A new technology is now available to students and teachers that will change college and high school classrooms for years to come.
Launched in November, ChatGPT is a natural language tool driven by artificial intelligence that allows users to have human-like interactions and more with a chatbot.
The application can answer questions, assist with tasks such as composing emails, essays and creating computer code. Usage is currently free because it is in its research and feedback-collection phase.
The concept was created by OpenAI, an American artificial intelligence company and research laboratory based in San Francisco.
One of the current concerns is how will ChatGPT change college and high school learning?.
Some teachers are using ChatGPT to help generate ideas for lesson plans and class activities, or plug in their students' writing to get recommendations and edits.
It can be used as a research tool for students, but can also be used to create research papers, essays and homework assignments simply by asking the application to create them on its own.
A student can type in questions, such as "Can you write me a 750 word essay on Mark Twain?" or "Write an essay on comparing the symbolism within The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," and ChatGPT will create an essay in seconds for students to submit as their own work.
"You can see it from two sides," said Marouane Kessentini, professor and chair of Computer Science and Engineering at Oakland University. "One side is that chatbots are dangerous medicines with amazing side effects or see them as amazing medicine with dangerous side effects."
The authenticity of work created by the application has been tested on several levels.
Christian Terwiesch, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a study in which he used the application to take a final exam of a core Masters of Business Administration course. He concluded ChatGPT would have received a B to B- on the exam.
Researchers at Michigan State University's law school and Chicago Kent College of Law found ChatGPT can pass a professional license exam, commonly referred to as "the Bar Exam," and researchers at Yale found the chatbot earned a passing grade on the United States Medical Licensing Exam.
Concern over students abusing the application has already led to New York City Public Schools, the largest school district in the U.S., announcing in early January it was banning ChatGPT across all district networks and devices.
"I've talked to several teachers who are worried about the emergence of ChatGPT, mostly out of concern that students may use it to cheat on tests or essays, which is an understandable concern," said Shana Ramin, Technology Integration specialist with Oakland Schools. "It's definitely going to challenge teachers to reevaluate how we assess students in the classroom, which I think is a good thing in the long run."
The application can also polish work a student creates and artificially enhances the assignment before it is submitted as their own work.
San Francisco high school teacher Daniel Herman wrote this for an article in the Atlantic magazine: "I received an essay draft from a student. I passed it along to OpenAI's bots. 'Can you fix this essay up and make it better?' Turns out, it could. It kept the student's words intact but employed them more gracefully; it removed the clutter so the ideas were able to shine through."
Oakland Schools' Ramin said the application can be used to help struggling students. It can be used to pare down difficult passages for lower reading levels, one of many ways the tool can help English language learners or students with learning disabilities.
"I know teachers who have used it to generate writing prompts, rewrite difficult reading passages, and brainstorm ideas for lessons or activities," said Ramin. "Teachers have also used it to write sample essays for students to analyze and give feedback on, which is such a clever and time-saving idea. So while there's definitely the potential for misuse, there are so many potential benefits."
Kim Berens, co-founder of Fit Learning centers, sees another advantage of the application for teachers.
"It can be an unbelievable resource for development of curriculum materials that can be individualized for kids," she said. "Kids don't learn as a group; kids learn as individuals. So having a tool like this for teachers to design individualized materials for kids in their classrooms is a tremendous asset."
Berens said the key to keeping students from resorting to artificially created class work is to get them to become proficient in the fundamentals of all subjects and teachers can use ChatGPT to help create that roadmap.
"When students are still struggling with core fundamental skills in middle school and high school, but then they are expected to write essays, that is what sets the stage for kids to have to cheat," she said. "When schools make it all about the grade, but don't provide fluency training so they are really good in the classroom, then they are going to cheat."
Some students remain leery of the new technology and are waiting to learn more about it before using it.
"A lot of kids on campus know about it, but don't know what it is all about yet," said Kerry Welles, a University of Michigan at Dearborn sophomore. "But kids know it can create work out of thin air that you can pass off as your own and are not sure if professors can identify it yet and don't want to be the first ones to get caught."
Some school districts are waiting to see how the application begins to present itself in their classrooms.
"The trend of students using artificial intelligence apps to write papers and complete assignments is very new," said Nancy Mahoney, Clarkston's assistant superintendent of Instructional Services. "While we are unaware of any instances here at Clarkston schools, we are actively learning more about the trend and how we can combat it."
"AI (artificial intelligence) is too big to say whether it is good or bad," said Andrea Zellner, learning design consultant for Oakland Schools. "As far as teachers go, there are some who see this as a learning opportunity to interrogate what it means to write and create in the age of AI, while others are certainly concerned about cheating and plagiarism."
Oakland University's Kessentini said OpenAI has created a tool to detect plagiarism coming from their chatbot, but as with the application itself it is still being perfected as a resource for teachers to identify work not created by their students.
"The other aspect is that most teachers are smart enough to know what work looks artificial and what is real," said Kessentini. "You can see a lack of personality, style and originality in work created by a chatbot and educators can usually decipher that."
He admitted that the application will continue to be improved to produce more natural work that will make it harder for educators to identify plagiarized work.
"They will start to address the cognitive and cultural part of the writing so it will become harder to identify if it was written by a human or not," said Kessentini. "We have to think about how we can have our students use the artificial intelligence tool in an ethical way."
Kessentini said that Oakland University has just finished developing a course on the ethics of artificial intelligence and will begin offering a Masters degree in artificial intelligence with a concentration on ethics in the fall.
In the long term, Berens of Fit Learning is encouraging schools to embrace the new technology rather than ban it based on initial perceptions that students will use it improperly.
"If school's try to restrict this and not use it all, that is never going to work," she said. "They should build it into their curriculum and use it as a teaching tool. Build with it instead of shy away from it."
"Overall, I think it's important for teachers and students to understand how ChatGPT works and what its limitations are," said Ramin. It's not something to copy or rely on absent-mindedly, but it's definitely something that can help us if we use it the right way."
Berens added, "This is in the world now and it is only going to get more sophisticated, so let's harness it and use it to our advantage to provide quick and efficient models and use those models to teach kids to proficiency." – The Oakland Press/Tribune News Service