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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Opinion: Let’s embrace artificial intelligence

ChatGPT has taken over classrooms. It’s time to make it a tool instead of an enemy

On Nov. 30, 2022, a software program was released that would change how professors and students navigate the classroom. 

Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, commonly known as ChatGPT, is an artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI that has taken the world by storm. 

It can answer pretty much any prompt, write full-length essays, solve math problems, develop code and translate languages. For this reason, professors, administrators and staff have greatly struggled with how to address the topic of AI. 

ChatGPT has been a controversial topic since its release, but it doesn’t have to be.

At the beginning of each of my classes this semester, I was warned by my professors not to use ChatGPT as they raised legitimate concerns about the software. A free and accessible service that can answer pretty much anything, regardless of whether it’s correct or not, is scary for professors. How can they trust that students are doing their own work? ChatGPT is notably banned in Fairfax County Public Schools and New York City Public Schools. But a ban on AI won’t work in the long run, especially in a university setting.

American University has not banned ChatGPT; instead, it’s up to professors to form their own guidelines for it. Some use software like GPTZero that supposedly detects AI-generated writing, but isn’t a reliable source. For example, GPTZero detected the U.S. Constitution as 92 percent AI written. Inputting old essays I wrote before the release of ChatGPT, GPTZero found that 75 percent of my writing was AI-generated. Clearly, this software is not accurate enough to properly aid professors. Already, students have been falsely accused of using AI at other colleges. 

In the 1970s, a debate ensued about calculators, similar to the current debate about AI. Questions like ‘Should they be allowed in the classroom?’ and ‘How would they change the future of math?’ parallel our current concerns. A belief amongst some professors, according to Sarah Banks in a paper on the history of calculators, was that they were merely a cheating device that allowed students to slack off. Other professors embraced calculators in the classroom by using them as a supplement to their material.

Rather than being a cheating device, calculators became a tool that helped students check their work and solve more complex problems. The same idea applies to AI. Unless an assignment is being done in person, professors should function under the assumption that students use it as a supplement. 

Presently, ChatGPT is not at a stage where it can write full essays without being obviously robotic. However, it’s an excellent tool for generating ideas for a topic or creating an outline of a potential essay. The software can be used supplementally rather than to do all of the work for you. Most importantly, you have to know what to put into ChatGPT to get the desired results out of it. Professors should teach students the best ways to utilize this tool rather than attempt to eliminate it.

Blatant plagiarism, however, is a different situation. Copying and pasting something generated by AI into an assignment does not show skill or drive from a student. I have seen this happen on discussion boards in my classes, where I will post my non-AI-generated response and immediately see two or three almost identical posts — an obvious indicator of AI being copied and pasted with little editing.

This plagiarism is why I empathize with professors who dislike AI. However, the real issue in these cases is plagiarism, not AI. These are students who don’t know how to use AI for good, just as they may not know how to use other sources of information. 

Working alongside AI is the future, though. The way universities function changes with the times; there was a time when using laptops with internet access was considered cheating on basic assignments. This technology is on track to become an integral part of our lives, so learning to embrace it in the classrooms will be important in the near future.

Alana Parker is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communication and a columnist for The Eagle. 

This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.

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