Campus News

ChatGPT questions liability of students’ writing

ChatGPT quick facts

  • Free to use
  • Launched November 2022
  • It was developed by OpenAI
  • Can generate human-like documentation
  • Can respond to follow up questions
  • Dubbed by Harvard as tipping point of AI

In recent years, artificial intelligence has made remarkable strides in the field of natural language processing, and one model that has been making waves is ChatGPT. Developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT is a large language model that has been trained on a massive dataset of text, allowing it to generate human-like responses to a wide range of questions and prompts. At college campuses across the country, ChatGPT is being implemented in various departments and research projects, from computer science and linguistics to psychology and philosophy… and for the purposes of this article, the Communique. The introductory paragraph you just read was generated by ChatGPT.  

Released in November 2022, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has been generating buzz across a variety of fields and disciplines from the financial sector to computer programming. And now, it has become a topic of interest at Kirkwood Community College. 

Its ability to generate human-like documentation on nearly any topic stems from the algorithm on which it is based. Essentially, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) that scours the internet for vast repositories of text, teaching itself conversation patterns, syntax and grammar in an effort to replicate human thought, interaction and writing styles.  

In fact, ChatGPT is capable of asking and responding to follow-up or clarifying questions, and, when prompted, it can even admit when it is wrong. According to OpenAI, the AI is assisted by humans in this endeavor. These human minders dutifully watch over ChatGPT, correcting the AI if it begins to learn inaccurate methods and information. 

The years of work and research that were used to develop ChatGPT have culminated in an advanced, human-like conversation bot. The Harvard Business Review dubbed ChatGPT as a “tipping point of AI.” Never before has an AI chatbot made such a large impact in such a short amount of time. This has some wondering: what impact might ChatGPT have on the world of academia? 

“ChatGPT changes everything, but it is also a continuation of technology,” said Dean of Communication, English, and Media Dr. Matthew Gilchrist. “On a philosophical level, it changes the purpose of education. It moves the goal of assessing students’ abilities and instead puts emphasis on what a student can accomplish. For example, it may change the outcome of a course from ‘can a student write well’ to ‘can a student think critically.’”  

ChatGPT is capable of assisting students in many programs, and with a focus on critical thinking, some professors are considering working with the new technology. “Google gives static responses,” explained Dr. Bryan Bennett, assistant professor of Computer Science. “ChatGPT is conversational, it generates content on the spot that may be more accessible to students [than a Google search].” He added, “Used in the right way it can be a powerful tool. I’ve used it to write code to automate some things.” 

Dustin Hepker, Computer Science major, agreed. “I see it as a tool that’s quickly evolving to help any student. It isn’t a calculator, but it is a lot faster than google,” he said. When asked about possible uses in his field he explained, “It’s especially helpful for programming. It is useful for learning different syntaxes and programming languages.”  

While he views the AI as destabilizing in the short-term, English Professor Dr. Eliot Blake also believes that ChatGPT could make some material more accessible to students. “I think it could be used as a tool for people who can’t express themselves, but I don’t think it’ll replace anything. It’s not a total replacement.”  

This sentiment was echoed by Trista Kuls, Liberal Arts major, “It gives you a general idea or reference if you don’t know where to start. I would use it to get an idea, but I wouldn’t use it to write an entire paper.”  

By and large, Kirkwood faculty and students alike tentatively view ChatGPT as an exciting tool but one that should be approached with caution. “Having sophisticated thoughts and getting them on paper is hard,” said Gilchrist. “If you don’t use it you lose it.” Adding he believes that college graduates in the workforce are expected to be capable of communicating sophisticated thoughts, in order to function in society, something that cannot happen if an AI does the work for them. 

There is still much to assess about the new technology, and faculty remain vigilant against students utilizing ChatGPT to cheat. Blake stated, “I’d like to think that students will do the work, but some get desperate. This is just another method, like papermills, Course Hero, etc.”  

“If you choose to fight against it you will get into an arms race that you will never win,” explains Dean Gilchrist. However, he adds that “cheating is only cheating yourself. Approaching [ChatGPT] that way cedes control of your mind to a computer.” 

“The problem is who knows where the content is coming from?” said Bennett. “How do we check for it? The tools available now have about a 50/50 success rate. A lot of false positives.” 

Gilchrist explained that any attempt to pass off work done by an AI as one’s own is covered under Kirkwood’s academic integrity policies, and does not recommend attempting to do so. Since the technology is so new, his department is still working on a plan to address the more malicious uses of ChatGPT directly. “A strong policy makes things clear in the long run,” he said. 

ChatGPT has opened a new frontier in the field of artificial intelligence but as our technology continues to expand seemingly exponentially, most interviewed for this article recommend staying grounded. Or, as Bennett put it, “You have the ability to reason. An algorithm does not.”