This blog post was generated by ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chat bot, using questions provided by Duke Learning Innovation staff with comments provided by team members at DLI, as noted in the text.
Contact DLI if you would like to talk with a human about teaching strategies and concerns about the use of artificial intelligence by students in their work.
Question submitted to ChatGPT: I’m a faculty member who assigns student writing. Should I be concerned about students using artificial intelligence to write their essays?
ChatGPT: It is understandable for faculty members to be concerned about students using artificial intelligence (AI) to write their essays. However, it is important to note that while Al technology has advanced significantly in recent years, it is still not advanced enough to fully replace the critical thinking and analysis that is necessary for writing a good essay. While Al tools may be able to help students with certain aspects of writing, such as grammar and spelling, they are not capable of generating original and well-thought-out ideas. As such, it is still important for students to do the necessary research and put in the effort to write their own essays.
Amy Kenyon, DLI Associate Director: The answer is yes and no. Yes, it is clear that some students will use ChatGPT to write essays and answer homework. On the other hand, although this is a new tool, the use of tools to short-cut assignments isn’t a new challenge. Faculty have already been grappling with how to incorporate the readily available information on the internet and online course content into their teaching. The reality is that AI and the internet cannot be effectively banned. The arrival of ChatGPT could be viewed as a signal to shift the ways we think about teaching and assessment in light of online content generation possibilities. How can we incorporate discussion of the ethics of AI into our curricula? How can tests and assignments be designed to make AI less effective, such as making prompts more specific, requiring incorporation of classroom discussion points, asking for student personal reflections or connection to student personal experiences or in other ways? Or how can assignments be designed to take advantage of the capabilities of AI to jump-start student learning, such as by helping students write a better first draft or be a model of bad writing?
Q: What are some sites that students might try to use to write student essays with artificial intelligence?
ChatGPT: I am not aware of any specific sites that students might use to write essays with Al. As I mentioned earlier, Al technology is not currently advanced enough to fully replace the critical thinking and analysis that is necessary for writing a good essay. While there may be Al tools that can assist with certain aspects of writing, such as grammar and spelling, these tools are not capable of generating original and well-thought-out ideas. It is important for students to do the necessary research and put in the effort to write their own essays.
Elise Mueller, Senior Teaching Consultant: I’d like to step back a bit and provide a frame of reference for the current debate around AI and student essays. AI bots have been in use across a number of fields in the last decades. For example, businesses use AI bots to answer customer questions. A help bot on my credit card website can tell me my next due date, but it can’t sort out a complex billing issue for me. It is useful to view writing bots through the same lens.
The AI bots designed to help humans with writing include tools like Jasper, which is programmed to generate online blog and marketing content, as well as writing assistants such as Grammarly that point out spelling and punctuation errors and offer suggestions such as removing passive voice. The programming model for the newest writing bots, like ChatGPT, not only includes adding data sets, but are also built on natural language processing which helps it generate more nuanced writing. Despite the increase in quality of writing, ChatGPT is not a replacement for human critical thought and problem solving just as the help bot on my credit card site is not. For example, if you review ChatGPT’s answer above you can see how it repeats content from the first answer because it doesn’t understand that “sites” refers to AI webpages.
Q: What are some teaching strategies that can discourage students from using artificial intelligence to write essays for them?
ChatGPT: There are several teaching strategies that can be used to discourage students from using artificial intelligence to write essays for them. One effective strategy is to educate students about the limitations of Al technology and the importance of developing their own critical thinking and analysis skills. By emphasizing the value of original thought and analysis in writing, faculty members can help to discourage students from relying on Al tools to write their essays.
Another effective strategy is to assign challenging and engaging essay topics that require students to do their own research and analysis. This can help to discourage students from using Al to write their essays, as they will need to put in the effort to do their own research and come up with original ideas in order to write a successful essay.
Additionally, faculty members can use a variety of teaching methods, such as discussion-based learning, collaborative projects, and hands-on activities, to engage students in critical thinking and analysis. This can help to develop students’ critical thinking and analysis skills, making them less likely to rely on Al tools to write their essays.
Randy A. Riddle, Senior Teaching Consultant: ChatGPT gives some good advice here, but I would add that it is important to consider the process these types of tools are using to generate answers. AI draws on preexisting material and uses language processing to assemble the information in a convincing way. If you’re asking students to write an essay where the content could be easily searched on Wikipedia or Google, AI could emulate that, perhaps with some factual errors introduced by faulty information in the database. Essays directly related to the discussions and work in the class, personal journals about the student’s course learning experience, a more complex analysis, or material based on original research is more difficult or impossible for AI to emulate. This, of course, may take some rethinking of your assignments and assessments, but can challenge students to engage in a deeper way with the content of your course.
Q: How could university faculty use ChatGPT in a beneficial way in their teaching?
ChatGPT: There are a number of ways in which university faculty could use ChatGPT to benefit their teaching:
- As a research tool: ChatGPT can provide quick and easy access to information on a wide range of topics, which can be useful for faculty conducting research or preparing lectures.
- As a discussion tool: ChatGPT can be used to facilitate online discussions or debates among students, allowing faculty to engage with their students in a more interactive way.
- As a writing assistance tool: ChatGPT can help students to improve their writing skills by providing feedback and suggestions on their writing. This can be particularly useful for faculty teaching writing-intensive courses.
- As a language learning tool: ChatGPT can be used to help students practice their language skills, whether they are learning a new language or improving their proficiency in a language they already know.
- As a personalized learning tool: ChatGPT can be customized to meet the specific needs of individual students, allowing faculty to tailor their teaching to the unique learning style and abilities of each student.
Seth Anderson, Teaching Consultant and Elise Mueller: ChatGPT came up with some interesting suggestions, and I’m sure if I had responded to it with refining prompts, or asked about teaching in various disciplines, it would have provided some more-specific ideas. In addition to what it wrote, I could think about other examples which are somewhat more specific:
- Ask ChatGPT to write in other styles (e.g., op-ed, poem, Tweet), then compare and contrast its results to student-authored examples.
- You can ask students to discuss a question in class, get an answer from ChatGPT, and then have students analyze how ChatGPT’s answer compares to theirs.
- Ask ChatGPT (or other AI tools such as midjourney) to create materials in formats such as images, comics, diagrams and then ask students to discuss and improve on them.
- Look at AI-generated content as an early assignment in the class, and then discuss how the AI content falls short. This discussion provides the opportunity to explain how academic writing, including elements such as the use of sources, argumentation, and critical thinking, looks differently in your discipline.
Q: Will artificial intelligence improve in the future to the point that students will easily use it to write essays or do their homework?
ChatGPT: It is difficult to predict the exact trajectory of Al technology and whether it will improve to the point where students can easily use it to write essays or do their homework. Al technology has advanced significantly in recent years, but it still has limitations and is not capable of fully replacing the critical thinking and analysis that is necessary for writing a good essay or doing complex homework tasks.
As Al technology continues to improve, it is likely that Al tools will be able to assist students with certain aspects of their homework or writing, such as grammar and spelling. However, it is unlikely that Al will ever be able to fully replace the need for students to engage in critical thinking and analysis on their own.
In the end, it is important for students to develop their own critical thinking and analysis skills, rather than relying solely on Al tools to do their work for them. This will help to ensure that they are able to think for themselves and come up with original ideas, rather than simply relying on Al technology.
Michael Greene, Associate Director: I am impressed by ChatGPT’s current features, but I’m more interested in the future of the genre of AI rather than any particular AI model itself. The advances getting all the attention today will be commonplace as they get licensed, imitated, and implemented across the tech landscape moving forward. Today, they may teeter between enriching our lives and plaguing our classrooms, but we must continue to examine what they are capable of as well as the biases and flaws in the programming and datasets used to train them. Will AI improve to the point where students can ask it to write a wikipedia page in their own words? Too late. Will AI improve to the point where the inquiry and analysis performed at research universities is moot? Doubtful. Will the next generation of AI-powered search engines, voice assistants, and mobile apps present a paradigm shift similar to when they first entered our lives? Probably. Will students leverage AI to learn differently in ten years? Absolutely, and I’m sure the vast majority of that will be via positive, sanctioned uses of AI tools rather than plagiarism and cheating. But we’ll only get there if we continue to adapt and refine our teaching methods to understand and embrace what these tools can and can’t offer our classrooms and openly discuss with our students the potential for good and bad they have on their learning and society.