Educators object to ChatGPT, an AI that ‘writes’ papers for students

Educators across the U.S. are sounding the alarm over ChatGPT, an upstart artificial intelligence that can write term papers for students based on keywords without clear signs of plagiarism.

Trey Vasquez, a special education professor at the University of Central Florida, recently tested the next-generation “chatbot” with a group of other professors and students. They asked it to summarize an academic article, create a computer program, and write two 400-word essays on the use and limits of AI in education.

“I can give the machine a prompt that would take my grad students hours to write a paper on, and it spits something out in 3 to 5 seconds,” Mr. Vasquez told The Washington Times. “But it’s not perfect.”

He said the essays would have received a “C” grade, but he added that the program also helped a student with cerebral palsy to write more efficiently.

Other educators familiar with the software said they have no way of telling if their students have used it to cheat on winter exams.

“I really don’t know,” said Thomas Plante, a psychology professor who teaches ethics at Santa Clara University. “As a college professor, I’m worried about how to manage this issue and need help from knowledgeable folks to figure out how to proceed.”

“I have a lot of experience of students cheating, and I have to say ChatGPT allows for an unprecedented level of dishonesty,” said Joy Kutaka-Kennedy, a member of the American Educational Research Association and education professor at National University. “Do we really want professionals serving us who cheated their way into their credentials?”

The nation’s largest public school system, New York City, restricted ChatGTP from campus devices and networks after students returned this month from winter break.

But teachers have been unable to keep students from using the software at home in the five weeks since it launched on Nov. 30.

Education insiders say millions of students have likely downloaded the program and started submitting work with it while schools and software developers figure out what to do.

“Most of the major players in the plagiarism detection space are working to catch up with the sudden capabilities of ChatGPT, but they aren’t there yet,” said Scott Bailey, assistant provost of education professions at the American College of Education.

San Francisco-based Open AI, the maker of ChatGPT, has pledged to address academic dishonesty concerns by creating a coded watermark for content that only educators can identify.

In addition, several independent software developers and the anti-cheating website Turnitin claim they have found ways to identify the AI by its “extremely average” writing. But none of these tools are widely available yet — and rank-and-file instructors say it’s hard to identify “plagiarism” that isn’t based on existing work.

The debate is similar to what teachers faced when students started buying calculators years ago, said Liz Repkin, a K-12 education consultant who owns the Illinois-based Cyber Safety Consulting.

“We are seeing two sides to the argument, ban it or allow it, the age-old dilemma,” said Ms. Repkin, a mother whose three children are in middle school, high school and college. “I believe we should take the more painful and slow approach that partners with students to use the technology that is out there in safe and ethical ways.”

Some cyber experts have come to see the program as Frankenstein’s monster — a well-intended innovation that is doing more harm than good.

Open AI designed ChatGPT to help with writing emails, essays and coding, but authorities say criminals have started using it for espionage, ransomware and malicious spam.

The chatbot presents the illusion of talking with a friend who wants to do your work for you. It can compose essays on suggested topics, churn out lyrics to a song and write software code without the user having to dictate many specifics.

The system generates content from a massive database, using two separate algorithms for language modeling and similar prompts. And it gets smarter each time someone uses it.

“As technologies like ChatGPT become increasingly mainstream, it will elevate the risk of academic dishonesty if the methods of assessment and measuring knowledge don’t also evolve,” said Steven Tom, a vice president at Adtalem Global Education, a Chicago-based network of for-profit colleges.

Take-home essays are the likeliest assignments where students will cheat if teachers don’t adjust to the technology, he added in an email.

“Don’t rely solely on the essay but rather employ multiple types of assessment in a course,” Mr. Tom said.

More sophisticated assignments have been able to outsmart ChatGPT so far — but just barely.

Some law school professors fed the bar exam into the program last month. The chatbot earned passing scores on evidence and torts but failed the multiple-choice questions, Reuters reported.

Those scholars expect ChatGPT will soon be able to ace the attorney licensing test as more students use it.

Some teachers also could misuse ChatGPT to “teach to the test” instead of fostering critical thinking skills, said Aly Legge of Moms for America, a conservative parental rights group.

“We have a school culture and societal culture that does not foster personal responsibility by teaching children that their actions have consequences,” Ms. Legge said in an email. “We must keep in mind that ChatGPT will only be as dangerous as we allow it.”

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