Colleges work on plans to adjust to new world of AI, ChatGPT

College students can utilize ChatGPT for a wide range of tasks.
Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 7:01 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2023 at 12:50 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - College students can utilize ChatGPT for a wide range of tasks. Whether it’s help with writing assignments, brainstorming ideas, or clarifying complex concepts, ChatGPT serves as a valuable companion in the academic journey.

That right there was written by ChatGPT. The rest of this story is written by Western Mass News, so how are universities going to prevent students from using this tool to do their work?

“It hit me in November. When I was in class a student brought it up to me and then it became a much bigger deal starting in January of last year when faculty was very concerned that there is going to be a huge increase in the amount of plagiarism as a result of the tool. There’s really no way to detect it,” said Chris Hakala a psychology professor at Springfield College.

Hakala is exploring ways to ‘ChatGPT proof’ his courses this year and encouraging his fellow staff to do the same.

“If you don’t want students to plagiarize, then create an assignment. Because students are human just like everybody else to look for the simplest pathway to a task, so create an assignment, where it is easier to do the assignment, than it is to cheat. I think it is really important for faculty to be aware that that is a possibility and I also encourage faculty to run their prompts through ChatGPT to see what it looks like,” said Hakala.

Hakala is also advising teachers to stay ahead of the tool, don’t be afraid to bring it into the classroom and utilize it, which is something UMass Amherst professor Mohit Iyyer has been doing since before ChatGPT existed as we know it today.

“It’s a class about large language models like Chat GPT. And it’s been pretty crazy over the past year. I have been teaching this class then there is suddenly so much more interest. I try to incorporate it into assignments and exams and things like that. It’s been challenging but fun,” said Iyyer.

Iyyer has been teaching his course called natural language processing since 2018. He tells Western Mass News ChatGPT struggles to generate answers to multi-step assignments.

“I give a take-home exam for students to use whatever they want: the Internet, books, this year ChatGPT. It was actually very difficult to write questions that ChatGPT cannot answer and get a decent amount of partial credit on so I had to write 10 or 15 questions, but just five I could put on the exam that were tricky,” said Iyyer.

Iyyer also suggests handwritten assignments if you’re concerned about plagiarism or requiring students to write down exactly what they put into the AI bot, how they used it, and was the information helpful and correct or not, as accuracy is still a major concern.

“The other unsettling aspect is if you were not an expert in the field you really have no way to verify or validate whether this information is correct. And that has been some of the criticism of ChatGPT,” said Stan Prager of Go Geeks.

Prager says the information is spat back to you dramatically quickly but you need to be sure to fact-check it closely, just as you would on the internet.

“If you were researching something on Google, you’re not going to look at the very first thing that comes up because that is often an ad. So you might look down further and where are the sources? Then you look at Wikipedia and that might be wrong but there are a bunch of footnotes where you can go ahead and compare the sources there,” said Prager

The other challenge with ChatGPT is how to determine if something was generated using it which is posing problems for universities.

“It is really difficult to have a policy, like a College policy, against it because if we can’t detect it, we can’t really enforce our policy so we have to be really careful about that. We have some language that was constructed and designed to help faculty provide guidelines and help students understand what this might look like and how they might use it,” noted Hakala.

UMass Amherst encourages its faculty to clarify how AI can be used in their classrooms whether it is specifically prohibited, allowed with attribution, or encouraged with certain tasks.

American International College also addressing the use of AI this school year educating students on the benefits and limitations of ChatGPT while making sure it is used ethically and responsibly.

Smith College tells us the use of AI falls under their plagiarism policies where all work must be original to the student and sources are cited, but no matter the policy currently in place, AI and ChatGPT are here to stay, now the focus is adapting to it.

“It is similar to when calculators came along and people thought nobody was going to be able to do the math. We could do math now if it’s just different, so I think the same thing is going to happen to ChatGPT in writing,” said Hakal

“I think these next two or three years will be a transition period. A lot of professors rely on how they have developed their assignments well in the past, and I can keep them and giving them out to students every year with no changes, but there is going to be some work needed. It’s going to have to happen,” noted Iyyer.