An artificial intelligence system that's only been available for two months already has Iowa universities and schools thinking about how to address its use for potential cheating.
But they're also looking at how the online tool could improve faculty's teaching and students' learning.
ChatGPT was released Nov. 30 by the San Francisco-based startup OpenAI, which has a close relationship with Microsoft. The AI tool is free to use and can create written text on demand as a person asks it questions.
ChatGPT is part of a new generation of AI systems called "large language models" that can converse, generate readable text on demand and even produce novel images and video based on what they’ve learned from a vast database of digital books, online writings and other media.
Abram Anders, an English professor at Iowa State University, expects ChatGPT will be "truly transformative.” Anders plans to incorporate the tool into a course he's teaching this semester as well as in a new proposed course in the future. He will lead a workshop in February for faculty on how AI tools can be useful.
A graduate assistant in the English department also is incorporating ChatGPT in a course at Iowa State this semester.
Anders said he wants to show how technological advances force people to innovate, but also provide awareness of potential drawbacks and limitations to new tools — “a bit of showing what’s possible and a bit of cautioning around areas where we might get into a little trouble.”
How Iowa school districts, universities are responding to AI
But there is concern a sophisticated AI tool like ChatGPT could be used to cheat on school research papers or other assignments. The New York City school district recently blocked its use on school devices and networks.
OpenAI said in a statement it plans to work with educators to avoid having the technology used for misleading purposes in schools — or anywhere else. ChatGPT told the Associated Press it's "not appropriate" to use it for school papers "as it is considered cheating and does not benefit the student in the long run."
Heather Doe, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Education, said decisions about academic expectations, honesty and whether to block certain websites and artificial intelligence tools are made on the local level, though districts do receive technology support and guidance from their Area Education Agency.
In Ames, teachers have conversations with students about plagiarism and encourage students to correctly cite sources and address suspicious activity, said district spokesperson Amy DeLashmutt. The district will "continue educating our students about the downfalls associated with academic dishonesty and possible disciplinary actions," she said.
The University of Iowa has released guidance for faculty on how to have conversations with their students about academic integrity, incorporate AI tools into assignments and to tell if something's been written with assistance from AI.
Iowa State University has a task force looking at the use of ChatGPT and other AI tools and may release recommendations for the university community within a matter of weeks, said Ann Marie VanDerZanden, associate provost for academic programs.
VanDerZanden said Iowa State has not found a student that has used ChatGPT in a dishonest way. But the university's task force is looking at other large research institutions' policies and procedures around AI and how faculty might use the technology.
She told faculty senators last week the guidance, including recommendations for syllabi, would "tell the students when AI is strictly prohibited, when AI might be allowed with attribution, when AI is encouraged with some tasks and when it might be something you incorporate in your pedagogy," according to Inside Iowa State.
Anders said there are ways to disincentivize students from using AI tools to cheat, including emphasizing the aspects of human learning and communication that a machine cannot compete with.
ChatGPT can only complete tasks that its users understand and are able to ask it to do, he said. The system has to be taught how to do things, and even though it can create an accurate response, it doesn't really understand how the world works or have logic it can apply to situations, he said.
Benefits of ChatGPT and other AI tools for students
Anders expects most universities will ban the use of ChatGPT and other AI tools for some assignments but may allow their use in other settings.
“I’m really excited about these tools. I think over time they’re only going to add to the value of what educators do," he said. "Of course, there’s going to be a period of figuring it out, and I think all of us having patience and approaching it with a spirit of curiosity is going to be the best way to do that.”
Anders said the tool could act as a personal writing assistant that can help students more quickly progress through their work, brainstorm ideas, breakdown and summarize challenging material, ask questions that can be quickly researched, create an outline or revise a draft. He does not think AI tools will replace writing altogether.
VanDerZanden agreed that the tools could be useful in helping students "refine their thinking and build on it in a second draft or with more specific types of questions, giving students a chance to iterate on their assignments."
And the tools' ramifications will stretch far beyond education, and the university's academic degree in artificial intelligence will benefit from looking at how the technology might influence industry and business, she said.
The Associated Press, for example, uses AI to transcribe videos and automate stories on corporate earnings, according to its website. ChatGPT was not used in the creation of this story, however. The Ames Tribune tried to create a sample of text but too many people were accessing the tool online and jammed its server.
ChatGPT did share a sonnet about its jammed status: "As the chatbot works to restore its might, We wait in anticipation, with hopeful hearts, For the chance to chat and learn, with delight, And see what knowledge and wisdom it imparts. So hold on tight, and wait for its return, For ChatGPT will soon be back, and your patience will be well-earned."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.
This article originally appeared on Ames Tribune: Iowa schools, universities work on ChatGPT policies to avoid cheating