ChatGPT - a chatbot developed by OpenAI, a U.S. artificial intelligence research laboratory - is rapidly becoming one of the most talked about inventions in years.
The new AI technology can be used to produce text to write essays for students, news reports and other forms of writing using only a small amount of input text from a ChatGPT user.
“ChatGPT simulates human language in perfectly grammatical sentences,” said Nathan Murray, Algoma University assistant professor of writing in the Department of English and History.
“If a professor says I would like you to write an essay about the impacts of COVID on a particular industry - and this is an example of a real assignment I have given - if the student copies that instruction, puts it into ChatGPT-3 and presses enter, they will get about two-thirds of an essay written for them in grammatical English where it starts with an introduction, has a thesis statement, and the paragraphs and sentences are organized and clearly written,” Murray told SooToday.
“At the moment it still has limitations. It cannot complete all assignments for secondary and post-secondary students but it can write short essays on many topics, answer questions and can often correctly answer multiple choice questions,” Murray said.
It can be accessed through registering with the ChatGPT website.
In just a few months, ChatGPT has had over 100 million users.
The invention has educators that read and evaluate student essays asking themselves ‘did a student or AI write this paper? Is the student depriving himself of using his own abilities and am I being deceived as an educator?’
“I have personally caught a couple of students using this software and I’ve had to explain to them that this is a violation of our academic integrity policy,” Murray said.
“In each case I’ve given them a zero and a chance to rewrite because I understand this is uncharted territory and students might think this isn’t different from using something like Grammarly.”
Grammarly is an electronic typing assistant that checks spelling, grammar, punctuation and offers tips on replacements for errors but Murray described that as “less invasive.”
Murray said that ChatGPT is currently not allowed at Algoma University except in certain subject areas such as computer science, where AI software is an obvious area of study.
“Part of the challenge professors are going to have to face is what are they going to say to students about this,” Murray said, adding that - so far - professors can spot use of AI in students’ work.
“We grew up being taught how to write in school. We didn’t have shortcuts to help us skip this process and make it easy for us. We had to do the work, and our best method in university for teaching critical thinking is still the writing process. What concerns me is students have this shortcut where this software can help them with basically every stage of writing assignments. It can help them brainstorm, come up with an outline, turn an outline into a final paper, it can fix their grammar mistakes. All of that takes away the challenge that helps them build up those critical reasoning skills.”
“How do we keep the software from damaging learning and causing learning loss? I don’t have a good answer to this question yet but I do know that it’s not going away. Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in ChatGPT-3 and has integrated ChatGPT-3 into its Bing search engine.”
“I do worry that AI is going to result in removing jobs in bureaucratic white collar areas and put more work on the people that remain. Now, suddenly I have a lot more work. I have to assess not only ‘did somebody plagiarize this, or did they use an AI software?’” Murray said.
“This is a massive technological paradigm shift akin to the introduction of the internet and we’re going to see this unfold in every facet of our lives, from customer service to every industry. This is going to be integrated into our lives and there’s big funding behind it,” said Brian MacDonald, Sault College professor of language and communication and social science.
“You can ask it for summaries of articles, assist you in the development of ideas, get feedback on your writing, teach you a language. It will produce,” MacDonald said, though he noted ChatGPT is not infallible.
“Those are valid concerns,” MacDonald said when asked about the possibility of some students passing off the work of ChatGPT as their own.
“It’s impressive in its early form but there are also other concerns such as the academic dishonesty element.”
Old fashioned ‘copy directly from the book’ plagiarism as well as students using the internet in the writing of papers has been an ongoing concern for years, he said.
ChatGPT ramps up technology dramatically, educators and other professionals knowing it will only get smarter in a short period of time and therefore adding to their concerns over possible plagiarism.
“From the educational perspective we will need to adapt. Every academic institution in the world is having these same discussions,” MacDonald said.
“We look at this as disruptive technology in that it is really shaking things up and so we will be developing policies concerning appropriate times to use a program such as this and of course inappropriate times.”
That’s the disruptive and disturbing side to the story.
But educators are also looking at Chat GPT as a positive development, fully aware that the technology is here to stay.
“If somebody has dyslexia, let’s say, and constantly struggles with writing, then this could help them,” Murray said.
“I think that there are a lot of people who have experienced barriers in their lives because of their writing ability. We train people to think using writing but there are some very smart people who can't write very well. People get assessed on their thoughts using writing assessments so while I think it has a very important place in a university training context, I do think ChatGPT is going to force us to think of how we assess people’s understanding in new ways.”
“My hope is that this will encourage us to revise old ways of teaching that excluded some people,” Murray said.
“In rural India there was a farmer using Chat GPT to translate his regional dialect into a more popular language in India to understand how to process rural farming grants,” MacDonald said.
“I think it can be an invaluable thing for further development of higher level end product. It can be used to write computer software programs because it has the ability to write in any language including computer programming languages as well.”
“We’re looking at this in a positive fashion and how do we use it for the betterment of the student experience while still keeping those principles of academic integrity in place,” MacDonald said.
As reported, in GuelphToday school boards in Ontario are looking at ChatGPT and its benefits and potential for improper use.
“Although at the forefront there may seem to be some downfalls of this new application, we have to find a way to use it appropriately within the context of the assignment of the student,” wrote Danny Viotto, Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board director of education in an email.
“I do see many benefits of this app when it comes to enhancing such things like speeches for example. If used inappropriately for a writing assignment, it is cause for concern when it comes to plagiarism and will affect the learning of the basic foundation of composing pieces of literature, for example. Our schools do have protocols and procedures in place if there is suspicion of plagiarism. We will do our best to educate our students on the benefits of such technology and the downfalls as we would in many other instances.”
“We seek to make all situations learning opportunities,” Viotto wrote.
Algoma District School Board officials did not return requests for comment.