Students want rules for AI use
ChatGPT is here, so deal with it
‘A friend of mine used it to create an entire presentation, without altering it’, says twenty-five-year-old law student Frans Lunshof. His friend doesn’t study in Groningen though: ‘I think the UG is too strict to let that pass.’ Students who use ChatGPT like his friend eventually act against their own interests, he thinks, ‘even if they pass’.
When OpenAI presented ChatGPT in November, the use of it spread like wildfire in the academic world. Thousands of students made accounts to experiment with the new chatbot. Now the dust has settled a little, but students keep using it. Not to let it write assignments on their behalf, though. Most of them see it as a study tool, an addition to their resources, reveals an UKrant survey among 330 UG students and staff members.
Frans uses ChatGPT like this, too. It’s more like a calculator to him, he says, like quickly entering a simple maths problem to check it for sure. ‘If the outcome is incorrect, I will know.’
The use of AI tools will likely only increase further, with 70 percent of respondents who have used ChatGPT reporting they would recommend it to others. And then there is the imminent release of newer versions and more tools. Most UG students use ChatGPT, but there are others too.
It has the potential to be a watershed moment
Grammarly, for example. Or QuillBot, Paraphraser.io, Writefull… And even Microsoft’s GPT-4 powered search engine Bing, even though that one seems to have slipped under the radar of most UG students – only two respondents mentioned using it.
While chatbots aren’t new, ChatGPT stands out because it doesn’t just process your words one at a time, but understands them in the context of the surrounding text. Imagine it as a mathematical function; it takes the raw text you give it and creates contextual answers.
Have you found that ChatGPT has improved your academic performance?
‘It’s a revolutionary technology’, says assistant professor in digital humanities and information sciences Andreas van Cranenburgh. ‘It has the potential to be a watershed moment; from now on everything could change.’
‘ChatGPT has big implications for society, especially within academia’, worries assistant professor in artificial intelligence and computational linguistics Jennifer Spenader. ‘It’s a major problem in assessment.’
Students, however, still seem hesitant about the use of these tools. Only 1 percent of students – three people – say they have actually used ChatGPT to do complete assignments for them. The others say they’ve always revised the texts the AI gave them.
Would you recommend ChatGPT to your peers?
Michael, a psychology student, recently started using ChatGPT for assignments and regrets not using it before. He heard about it from his dad, who teaches computing science at university, and began using it to come up with essay ideas: ‘I didn’t know what way I wanted to go, and it gave me a direction.’
I didn’t know what way I wanted to go, and it gave me a direction
‘Sometimes it gives you that starting point; it speeds up the thought process’, he explains. Then he realised it is also helpful in the research phase, to simplify complex terms. And then, when it came time to write, it proved an effective assistant, too.
‘It gives you a framework for your whole piece’, adds Frans. ‘You get a start that you can modify and rewrite yourself.’
Another respondent mirrors this sentiment: ‘You can use it as a “tool” and not an end product. It builds a fine foundation for a piece, but you will have to build the house yourself’.
One third of the respondents even say the use of AI tools has improved their academic performance overall.
That does pose an important question, though. Is it still you who is doing the ‘performance’? Is it really okay to use a tool that is doing the work for you? 36 percent of students who have used ChatGPT do still have doubts about that.
Have you found that ChatGPT has improved your academic performance?
That might be because of the novelty of the technology. Both students and teachers are still trying to work out how to best implement AI in their studies.
‘It’s very important to remember that the software is not always right’, says Frans. It tends to create biassed and fabricated information, agrees Gabriele Sarti, a PhD researcher in computational linguistics.
A survey respondent cautions that in the end, AI merely ‘reproduces our own thoughts and writings and thus also our pitfalls and limitations’.
And there is fear it will bring about an uptick in plagiarism, less diversity of thought, and potentially a decline in the overall quality of education.
But the chief complaint is the fact that students think ChatGPT users are cheating the educational system. ‘I find it purposeless when it comes to learning. If an AI is doing all the assignments for you, are you really learning anything?’ a respondent points out.
If an AI is doing all the assignments, are you really learning anything?
‘If you wave your diploma around, but basically have none of the skills to back it up, then I think you kind of wasted your time’, agrees student of philosophy Frans Aartsen. ‘That especially goes for philosophy students.’
Because even though only a handful of students say they use ChatGPT to write complete assignments, that number will probably go up. And students don’t think their professors are able to detect fraud. 54 percent of respondents believe that teachers can only slightly, or not at all, detect the use of AI tools in assignments.
‘I always paraphrase information from ChatGPT’, says Michael. ‘But I know people who use the QuillBot trick’ – undetected, he adds. QuillBot is a paraphrasing tool, which makes ChatGPT use undetectable by plagiarism scanners.
And that is something programme directors will need to respond to. The UG emphasises the importance of discussing responsible and effective use of AI tools with students.
But students indicate that they have received little to no guidance or training on the matter, except for some lecturers warning against their use. 83 percent want more clarity.
Do you think the university should provide more guidance or training for students on how to use AI tools effectively?
For some students, that means that they refrain from using it. Like Katarina Andini, a PhD student at the Faculty of Medical Sciences. ‘As long as it is not regulated, I am not using it; just to be on the safer side.’
Sarti highlights the importance of a university-wide policy as a point of reference. ‘But then, I feel like professors should really decide how these kinds of tools can be used in their course.’
Courses should incorporate the use of ChatGPT and other AIs into their education. ‘Don’t ask for stuff an AI can do so easily’, says a student. ‘If all you are supposed to learn at uni can be done by a chatbot, is it worth going to uni?’
Spenader wholeheartedly agrees that education has to change. ‘To ensure students don’t cheat, there needs to be a shift to in-person exams and essays, as well as oral exams. It’s a big shake-up.’
But it might also be an opportunity to offer students a more personalised education: ‘Oral exams, for example, are engaging for the student, because you get to explain one on one what you understood. I think it’s motivating’, says Spenader.
As long as it is not regulated, I am not using it
Some changes have already been made. The Faculty of Arts, for example, has adjusted its testing and examination regulations; starting next academic year, lecturers will be allowed to quiz students in an oral exam if they suspect their written work is not their own. The Faculty of Law is trying to create AI-proof assignments and, if possible, conduct them in a controlled environment or oral exams.
Furthermore, committees and working groups are being established to assess AI’s place in the university. ‘The Teaching Academy is setting up a new community of practice on AI in education as a cross-faculty network to connect these individual initiatives’, says Benjamin Bewersdorf, one of the academy’s community of practice leaders and a lecturer at the University College.
Many lecturers are also actively thinking about how to use ChatGPT to improve students’ learning experience. Bewersdorf, for example, recently taught a workshop to UCG students about ChatGPT and essay writing.
But in the absence of a general policy, faculties and lecturers are left alone to implement a patchwork of temporary measures.
Sarti believes students should really think about what their education means for them. ‘They should ask themselves: am I learning to pass my classes, or am I doing this to learn something?’
While Bewersdorf thinks that ChatGPT can be a great learning tool, students will miss the opportunity to learn by themselves if they let ChatGPT do all the work for them, he says. ‘Being a student is a privilege most of us have only once in our lives, so we had better make the most of it.’