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AI arrives on college campuses: How students are using ChatGPT for essays, research and more

Rapid emergence of AI technology embraced by some, raising eyebrows among others
ai artificial intelligence chat gpt chatbot
Posted at 6:08 PM, Mar 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-07 13:26:53-05

DENVER — Ready or not, the AI revolution is upon us and one of its most immediate impacts is the emergence of chatbots like ChatGPT.

“It will be a boon to the societies that pick this up,” said junior student leader and president of the Metropolitan State University of Denver Chess Club Paul Nelson.

Nelson is talking about ChatGPT and its rapid emergence on college campuses throughout the U.S.

One educated at MSU Denver said the first time he heard of the chatbot was in November and now, four months later, it’s a part of almost every conversation he has.

“My first reaction when I first saw ChatGPT was, ‘Oh my God. We are in trouble,’” said Dr. David Merriam, assistant professor of biology. “I plugged in one of my multiple-choice tests and I got a 98%.”

At the most basic level, ChatGPT is a program that allows you to type in anything and within seconds it can reply back with an essay, a news story, a film script, and the list goes on.

It’s because of that, we find ourselves in this classroom on the campus of MSU Denver, where administrators, professors and students are discussing the pros and cons of the artificial intelligence chatbot on college campuses.

“The frustrating thing in preparing for this is I come to you with no solutions,” said Jeff Loats, director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design and interim AVP for online learning and professor of physics.

Some professors at MSU Denver are embracing the use of ChatGPT in some forms of student work.

“This is not meant to be our expert source of data,” said Merriam. “This is going to be our tool to help us understand the world in a better way.”

But others are naturally more guarded about its implementation.

“Oh, I’m concerned about that, very much,” said Julian Friedland, assistant professor of business and ethics.

Friedland still isn’t convinced of its practicality or its effectiveness.

“Can it actually fool most people, adults, into thinking that it’s a real human?” said Friedland. “The answer is, it’s never really been able to do it.”

On the other hand, some already see real value in the application of ChatGPT at certain levels.

“When It improves code, it gives you a really big advantage,” said Merriam.

Like it or not, students already know how to use it.

“I’ve used it for idea generation,” said Nelson. “I’ve had it write comedy skits in the style of a particular comedian I like.”

Nelson said if colleges and corporations in the U.S. don’t implement the technology, they’ll be left in the dust.

“Oh yes,” said Nelson. “If we don’t incorporate this technology, our international peers are happy to do so. And they will rocket past us. Old ways of thinking need to be tossed in the waste basket when we talk about this thing because it is totally new.”

Nelson believes the conversation, like the debate happening at MSU Denver on this day, needs to include all stakeholders, from administrators down to students.

“We have to get with the program when it comes to using this technology,” said Nelson. “Otherwise, we’re going to fall by the wayside when it comes to the production of research.”

Some professors are already allowing a certain percentage of student work to be AI-generated.

English lecturer and acting director of the MSU Denver Writing Center J.J. Seggelke sees potential in the technology, in terms of breaking down walls for kids who are intimidated by the essay writing process or writing in general.

“I also think a huge part of this is normalizing the idea that writing is hard,” said Seggelke. “I work in the writing center and for me, a lot of times, writing sucks. And I think normalizing that for students is really important and that it takes effort.”

In terms of whether it will encourage cheating, Kim Myers, who handles academic misconduct and student accountability in the Dean of Students Office at MSU Denver says as of now, there are no absolutes. But she believes those who cheat will continue to cheat and those who don’t, won’t.

“So while I think it’s going to be an interesting challenge for us, I don’t think students will be changing their behaviors because of it,” said Myers.

There are inherent dangers with AI-generated content.

The AI show and a Seinfeld spoof called Nothing Forever exploded in popularity on Twitch, then got banned after the AI-generated Seinfeld character started making transphobic remarks during its standup routine.

Nelson has witnessed the bias first-hand.

“You could feed this thing a false piece of propaganda, hateful, bigoted ideology and if you prompt it correctly, you’re capable of getting around the actual safeguards that it has,” said Nelson. “I asked it to write a joke in the style of Joe Biden, and it said, ‘Oh it would be disrespectful as an AI model to do this.’ I was able to argue past its rules in order to get it to complete the task.”

Whatever the case may be, it’s here, and it has roared onto the academic scene in a hurry leading to more questions than answers about its implementation at this point.

“When a new move happens in basketball or sports, or chess, no one really thought of it,” said Friedland. “And that’s always going to throw off the algorithm. It’s going to make mistakes.”

“There’s a lot of reasons we worry about this technology,” said Merriam. “There’s a lot we need to change. But we can’t just throw out the good with the bad.”

“It will lead to good things,” said Nelson.

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