When University of Texas at Austin junior Noor Iqbal first heard about ChatGPT, they brushed it off for weeks.
But when the rhetoric and writing major started the spring semester, they started to hear conversations about how students were using the artificial intelligence program, produced by the research development company OpenAI, to complete coursework.
“People in classes or acquaintances saying, ‘well, I actually have used ChatGPT to write an essay – you know, either the full essay or like a whole chunk of the essay. And it was fine. Nobody noticed,’” Iqbal said.
But now, everyone is noticing. Since ChatGPT was launched in November 2022, it has been stirring curiosity and concern among students and faculty in colleges and universities nationwide.
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Although this AI technology is still new, Chat GPT is well suited for creating essays, outlining definitions, and defining topics. Anybody can ask countless numbers of questions and will usually receive a response.
“One of the things that I found that GPT is really good at is delivering very concise definitions and descriptions of concepts and terms,” said Greg Beam, a professor of film studies at the University of Texas-El Paso.
Beam has been using the AI tool in his classroom in a limited way. Some professors and faculty are concerned about ChatGPT, but Beam sees it as a potential useful resource for his students.
“I’m sort of keeping my antennae up and looking for areas where it might be useful or where I kind of want to get ahead of the students in applying it to assignments – sort of predicting how they might want to use it, trying that out myself and guiding them toward responsible use of it as a resource,” Beam said.
Many worry students will use ChatGPT as a way to cheat on essays or assignments. But Beam is not overly concerned.
“If they just generate an answer directly from GPT, it would lack depth, it would lack insight, it would lack specificity… It wouldn’t have a perspective, it wouldn’t have a thesis, because right now at present, GPT is not capable of that sort of higher order thinking,” Beam said.
This isn’t the first AI program to be used as a tool in education. Apps like Gradescope and iScanner are used by teachers to grade and scan coursework in a matter of seconds.
Vice Provost of Academic Affairs at UT-Austin, Art Markman, has been finding some solutions to help college educators navigate ChatGPT in their classrooms.
“It’s just a new tool and we don’t want to run away from it scared. We want to lead. We want to really demonstrate. This is how we take a new tool and incorporate it into the way that we teach,” Markman said.
UTEP professor Andrew Fleck has no doubt that his colleagues will find a way to incorporate this in their classrooms.
“Not a substitute for a learning, but something that could be a supplement to learning that would kind of go alongside of what we do in the classroom and so on,” Fleck said.
Fleck says that ChatGPT can be used effectively in classrooms by enriching a student’s learning. Markman considers this the more interesting prospect of ChatGPT.
“This is a tool that might help us to teach more effectively in the long run,” Markman said.
In February, OpenAI announced they will be launching a pilot version of ChatGPT Plus, a new subscription plan that gives users faster response times and priority access to new features and improvements. It’ll cost $20 a month.
Enrique Velasquez Morquecho, a first-year mechanical engineering Ph.D. student at UT-Austin, is concerned about how ChatGPT Plus could discourage low-income students from using it.
“I believe it’s an incredible tool. At the same time, putting a barrier to it with the form of a paywall, it definitely is going to be cutting off access to knowledge for thousands and thousands of students,” Morquecho said.
ChatGPT still has a free membership plan, though the program’s response times can be slower when the site is experiencing hundreds of users on it at the same time. OpenAI reported ChatGPT experienced several outages and web interface incidents in February and March.
Whether AI helps professors grade assignments faster or generate papers, programs like ChatGPT are here to stay. Iqbal sees ChatGPT as a tool and not something that could replace the work done at places like UT’s writing center.
“I am not afraid of it because I don’t think that GPT can replace human voice. It can’t replace human passion or originality. It certainly is not original. It is absolutely not original,” Iqbal said.
But they could get better quickly. That’s because AI programs are developing rapidly. Just last month, Google announced one of its own AI systems, called Bard, is now available for use.