March 7, 2023

Social media is awash with various accounts of students using ChatGPT to cheat on their coursework. From students writing short answers to entire essays, educators are concerned about how they’ll be able to cope with the increasingly popular technology.

“I was very worried, until I tried it,” said Andrew Tolle, an Eastfield English instructor. “There is no way this would ever be able to replace human work.” 

Tolle has students write analyses on various works, including poems, plays and novels. As a demonstration to the class, he issued a poem as a prompt to ChatGPT and asked it to write an analysis. 

“They could see it has some interesting thoughts. If that had been submitted, it wouldn’t have even got a 50,” Tolle said.

I was very worried, until I tried it.

— Andrew Tolle, English instructor

The reason ChatGPT would not get a passing grade is because it is prone to slipups. Tolle noted how the program misidentified a character in a short story as a third-person protagonist multiple times. While it may struggle with long-form analysis and essay writing, the Chatbot might be effective at small-scale assignments. This raises the question of whether students will use these tools as a shortcut, reducing their student engagement with coursework.    

“When you decide you’re no longer going to think critically to write a paper and to synthesize ideas and to analyze ideas, your ability to do it will become lost,” said Tuesday Hambric, a psychology and learning framework instructor at Eastfield. 

Hambric argued that this technology in its current form could hinder student learning because they aren’t arriving at the answer through problem solving.

It could come down to how the instructor adapts the technology and engages students. 

“If the instructor is teaching them how to use it and helps them understand the implications of using it in a negative way, I think it could help them,” Hambric said. “Technology is just going to happen. It’s already here. So it’s one of those things where instead of screaming bloody murder, we’ve got to ask ourselves, ‘how can we embrace this technology to better help students?’”

Tolle said a benefit to AI writing tools is helping students understand difficult concepts. 

“ChatGPT provides a level of access to certain conventions of writing that may not be accessible to folks immediately,” Tolle said. 

The writing styles may be academic or professional. It may also aid students who speak English as a second language and struggle to write it.  

“I see artificial intelligence as a great equalizer,” marketing instructor Wade Hyde said. “Those folks who might’ve had at-risk students, English was not their primary language, the enormous jump from not only having to learn English but then learning the nuances of writing skills, it takes time. AI will help accelerate that process,” 

Tolle said AI can also be used to dismiss certain ideas for argumentative essays. For example, he said ChatGPT refused to make an argument about how vaccines cause autism because it couldn’t find reliable evidence.

Voice is the way an author’s personality comes out through their writing. AI technology could also be a way for students to find their own.      

When implementing a prompt into an AI chatbot, it has the potential to give a starting point to students in forming and organizing their thoughts, Tolle argues.

How can we embrace this technology to better help students?

— Tuesday Hambric, psychology instructor

“If they see it can be said that way, it can give them more confidence,” said Tolle.

When it comes to identifying whether a student has used an AI, Tolle examines the voice. He says that the more general the analysis is the more he’d question whether this was written with AI tools. This could lead to students not finding their voice if they’re using it for assignments.

When it comes to combating the technology, Tolle argues it might be more beneficial to educate oneself on how it works. 

“I want to get ahead of students thinking they can just use it, copy and paste and turn it in because I know they’re gonna fail, even if I don’t catch it,” said Tolle. 

He says that in better understanding the technology will allow him to help his students understand how to use it to improve their own writing.

“We have a job to do. Regardless of what is going on outside of the classroom, we still have to meet our student learning outcomes,” Tolle said. “If some development occurs that changes how we can ensure they meet those student learning outcomes then we need to adapt to it,” Tolle said.

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