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    ChatGPT, Students & Future Academic Implications To Consider

    Posted October 13, 2023, 10:00 am by Charlotte Klaar PhD

    I must admit that I am conflicted about the use of AI applications, like ChatGPT, in the classroom. I can remember how aghast people were when schools allowed the use of calculators in math classes beginning in elementary school. This was viewed as the end to the understanding of mathematical concepts and number sense in general. Did it happen? No.

    There was more uproar when “spell check” became available. I suspect that those who had trouble spelling before spell checkers were common have trouble spelling today. For some of us, autocorrection of misspelled words reinforced the need to proofread so that the substituted word didn’t alter the meaning that we were hoping for. It seems each new thing leads to another.

    Artificial Intelligence, though, is a much more powerful tool. The risk in front of all of us is that AI can lull us into complacency. Instead of learning how to write, formulate arguments or thoughts, we could just allow a machine to think for us. That could have a powerful (and potentially negative) impact on academic inquiry and initiative. 

    The Possible Issues with ChatGPT in the Classroom

    The Benefits of ChatGPT

    Using ChatGPT or similar programs as an idea-generating tool can be most helpful. For example, I recently tested ChatGPT’s ability to get a student started on building a list of medium-sized colleges with specific majors in a defined area of the country. It gave me a reasonable start although some of the colleges mentioned were larger than I specified. 

    I then asked for ChatGPT to list resources so that I could write a paper about Napoleon. It gave a wide array of options that could be used by a student to begin a research paper and thus save time discovering the sources themselves. Used in this way, I believe that this is a great tool for both personal and academic tasks. 

    When ChatGPT is used as an idea-generating, or brainstorming tool, it can spur students to speedier and more accurate planning. It may also help those students who are intimidated by the blank page to go further than they might have previously.

    The Negatives of ChatGPT

    The temptation to just let ChatGPT (or similar programs like Bard or Ernie Bot) simply write your essays or your research papers and claim them as your original work, may be too much for many people. Rather than admitting that they need help or taking the time to think and develop a stance on the topic themselves, they can let an anonymous ghost-writer (AKA ChatGPT) write it for them. When this happens, the skill of learning is moot. Any feedback from a teacher or trusted advisor would be lost on the writer because it wasn’t their work being corrected. Increasing the odds that when the writer had to perform in a similar way without an AI support buddy, they would likely make more mistakes than expected.

    I also tested out Jasper, a paid AI tool, that you can use to write your complete document after entering some basic direction. I was deeply concerned by the results. The truth is, had a student submitted the document to me, I would not have suspected that it was written by an AI tool unless I had been privy to the student’s voice and style previously.

    This potential level of deception is scary indeed.

    The Dangers of ChatGPT

    Students are faced with an ethical dilemma: submit something written by a chatbot or take the time to explore an issue and form real and defensible positions on it. Those rabbit holes of inquiry that are followed when doing research can often open new areas of interest and enhance your appreciation for, and understanding of, a topic. 

    You can never fully know what will inflame your passion for a particular subject. Therefore, using a tool that gives you the answers, but limits further investigation is detrimental to acquiring a broad-base of knowledge of a subject. 

    In short, AI stifles creativity and discernment. We have a generation of kids today who seek instant gratification. Many want the answers handed to them immediately, and they lack the curiosity and the will to dig deeper. 

    Is this a failure of moral development or simply a symptom of immaturity? 

    I do not pretend to have the answer, although I suspect that it is a bit of both. We must accept that for some people, if there is an easy way to accomplish something, they will take it every time. Cheating is rampant in our middle and high schools and students often put much more effort into figuring out ways to cheat than they would to simply spend to learn the material. I have no reason to suspect that these habits don’t extend to colleges.

    The Bottom Line: ChatGPT is Another Tool

    As colleges struggle to develop rules for the use of ChatGPT, we must recognize that those guidelines may come too late for current students or applicants. Georgia Tech, to its credit, has clear guidelines on its website as to how and when to use ChatGPT. 

    They say, We believe there is a place for them in helping you generate ideas, but your ultimate submission should be your own.” 

    In other words, they allow applicants to use the tools available, but encourage students to add their own spirit to the final document.

    As I see it, ChatGPT is an instrument that, if used properly, can enhance learning and speed inquiry into a subject matter. Schools at all levels should train their students in the proper use of this tool and use this opportunity to teach values and honesty. Turning in work that you did not generate is against the rules because you not only cheat the students who are doing the hard work of learning, but you are cheating yourself by forgoing the chance to see what you can do. 

    There are no shortcuts to an education just as there are no shortcuts in any worthwhile endeavor. The grade is not as important as the experience of stretching your minds, discovering your interests, and digging into uncharted waters. It is from these endeavors that innovation and discovery come. 

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    Charlotte Klaar PhD

    Charlotte Klaar PhD

    Dr. Klaar utilizes a no-nonsense, no-excuses style as she works with students to make the college search, application and essay process an adventure of self-discovery and growth. Along the way, she helps students learn to make informed decisions and to own the college search process.