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Over the past few months, ChatGPT has dominated the conversation around artificial intelligence and machine learning. The model comes close to, and in some cases surpasses, the capabilities of humans to communicate and produce high-quality writing. Much of the debate around ChatGPT is focused on how it will impact university students and professors. With the benefits of AI, though, come the risk that ChatGPT will be used for cheating — something professors and University administrators are already moving to address. It is incumbent on the University of Michigan to take steps now to maintain the ability of professors to evaluate students, while ensuring that graduates are not left behind their AI-familiar peers. 

It should be noted that ChatGPT has many practical uses for both students and instructors that remain outside the realm of cheating. As the model is still occasionally prone to giving incorrect answers to tests of reasoning, tasking students to correct the mistakes made by ChatGPT allows them to understand common errors that even a chatbot may make.

Students can also use ChatGPT to better comprehend their assignments. When it comes to long, dense readings where didactic jargon abounds, the chatbot can help summarize and explain concepts to the student. This can also be applied to code, where a student can ask ChatGPT to explain a certain chunk of code or where an error was made.

ChatGPT’s usefulness is not limited to tests of reason or code; it can also be a helpful resource for writing and discussion without doing all the student’s work. OpenAI’s essay outline feature provides topics of discussion and counterargument, as well as a structure a student may not consider. Simply chatting with the bot can even act as a jumping off point for inspiration and creation. With ChatGPT’s ability to generate prompts, debate ideas and give suggestions, there is certainly no shortage of positive aspects to this technology that we can embrace in the classroom.

Though ChatGPT can be a helpful tool in assisting students with their schoolwork, some of the tasks that it can help with go beyond assistance, such as writing full essays and solving schoolwork. This capability of ChatGPT creates complications for professors to ensure academic integrity on the assignments they task students with.

If students misuse ChatGPT as a means to cheat, rather than as an educational aid, the integrity and meaning of work assigned by professors can become compromised. ChatGPT, while being a very valuable tool in learning, begins to diminish some of the key aspects of learning by completing tasks intended to be completed solely by students. 

Alongside its ability to complete tasks for students, ChatGPT also creates problems as a continuously evolving AI model. Although it is currently still being officially updated by its developers, OpenAI’s goal for the AI in its public testing is to train it to update its own policies, making it self-updating to an extent.

ChatGPT’s continuous updates create new problems for educational institutions, including the University of Michigan. At the forefront of these problems is how the University can keep up with an AI that is continuously evolving at a rate that may be difficult to keep up with. To do this, changes must be made to the way classes are structured.

The drawbacks and benefits of ChatGPT aside, it is clear that the growth and development of AI technology is unlikely to slow down anytime soon. So, where does that leave educational institutions, and more importantly, professors, for whom the task of genuine work grows bigger everyday?

Interestingly, with the pandemic leading to an unprecedented rise in the use of digital resources inside and outside the classroom, there is a belief that people are simply learning at a slower rate than before. Although not the most robust piece of evidence, a decrease in the average score of standardized tests since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent increased use of remote learning, could be an example of the inverse relationship between learning outcomes and remote learning. Regardless, it isn’t too far-fetched to suggest that an over-reliance on technology and the increased difficulty of professors to keep students engaged during remote learning has led to a learning loss. 

In what could be a pivotal moment in the education industry, teachers are being challenged to combat this phenomenon while technology, especially EdTech, grows at an exponential rate. However, it is crucial to emphasize here that there is no one right solution. Whether instructors want to incorporate ChatGPT, and technologies of a similar ilk, within their syllabi or discourage their usage, there are multiple avenues to explore, each with its own pros and cons. 

We believe that frequent, low-stakes, in-person tests, in the form of short quizzes or assignments at the end of every class or week is a good way to keep students in the classroom and attentive. That way, even if students are using ChatGPT to assist them with their assignments, they are still held responsible for understanding the most important concepts. Coupling that with courses that are more discussion and participation based might further encourage students to interact with the material in a meaningful way. 

Furthermore, in order to harness the advantages of having such technology at our disposal, universities could consider having more courses catered towards the ethics of AI and AI literacy, as the key to avoiding the pitfalls of a resource like ChatGPT is knowing how to use it. Those pursuing majors like computer science could potentially have a required class addressing such topics to ensure that colleges are handing degrees to students who are not only capable, but also responsible in the fields in which this technology is most prominent. 

Regardless of how all the potential advantages and complications this technology will bring to the classroom balance out — or don’t balance out — the onus of using it responsibly will be on students. Software and applications that can help students sidestep the honor code or find the easy way out in a class have always existed, such as translators for foreign language classes or just a simple Google search. The choice of whether or not to use them, however, has always been with students — and that was true long before ChatGPT. What it comes down to, as it always has, is how we want to shape our educational journey. AI technology has the ability to expand our knowledge and skill sets, but only if we use it correctly and with integrity.