Chat GPT sparks concern and hope for professors

| Junior News Editor

Tuesday Hadden | Head of Illustration

Chat GPT, an advanced artificial intelligence interface that can generate essay responses, solve mathematical equations, and more, is changing the field of academia and education. 

Since Chat GPT’s launch for public use in November 2022, Washington University has adapted its Academic Integrity Policy to include the usage of Chat GPT to complete assignments as a violation. Although campus leaders are worried that students will abuse Chat GPT for plagiarism, some University leaders are excited about the future of Chat GPT as a partner in learning. 

University students and faculty have begun testing the possibilities of Chat GPT, asking it to answer essay prompts that they’ve received or assigned in class or asking the software to write poems and songs. 

Sophomore Bemi Folayan, studying Computer Science, said that she knows people who have already used Chat GPT for assignments. 

“I had a friend who put in all of his essay prompts just to see,” Folayan said. “It spit out the whole response.” 

Folayan said that she expects Chat GPT is less effective for her Computer Science assignments, which rely less on information recall and more on problem solving.

Ed Fournier, the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said that he has experimented with Chat GPT, too. 

“I asked Chat GPT some of the questions I asked my students,” Fournier said. “The questions that were quite straightforward were answered nicely and would’ve been full point answers.” 

Although Chat GPT can recall information, Fournier says that it didn’t perform as well when he asked it to answer more complex and creative prompts. 

“I tried to think of more creative questions that asked for more analysis and comparison,” Fournier said. “It cranks out text, but the answers were not nearly as convincing and would not have been full point answers.” 

Many courses use information recall writing prompts rather than creative ones, which makes it easy to plagiarize with technology like Chat GPT. Educators worry that students will use the technology to answer these questions and that it will be difficult for professors to detect. 

“I think there was a lot of collective anxiety about it,” Fournier said. “People were surprised and frightened by what was possible.” 

Over Winter Break, academic leaders brainstormed how they should move forward with Chat GPT. In the week before second semester courses began, the Center for Teaching and Learning held virtual training sessions to inform educators about Chat GPT and how classrooms should respond to it. Over one hundred faculty members participated.

Fournier said the training facilitators tried to emphasize the importance of building healthy relationships between students and professors as they navigate Chat GPT. 

“We started with a question,” Fournier said. “Are you and your students adversaries or partners in the learning process?” 

After these sessions, the Center for Teaching and Learning recommended concrete actions for professors to bring Chat GPT into classroom conversation, including making space for it in course syllabi. Some, but not all, professors incorporated it. 

Marshall Klimasewiski, a fiction writing educator in the English Department, made the choice to talk to his creative writing students about Chat GPT. 

“Deciding to put it on the syllabus was partly prompted by the University suggesting that we start thinking about it and talking to students about it,” Klimasewiski said. 

However, the University’s suggestion wasn’t the only reason Klimasewiski wanted to incorporate Chat GPT in conversation. Like many educators, he is interested in how classrooms can use Chat GPT as a tool rather than avoiding and banning it in their courses. 

“It might be something that can be interesting in a creative context if you take possession of it as a tool and make the process of how you use it part of your fiction making, or any other kind of creative endeavor,” Klimasewiski said. 

Klimasewiski said that he thinks exploring the technology’s functions in a dialogue could prompt interesting discussions and that he could see a future in which Chat GPT gains more creative capabilities.

Fournier echoed Klimasewiski’s thoughts, indicating that professors might begin to use Chat GPT in creative, educational ways. Klimasewiski imagined scenarios in which faculty could train Chat GPT to be the other side of dialogue and respond to certain prompts.

Dave Walsh, a professor in the American Culture Studies Department who specializes in technology and digital rights, says he already has plans to use Chat GPT in his course this semester.

“We’re going to do an experiment in groups just to see what it can do,” Walsh said. “What do we have to do to make it sound like it knows what it’s talking about and how can we make it sound like it has no idea what it’s talking about?”

Walsh said that he understands that Chat GPT can be used for plagiarism, but echoes the opinion that there are creative and engaging ways to incorporate it in the classroom. 

Even if professors choose to not use Chat GPT in their courses, Fournier says that the Center for Teaching and Learning is encouraging professors to try new, creative types of assignments in their classrooms. He says he believes that adjusting the way classrooms operate is a more productive alternative to attempting to ban Chat GPT entirely. 

In part, this is because policing usage of Chat GPT is difficult. The University has not banned Chat GPT on school Wifi because students could easily maneuver around this ban by using other networks or data, according to Fournier. 

Fournier and other professors see a positive future for upper level education, where the emergence of powerful AI technology encourages professors to come up with creative learning methods rather than the typical straightforward essay prompt.  

“If what [Chat GPT] ends up doing is refocusing how assessment works and how we measure student learning, I think that could be a positive thing,” he said.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.