Image showing the letters AI on a button to represent artificial intelligence

ChatGPT and Artificial Intelligence in Higher Ed

9 min read

Sara Anderson

The controversy between ChatGPT and education has hit the headlines recently, but artificial intelligence (AI) in academia is nothing new.

Higher education already employs AI in a number of ways, such as chatbots on college and university websites and a tool to schedule courses and manage campus facilities. As a powerful tool for recruitment, AI can help bring students through the door.

 First, what exactly is artificial intelligence? There is, of course, a more technical definition as well as a shorter, less complicated answer.

According to an article from Times Higher Education, the programs that run AI — algorithms — can use big data to project or predict outcomes based on machine learning, in which the computer “learns” to adapt to a myriad of changing elements, conditions, and trends.

The short answer: AI uses computers to perform tasks that traditionally require human intelligence.

AI will only evolve as it is ingrained in colleges and universities, and in many situations, it is a warning sign for higher ed. Schools are working to understand the concerns artificial intelligence raises for the academic community, while others are welcoming the limitless opportunities artificial intelligence has to offer.

“This is learning software — in a month, it’ll be smarter. In a year, it’ll be smarter,” said Furman University assistant philosophy professor Darren Hick. “I feel the mix myself between abject terror and what this is going to mean for my day-to-day job — but it’s also fascinating, it’s endlessly fascinating.”

You may have seen recent news about ChatGPT, a chatbot developed by OpenAI in late 2022 that can write essays, code, converse, and even pass the law school exam. Many in academia worry and others wonder if this is just a fad. Some even argue that students can always find a workaround to have their papers written for them or find answers to quizzes and tests.

  • Pros

The use of cutting-edge language models in education, like ChatGPT, has the potential to completely alter teaching and evaluation strategies. 

Taylor Sparks, associate professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Utah said:

“Similar to how programmable calculators and mathematical modeling software have expanded students’ mathematical abilities, ChatGPT can serve as a powerful tool for students to improve their writing and coding.”

AI tools like ChatGBT can help students overcome writer's block and generate ideas, summarize abstracts, create practice questions for quizzes and tests, receive feedback on written tasks, and identify data trends and patterns.

Additionally, for teaching staff, it can assist professors and lecturers in developing lesson plans or teaching resources.

  • Cons

Academic integrity is at the forefront of concern when it comes to ChatGPT and other forms of AI. One of the first things educators have raised is the risk of students using ChatGPT for cheating. Some have even gone as far as to say that this will be the end of homework.

“Of course, it may be easier and cheaper to use ChatGPT than other ways of getting around academic integrity, but the fact remains that students who are determined to cheat will find ways to do so," explained Danny Oppenheimer of Carnegie Mellon University. “Nothing has really changed; academic integrity is difficult to police and always has been."


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And just like with all technology, mistakes can happen. "There are still many cases where you ask it a question and it'll give you a very impressive-sounding answer that's just dead wrong," said Oren Etzioni, the founding CEO of the Allen Institute for AI.

So while students may try their luck at using ChatGPT to complete assignments, it won't necessarily help them pass it. 
And those students dedicated to learning and becoming successful in their field will understand there is a greater need to have a full comprehension of their subject, rather than find the quickest way to complete their homework. 
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