Teachers are adapting to concerns about a powerful new AI tool | CNN Business
When Kristen Asplin heard about a powerful new AI chat tool called ChatGPT that recently went viral online with its ability to write insanely good essays in seconds, she was concerned about how her students could use – her to cheat.
Asplin, professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Greensburg, soon joined a new Facebook group teachers like herself to share concerns and suggestions about how to restructure their lessons and assignments in response to ChatGPT. The tool, which launched in late November, can create detailed answers to simple questions like “Who was the 25th president of the United States?” as well as answers to more complex questions such as “What political developments led to the fall of the Roman Empire?”
Asplin finally decided to modify his approach to written assignments. Instead of focusing only on the final product, which ChatGPT could easily spit out, it now asks students to submit their papers at various stages of the writing process.
“I’m emphasizing and paying more attention to the first steps of the writing process so I can see their progress,” Asplin said of her new approach to classwork. “This will give students more confidence in the writing process, so they are less likely to be desperate enough to cheat. It will also show me their work along the way so they can’t type a message into the program and the computer do your work for them.
In the weeks following artificial intelligence research group OpenAI released ChatGPT, which is trained on a large amount of online information to create its responses, the tool has been used to write articles (with more than a couple of factual inaccuracies ) for at least one news publication; he wrote lyrics in the style of various artists (one of whom later responded, “this song is sad”) and wrote summaries of research papers that misled some scientists.
But while many may see the tool as a novelty with unknown long-term consequences, a growing number of schools and teachers are concerned about its immediate impact on students and its ability to cheat on assignments. The Facebook group Asplin joined, for example, has grown to more than 800 members in just a few weeks since its creation.
Some educators are now moving with remarkable speed to reframe their assignments in response to ChatGPT, although it remains unclear how widespread the use of this tool is among students and to what extent it might be really detrimental to learning. In interviews with CNN, some university professors said that are returning to classroom essays for the first time in years, and others require more customized essays. Some teachers said they’ve also heard of students having to film short videos that delve into their thought process. Meanwhile, New York City and Seattle Public Schools have already banned students and teachers from using ChatGPT on district networks and devices.
While there have been some anecdotes cases of cheating surrounding the Internet and raising fears of more to come, some teachers are urging their colleagues not to overreact to a new technology.
“There’s been a mass hysteria response to ChatGPT that it can ruin writing, while other people think it’s actually a good thing,” said Alan Reid, associate professor of English at Coastal Carolina University. “We have to try to sit between the two sides and recognize the downsides along with the positives.”
Over the past few weeks, Kevin Pittle, an associate professor at Biola University in California, has found himself thinking about what ChatGPT knows.
“Before assigning materials, I thoroughly interrogate ChatGPT to see what it does or does not ‘know’ about the material or have access to,” he said. With that in mind, he said he now asks his students to show citations from specific sources not available to ChatGPT, including textbooks, articles behind paywalls, and materials produced after ChatGPT was trained on data from Internet available from 2021.
And it doesn’t stop there.
“ChatGPT doesn’t ‘have a soul’ – its fictional reflections are generally pretty lifeless, so in a course I need a lot more ‘soul research’ and reflective journaling than ChatGPT seems capable of faking,” he said.
OpenAI previously told CNN that it made ChatGPT available as a preview to learn from real-world usage. A spokesperson called the step a “critical part of developing and deploying capable and secure AI systems.”
“We don’t want ChatGPT to be used for deceptive purposes in schools or anywhere else, so we’re already developing mitigations to help anyone identify the text generated by this system,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to working with educators on useful solutions and other ways to help teachers and students benefit from artificial intelligence.”
Some companies like Turnitin are already actively working on ChatGPT plagiarism detection tools that could help teachers identify when the tool is writing assignments. (Turnitin already works with 16,000 schools, publishers, and corporations with its other plagiarism detection tools.) Princeton student Edward Tuan told CNN that more than 95,000 people have already tested the beta version of his own ChatGPT detection feature, called ZeroGPT, noting that so far there has been “incredible demand among teachers”.
The concern extends beyond the United States. Alex Steel, director of teaching strategy and law professor at the University of New South Wales, said a number of Australian universities had announced a return to closed-book exams.
“There’s a growing number of academics who are concerned that they won’t be able to spot AI-written responses,” he told CNN. “In part, the concerns are due to teachers’ lack of understanding about what kind of questions they might be susceptible to… so staff can push for a return to exams until [these issues] can be addressed.”
Not all teachers are looking for ways to crack down on ChatGPT. Reid, the Coastal Carolina University professor, believes teachers should work with ChatGPT and teach best practices in the classroom.
Reid said teachers could encourage students to plug an assignment question into the tool and have them compare that result to what they personally wrote. “This could also allow for a teaching opportunity for students to see what they missed, look at different approaches they could have taken, or use it as a starting point to help with an outline,” Reid said.
He argued that there will always be ways for students to cheat online, so teaching them how ChatGPT can improve their own writing could be a practical step forward.
“The burden is on educators, and many don’t want to be police in the classroom,” he said. “The way to manage this is for teachers to examine their own practices and think about how they can be used in a positive way. If they ignore this thing and don’t know anything about it, it leaves the door open for students to use it to cheat and get away with it.
Leslie Layne, professor of English and linguistics at Lynchburg University in Virginia, agrees. Now he plans to teach students how ChatGPT could improve their writing.
“ChatGPT can give students a running start, so they’re not starting on a blank page. But it’s nowhere near a finished product,” he said. “We want students to include more sources and evidence, so they can be used as something to draw on.”
He compared ChatGPT to the hype around calculators when they first came out. “People were very concerned that we would lose the ability to do basic math,” he said. “Now we carry one wherever we go with our phones, and it’s very useful.”
Layne said teachers could consider having students critique how ChatGPT handled an assignment question, teaching students to find the best prompt for the best answer, and having ChatGPT discuss part of a topic and a studying the other
“As with other new technologies, this could be a tool that instructors use to help students express their ideas,” he said. “Students just have to learn how to improve their writing and adapt it to their own voice.”