

“It’s more about how can I design better assessments that allow students to demonstrate their understanding of course contents in ways that ChatGPT doesn’t do a great job at,” Lewis said. “Not immediately shrink away from it, deny its existence or try to prevent it.”

Many middle and high schools around the country (including Seattle and New York City public schools) have banned the usage of ChatGPT. But in Lewis’ eyes, it’s not something that can – or should – be banned fully.

“You don’t try to introduce a rule that can’t be reinforced,” Lewis said. “Kids see that immediately, and what it does, it undermines their confidence in the institution.”

Instead, it can help in creating starting thoughts or the first sketch of a sentence or paragraph, said Lewis. He recognizes ChatGPT as a “real disruption” to the status quo, but feels like there are avenues to use it best without making it a crutch for writing and English.

Jennifer Follett, the university’s writing center director, shares this positive view of ChatGPT. She doesn’t want fellow faculty to panic or push it away just because there may be early concerns of academic dishonesty or plagiarism. 

She sees it as “a stage past predictive text” and a tool for students at the university to use, no different from technological advances made in past years and decades.

“This is not the first time and it won’t be the last time that a new piece of technology makes us rethink writing or teaching,” Follett said. “We went through this with math and calculators. People are still doing math. We have a really good history of figuring out how to work with technology, it just takes a little while.”

When the technology first emerged back in November, Joshua Wilson was more aware of ChatGPT’s rise than most. The university education professor, who specializes in research on automated writing systems, saw the concerns from professors and faculty on how to curb the artificial intelligence from disrupting writing assignments.

ChatGPT is not something that can be stopped, but instead, is the future of communication, said Wilson. He surmised ways that it could help aside from class essays and assignments, such as e-mails, cover letters and resumes. Follett even mentioned that she may try it out when writing her next sympathy card.

“Maybe [it’s] the next generation of how writing and communication happens,” Wilson said. “Millions and millions of students in the U.S. struggle to develop good writing skills. And that’s a barrier to societal movement, to get into college or to have a job, if you can’t write a cover letter, you can’t make a well formatted resume, if you can’t write an email.”

Many unknowns remain to be answered concerning the chatbot that has burst onto the scene worldwide, and students and professors alike are cautiously optimistic about ChatGPT’s benefits instead of dwelling on its downsides.

“I think any degree of resource is useful if you maintain media literacy and awareness in what you’re doing,” D’Avolio said.




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