Shortly after ChatGPT was released in November 2022, college professors began expressing fear and concerns about this emerging phenomenon. Many of them believe the AI writing tool will diminish student’s ability to think critically and hinder the process of education.
Brody Bluemel, an associate professor of Applied Linguistics in Asian Studies at Delaware State University, recognized it first hand when one of his students turned in a class assignment.
“I had a student this past spring semester who submitted his final term project, and it was very evident that it was completely generated, as I have this 12-page paper that didn’t have a single error in it,” he said.
After carefully reviewing the assignment, Bluemel found several mistakes and returned it to the student to teach them a bit about the limitations of AI technology.
At the University of Delaware, associate professor of education Joshua Wilson said AI writing tools are inclined to experience hallucinations because “it makes stuff up.”
“It’s artificial intelligence. It doesn’t know what it’s saying. It can be wrong, it can hallucinate, it can have logical errors,” Wilson said. “ChatGPT runs on GPT 3.5, [it’s] trained up to 2021, so it doesn’t know anything about the world in the last two years in its training data.”
While AI and ChatGPT show advanced abilities, both professors agree it has certain limitations. Those include a lack of common sense, lack of emotional intelligence, limited knowledge, limited training data, accuracy problems, bias, and a lack of ethics.
As the technology becomes more innovative and advanced, professors have come to the realization that AI will not leave and it’s something everyone will need to embrace.
“Initially, I think myself and many of my colleagues had a bit of a roller coaster of emotions from not liking it to kind of embracing it,” said DSU’s Bluemel. “Where we really landed at the moment is recognizing that this is a tool of the future, and that there are a lot of opportunities for us and our students to do more with it.”
Many teachers are taking matters into their own hands on how to manage this new tool, from professors changing the way they teach to taking classes learning about AI and its abilities.
“I think instructors should try it for themselves, figure out where it can help in their teaching, and where it might help students in their learning. And maybe it presents the opportunity to create new assignments that you’ve never been able to do before,” said UD’s Wilson.
AI forces new policies and procedures
The new technology means schools had to develop new policies and procedures for managing the use of AI.
At UD, it’s up to individual professors to determine what level of restriction students have to comply with, including use prohibited, use permitted with professor permission, use permitted but for certain assignments, use permitted always with documentation on usage, or use freely.
Bluemel sees himself using ChatGPT for planning purposes, too.
“As a teacher, I can use it to develop my lesson plans, to enhance my syllabus, to be creative with learning activities that I come up with, and also to make sure and adapt them to the appropriate level for my students.”
From a student perspective, the new phenomenon has been helpful in offering an additional learning avenue. Dulcine Stephens, a UD student leader majoring in Africana Studies, uses it to learn a language not taught by the university.
“It can actually be a tool to help learn, at least for me. UD does not offer an African language at all, and I need to learn an African language if I want to get my doctorate,” Stephens said. “ChatGPT gives me literal worksheets, it will make me a worksheet in a language that I need to learn, and I can just use that worksheet.”
She said it’s clear that the tool isn’t perfect and has a long way to go.
“As someone who is an Africana Studies major, I cannot use ChatGPT to write a whole essay for me because it’s biased, it still sounds like it comes from a white supremacist, dominant perspective,” she said. “I was playing around with ChatGPT, I literally told it to write me an essay about the Black Reconstruction era. And I can tell you, I was reading it and I was just picking out so many flaws of things that I wouldn’t say or things that would not be accepted.”
For Jordan Jenkins, a senior at Delaware State University who works in marketing at the school’s Wellness and Recreation Center, ChatGPT offers a chance to use AI to build on her creative ideas.
“We like to get a lot of ideas flowing. Like, for example, if we’re creating a flier and we want a cool title, we would just go ahead and tell ChatGPT all of the things that we want to have on the flier and what would be a good name for it, and it would give us the name,” Jenkins said.
‘I am in favor of ChatGPT’
While the new tool makes it challenging to many colleges and people across the world, many professors and students are pro-AI.
It may even be a new skill set to have or be required.
“I’m in favor of creativity. I am in favor of ChatGPT. I actually think that we should be teaching it in secondary schools, pre-university,” said UD’s Joshua Wilson. “I’m aware of the concerns, but I think the benefits outweigh the potential negatives.”
Users just need to be cautious and aware of how they use it, says UD’s Stephens.
“Don’t think that just because it’s there that you always have to use it. Sometimes the easiest way is doing it yourself,” she said. “Those who are using ChatGPT, I would just say, beware of the risks, and wary of its inaccuracies.”
Get daily updates from WHYY News!