Akron-area school districts confront ChatGPT as student use — and abuse — of chatbot grows

Students at Stonewall Elementary in Lexington, Kentucky, work on an assignment to figure out which writing sample was created by the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT, which can generate everything from essays and haikus to term papers in a matter of seconds.
Students at Stonewall Elementary in Lexington, Kentucky, work on an assignment to figure out which writing sample was created by the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT, which can generate everything from essays and haikus to term papers in a matter of seconds.

School districts throughout Summit County are evaluating what to do about student use of recent AI technology that's capable of completing difficult homework assignments in a matter of seconds.

The most popular such program, ChatGPT, has surged in popularity since its introduction inNovember, crossing the 1 million user threshold within a week of its launch. By January, that number had reached 100 million and has been growing ever since.

Students from elementary to post-graduate institutions immediately seized on the potential of the new tool, with some using it to cheat on essays and papers submitted as their own work.

Although reports of student cheating pepper the national news, administrators at several Akron-area school district said they haven't — yet — discovered students in their districts misusing the program.

In emails and phone interviews, administrators from nine area districts said they'redeveloping policies for beneficial use of such technology while trying to avoid its abuse, like cheating.

Steve Wood, superintendent of Tallmadge City Schools, said ChatGPT and other so-called chatbots have potential to become useful in the classroom, a perspective shared by other administrators.

"Yes, our students (and staff) have begun using these tools," Wood said in a recent email. "I believe AI is a powerful tool that, if used well, will further enhance critical thinking and language skills."

ChatGPT is currently the most commonly used chatbot for homework, but programs from Google, Bing and other software developers are in various stages of development. Program developers say the chatbot responses will continue to improve as interaction between humans and the programs builds.

On March 13, for example, OpenAI released an updated, subscription version of its ChatGPT product, with an updated ChatGPT 5 possible by the end of the year.

The dark side of artificial intelligence

Although capable of generating B-level or above college papers, ChatGPT and its siblings have demonstrated drawbacks that can range from amusing to libelous.

On Monday, the mayor of a Hepburn Shire in Australia said he would sue OpenAI after learning it had accused him of financial crimes he didn't commit, going so far as to allege he'd pleaded guilty to the non-existent crimes.

In another example of ChatGPT fiction, a response reported on by the Washington Post and other media, the chatbot accused a noted legal scholar of sexual harassment that never occurred. The AI response got just about everything wrong.

"…I learned that ChatGPT falsely reported on a claim of sexual harassment that was never made against me on a trip that never occurred while I was on a faculty where I never taught. ChapGPT relied on a cited Post article that was never written and quotes a statement that was never made by the newspaper," the professor, Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, tweeted April 6.

Those concerns and others recently led to a plea from billionaire Elon Musk and other technology titans to put temporary restraints on AI usage and development.

Education responds to ChatGPT

A few colleges nationwide have banned or limited use of the chatbots, while others are attempting to integrate the technology as a tool for coursework.

In January, the New York City Department of Education blocked ChatGPT from district devices; Seattle and Los Angeles schools have made similar moves, as have districts in other areas of the nation.

Superintendents in local districts say they are moving cautiously to form chatbot policies at their schools.

Administrators said ChatGPT and its AI kin aren't going away and will have to be integrated into the educational process.

Springfield Local Schools Superintendent Shelley Monachino compared to technology to widespread use of calculators beginning in the mid-1970s.

Jeffrey Ramnytz, superintendent at Barberton City Schools, said he anticipates ChatGPT and similar programs will eventually become a key learning tool. Like other local administrators, he said there will be a learning curve for teachers and administrators as they assess the technology.

"We’re still trying to figure out TikTok and Instagram," Ramnytz said.

Like his colleagues across the county, Ramnytz said he's unaware of any student abuse of the technology and is confident teachers would be able to detect a ChatGPT response submitted as a student's own work.

"The last several years we've been focusing on writing," he said. "Our teachers know our students' abilities well enough. If they received something a bit too good, they would be able to figure (it) out."

In the county's largest school district, interim Akron Public Schools Superintendent Mary Outley said in an email that that educators are still weighing the impact of AI.

"As the newly appointed interim superintendent, I plan to work with our curriculum team, building administrators, staff, and scholars to determine what possibilities may exist for integrating ChatGPT and other AI chatbots into the curriculum," Outley said.

In the Cuyahoga Falls, Superintendent Andrea Celico said the school district is reviewing its acceptable use and internet safety policy with attention to chatbots.

"Personally, I know students will use this as a means for completing assignments, writing essays, etc.," Celico said in an email. "I believe our staff need to get ahead of ChatGPT and the other chatbots that are sure to come and find creative ways to recognize the value and find ways to work with it, rather than against it."

Likewise in Wadsworth City School District, where Superintendent Andrew Hill said the topic has been widely discussed among an area group of about 20 superintendents.

"We want to make time to fully understand what we're dealing with," he said.

Students discover, use ChatGPT at an astonishing pace

There's little doubt that tech-savvy students are aware of and using AI — and many aren't constrained by concerns about cheating.

Just two months after ChatGPT's release, 30% of student had already used ChatGPT on their homework, according to a survey in January of 1,000 college students by intelligent.com. That came despite 75% of students who believe it's cheating to do so.

ChatGPT was new enough that only 46% were aware of it before the survey. But of those that knew, 64% reported using it to complete a written assignment.

These are the kind of things that leave educators pondering answers.

Shaun Morgan, superintendent at Manchester Local School District, said ChatGPT was on the district's radar early and has remained there.

"We know it's out there and my principal … has sent out an email to staff about using ChatGPT," he said in a recent phone interview.

The district, like Barberton and others, is still developing a response on how chatbot technology should — or should not — be used.

"That will be on our next administrative meeting to talk about a policy," he said. "Is this something we have to formalize?"

AI may transform teaching, learning

Monachino said administrators heard rumblings about ChatGPT's release last summer and it is a frequent topic of conversation among local superintendents.

In an emailed response to questions about the use of ChatGPT, Monachino, the Springfield superintendent, said districts will have to figure out how the technology can integrated into the learning process.

"I believe that with AI chatbots, we are going to have to look at what we are teaching and how we expect our students to show us what they are learning," the superintendent said.

Coventry Local School District Superintendent George Fisk said in an email that chatbot technology will eventually become a valuable part of the teaching process.

"I believe ChatGPT will ultimately develop into a worthwhile educational tool," he said. "It may take some time to develop the educational uses and policies to discourage misuse. However, I expect the education benefits will outweigh any negatives."

Leave a message for Alan Ashworth at 330-996-3859 or email him at aashworth@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newsalanbeaconj

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Superintendents weigh value of using ChatGPT in Akron-area classrooms