This story was originally created by New Hampshire BulletinAn independent local newsroom that allows NHPR and other outlets to reprint the report.
Maureen Pasaradelis first suspected artificial intelligence had entered her high school English class after an assignment about “The Great Gatsby.”
Psaradelis based on the socioeconomic conflict of the 1920s F. Scott Fitzgerald devoted an essay to analyzing the themes of classic fiction.
But one of her students handed in a paper with an analysis that never came up in a month of class discussion. The student wrote that the tension between some of the characters came down to differences between East Coast and West Coast cultures. Some of the characters, including narrator Nick Carraway, multi-millionaire Jay Gatsby, and acquaintances Daisy and Tom Buchanan, are from the Midwest, a background that makes them all natural outsiders to the Long Island elite, the student points out.
“I notice students talking about all these signs that we’ve never discussed in class or had any activity around,” said Psaradelis, who teaches at Alvirne High School in Hudson. “That was a red flag to me.”
There were seemingly other details in the text: an unusually sophisticated vocabulary and a failure to use the school’s preferred citation style for references.
At that time, Psaradelis heard about “ChatGPT” by the company OpenAI, which can generate complex answers to questions using artificial intelligence. And she had heard some teachers warn that students could use the program to complete essays and other assignments.
So she launched the site herself, copied her student’s article to chatgpt, and asked, “Did you prepare this response?” She asked a simple question.
The answer was straightforward. “‘Yes I did,'” the computer said in the interview. “‘I was answering this question.’ And it provided the exact inspiration for my writing,” she said.
Psaradelis contacted the student, who admitted to using the AI program and apologized. But the incident is just the first example of what she and other teachers worry could soon become the norm.
Since ChatGPT launched in December and received widespread news coverage in January – technologists, journalists, politicians and business leaders have discussed the software’s profound benefits and risks to modern life. But few have seen the new technology more closely than the professors, who say the powerful new writing tools can change humanity, for better or worse.
“It’s like our calculator moment,” said Christina Peterson, an English teacher at Exeter High School, about the challenge for calculus teachers created by the advent of graphing calculators.
ChatGPT is a “chatbot” that uses language learning models created by OpenAI to provide complex responses to user queries. The model trains itself and draws from large databases of internet text to generate new text in response to queries.
The conversation-based chatbot can suggest recipes, itineraries, party ideas, emails, product descriptions and role-playing exercises, among other activities. He can also write essays.
The language model has recently been used by several companies, including Google, Bing and Snapchat.
Educators have two broad concerns: that the technology will encourage cheating in helping students write essays, and that it will feed them misinformation.
When Peterson first heard about ChatGPT, she thought it would mostly apply to analytics like essays. She didn’t think creative writing. But recently, one of her students used the program to help them write a name poem about football. The student and Peterson came up with the idea early: without the poem written as a pasty, a counting poem called “21” by Patrick Roche.
But when the poem came in, the structure was strange. He used an unusual rhyme structure in spoken poetry and followed an organized style. The student, questioned by Peterson, said it was written by artificial intelligence.
For Alvirne history teacher Jeff Peterson, accuracy is also a big concern. Often AI programs do not refer to sources. And even when the material is false, they give answers in an authoritative tone.
As an experiment, Peterson booted up ChatGipt on his own laptop and gave him a simple task: List books and other sources for World War II history. The computer named a few well-known texts, such as “Band of Brothers” by Stephen Ambrose and “Stalingrad” by Anthony Beaver.
But he also named “Guns of August” the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Barbara W. Tuchman.
“This is about World War I,” Peterson said. “This is why World War I started.
He added: “I’ve seen Chat GPT pull sources that are not genuine or useful or not relevant to the topic. So I think like anything that goes online you have to be able to vet sources, and make sure it’s relevant and legitimate.
Brett Vance, a social studies teacher at Alvirne High School, said he hasn’t had any problems with ChatGPT yet. So far, the students don’t talk about cheating, just as a curiosity and a way to enhance their research.
Still, Vance says he worries about what the technology could bring. “There’s a certain type of student who sees this as just a tool to lighten their load and get work done,” he said.
Teachers say they are torn between the desire to curb the behavior and the desire to keep up with the technology. Many New Hampshire schools have blocked the ChatGPT website from their networks, making it inaccessible to students using school-issued laptops on campus.
And most humanities teachers use Turnitin, an error-proof website that allows teachers to catch students taking sentences or paragraphs from others — including other student papers across the country. Turnitin now includes a feature that the company says can recognize entries written by artificial intelligence.
But students can find limitations in the software, and teachers acknowledge that efforts to master AI are not foolproof.
I don’t want to be the teacher who spins my wheels to find cheating or cheating in my classroom,” said Christina Peterson. “I don’t want to have that relationship with learning or with my students. And I really try to get them to think of themselves as readers and writers, not just students.”
Meanwhile, proving authorship in the AI world can be difficult. Sometimes assumptions are wrong.
Christina Peterson had initial doubts about her two Gatsby essays, but later determined that only one was written with AI. The student who wrote the second essay was able to verify authorship by displaying their edit history in Google Docs.
Some teachers discussed in-class writing exercises with an emphasis on out-of-class writing and using discussions to assess how well students were understanding the material.
School districts are working quickly to adapt. This year’s spring conference of the New Hampshire Council of Teachers of English featured a presentation on AI led by Christina Peterson. And teachers expect more training and strategy sessions over the summer months.
Peterson has advice for her teachers: Try the technology yourself. “Because we can only understand it if we know what it looks like,” she said.
Her familiarity with the often formulaic style of artificial intelligence helped Peterson spot red flags in his football lyrics, she said.
For many educators, the best approach to combating AI is to convince students that they don’t want to use it in the first place. And that means going back to an old teaching tool: inspiration.
“My concern is mostly about how this tool brings out the enthusiasm for learning,” Vance said. “In my opinion, (the highest) level of knowledge is achieved through work. So students open the books for several hours – writing, rewriting. It’s a process – learning is a laborious process, and it takes time.
Some say teachers should see AI as a writing tool — if not a replacement. After all, Christina Peterson reasons, the technology will only grow.
“When they leave these four walls, they’re going to use it no matter what they do,” she said. “So I can talk to them a little bit about it.”
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