Paul L. Caron

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Colleges (And Law Schools) Are Rushing To Respond To ChatGPT

Chronicle of Higher Education, ChatGPT Is Everywhere:

Open AI ChatGPTIt’s hard to believe that ChatGPT appeared on the scene just three months ago, promising to transform how we write. The chatbot, easy to use and trained on vast amounts of digital text, is now pervasive. Higher education, rarely quick about anything, is still trying to comprehend the scope of its likely impact on teaching — and how it should respond.

ChatGPT, which can produce essays, poems, prompts, contracts, lecture notes, and computer code, among other things, has stunned people with its fluidity, although not always its accuracy or creativity. To do this work it runs on a “large language model,” a word predictor that has been trained on enormous amounts of data. Similar generative artificial-intelligence systems allow users to create music and make art.

Many academics see these tools as a danger to authentic learning, fearing that students will take shortcuts to avoid the difficulty of coming up with original ideas, organizing their thoughts, or demonstrating their knowledge. Ask ChatGPT to write a few paragraphs, for example, on how Jean Piaget’s theories on childhood development apply to our age of anxiety and it can do that.

Other professors are enthusiastic, or at least intrigued, by the possibility of incorporating generative AI into academic life. Those same tools can help students — and professors — brainstorm, kick-start an essay, explain a confusing idea, and smooth out awkward first drafts. Equally important, these faculty members argue, is their responsibility to prepare students for a world in which these technologies will be incorporated into everyday life, helping to produce everything from a professional email to a legal contract.

But skeptics and fans alike still have to wrestle with the same set of complicated questions. Should instructors be redesigning their assignments and tests to reduce the likelihood that students will present the work of AI as their own? What guidance should students receive about this technology, given that one professor might ban AI tools and another encourage their use? Do academic-integrity policies need to be rewritten? Is it OK to use AI detectors? Should new coursework on AI be added and, if so, what form should it take?

For many, this is a head-spinning moment.

“I really think that artificial-intelligence tools present the greatest creative disruption to learning that we’ve seen in my lifetime,” says Sarah Eaton, an associate professor of education at the University of Calgary who studies academic integrity.

Colleges are responding by creating campuswide committees. Teaching centers are rolling out workshops. And some professors have leapt out front, producing newsletters, creating explainer videos, and crowdsourcing resources and classroom policies.

The one thing that academics can’t afford to do, teaching and tech experts say, is ignore what’s happening. Sooner or later, the technology will catch up with them, whether they encounter a student at the end of the semester who may have used it inappropriately, or realize that it’s shaping their discipline and their students’ futures in unstoppable ways. A recent poll of more than 1,000 members of Educause, a nonprofit focused on technology in higher education, found that 37 percent of those surveyed said AI is already affecting undergraduate teaching, and 30 percent said it is having an impact on faculty development.

“A lot of times when any technology comes out, even when there are really great and valid uses, there’s this very strong pushback: Oh, we have to change everything that we do,” says Youngmoo Kim, an engineering professor who sits on a new committee at Drexel University charged with creating universitywide guidance on AI. “Well, guess what? You’re in higher education. Of course you have to change everything you do. That’s the story of higher education.”

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