ChatGPT: Can students get by using AI tools at university?


  • By Hazel Shearing and Shiona McCallum.
  • Education reporter and technology reporter

image source, Getty Images

When exam season begins, students can be tested on new artificial intelligence (AI) tools to give them an edge on assessments.

Universities have been promoting AI applications like ChatGPT to help them understand what they are and how to use them – and now they’re being asked to teach students how to use them.

Bath University academies have been considering challenges and opportunities.

“Our first question was, ‘Can this be used by students to answer our assessment questions?'” James Fern says of ChatGPT – an online tool that answers questions about essays and emails in human-like language.

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James has been looking at how strong the department’s reviews are

“Multiple choice questions, for example, he handles those very well.

“We definitely didn’t expect it to be as good as it did… it’s becoming 100% accurate.”

But he struggles with complex questions that require students to think critically and cover the bulk of the assessment.

An example, from last year’s review, reads: “Why knowing the timing of exercise is important for people on a diet. [a technical term, according to James] Overweight?”

And the answer given by chatgpt has signs of history not written by a student.

“At first glance it looks great – it looks very clearly written, the language looks very professional,” James said.

But some of the descriptions are more like a GCSE student than a university student.

He has a habit of repeating the exact wording of the question “slightly differently written” in the introduction and conclusion.

And when citing sources of information, as is standard in academic work, he simply prepares them.

“They look perfect — they’ve got the right authors’ names, they’ve got the right journal names, the titles are all very sensible — they don’t exist,” says James.

“If you don’t know how large language models work, you can easily be fooled into thinking that these are real references.”

Six months before ChatGPT was released to the public, many students were unsure when they could and couldn’t use it.

“I might be tempted to use ChatGPT… but now I’m really scared because you might get caught,” said a student on campus.

“It’s still not clear what the chatgpt scam is,” says another. “If you copy your entire career from chatgpt, it’s cheating – but it can be very useful to lead.”

In a speech on Monday, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said AI was “still transforming schools and universities” and suggested it could help school teachers with lesson plans and marking.

In September, he will explain to new and returning students how and when AI should be used and encourage them to adapt courses at the appropriate time.

Marketing guru Kim Watts calls it “another tool in the toolbox.” And some of the students in her class have started using ChatGPT for a coursework that requires them to develop a marketing plan.

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Kim says Chatgpty helps “students get things started.”

“I suggest students go to ChatGPT, maybe they don’t know where to start… and start playing around with questions,” she says.

“It won’t give them the answer – but it can give them ideas.”

‘Thinking and considering’

Kim demonstrated by asking ChatGPT to come up with his own marketing plan.

It responds with a series of bullet points – everything from creating a brand identity to using social media.

But Kim looked up from her screen and said: “This is not going to go away.

“To put something like that in is not enough detail – it doesn’t show any education, it doesn’t show any critical thinking.”

Neurodivergent students and those for whom English is not their first language will benefit most from ChatGPT, Kim says.

But any student who chooses to use it will be asked to submit their chat GPT questions and responses as attachments to “make it clear how far off” they are from the chat bot’s responses.

Winter exams

Like most universities, Bath’s policy on ChatGPT and other AI tools is still a work in progress. It will be in effect from September.

After that, a group meets throughout the year to monitor the rapidly changing technology.

In the meantime, many workers are rescheduling in-person winter exams.

Dr Chris Bonfield, who leads a team that helps design assessments, says the “default assumption” is that students shouldn’t be using ChatGPT this year. And, if employees decide to allow it, they should clearly set their expectations.

The speed at which the technology is evolving presents a challenge for universities – but Batt is quick to shy away from talk of a ban.

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Chris says the speed at which technology is changing is a challenge for universities

“This device doesn’t go away,” says Chris.

“To ensure our students are equipped with the skills they need for the workplace of the future, but also to keep our degrees up-to-date, we need to be involved.”

‘very dangerous’

Professor Verena Reeser, a computer scientist at Heriot-Watt University, says her own students are “using it in very creative ways” – but chatbots are still in the early stages of development and “can be used to generate false information”. [a] Clearly the most pressing dimension when it comes to education.

The previous ChatGPT models were not released because they were considered “too dangerous,” she says.

Developer OpenAI says that “like any technology, these tools come with real risks” and works to “ensure security is built into our systems at every level.”

“I expect we’ll soon see different flavors of chatGPT from different companies, and they’re also models that are secure as well as risk-reducing,” says Verena.

“Currently, we don’t know how the models stop misinformation or toxic or hateful information – and that’s a big problem.”

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