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ChatGPT is here: Are educational institutions ready?

Tyler Jackman

Opinions Editor

Image via Tara Winstead/Pexels

Our institutions of higher learning have faced unprecedented strain over the past many years. Rising tuition costs and shrinking admission rates, buoyed by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented transition to online learning have forced both professors and students to bear the burden of a rapidly changing environment. Now, as colleges have returned to in-person learning and are seemingly operating their business as usual, they’re gritting their teeth in preparation for the whirlwind that is artificial intelligence.

AI programs have meteorically risen in depth over the past year. Beginning as peculiar photo filters and voice simulators, they have grown in notoriety and complexity at a breakneck speed, now encompassing instantaneous art and music generators and indistinguishable deepfake videos. Even against these marvels, no piece of AI technology has rattled schools, corporations and regular citizens alike more than the astonishing online chatbot known as ChatGPT.

ChatGPT, launched by the AI research laboratory OpenAI, is a chatbot website where one can type out a question or request covering any topic, and the chatbot will use AI to generate a response to satisfy the user’s prompt. Although OpenAI warns that the bot’s generated responses are not infallible, the uncanniness of ChatGPT’s results to a standard college student’s work is, in the mildest terms, staggering.

To test ChatGPT’s accuracy, I entered a prompt for a hypothetical essay assignment I could receive in one of my communications courses. In mere seconds, the bot propagated a well-detailed paragraph covering my theoretical project’s topic. Without a professor being well aware of the popularity of ChatGPT, I have no doubt I could earn at least a B grade submitting the AI’s work alone. Cementing in this belief of mine is an instance in the fall 2022 semester, where a classmate confided in me his use of AI programs to pass our course, even before ChatGPT upended the paradigm of education.

Popular is itself an understatement; ChatGPT, since its launch in November 2022, has already procured 100 million active users, making it the fastest growing application of all time. At this speed, it’s no surprise that educational institutions are struggling to insulate themselves from the impact of AI usage among students. Rhode Island College’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning held a meeting of school faculty on Jan. 20 to discuss the ramifications of AI tools and their use in classrooms. As of yet, however, RIC has yet to announce any measures to check the usage of AI.

Beyond local level measures, the only major actions by school districts to impede the use of ChatGPT was enacted by major cities such as New York City and Los Angeles, who blocked access to ChatGPT’s website on district devices and networks. However, the nature of the program and whether it does overall harm or could be used for good has polarized educators of all forms.

The fear AI applications have struck in the hearts of educators worldwide is palpable, but not everyone is ringing the alarm bells. In a column for The New York Times, technology writer Kevin Roose discussed his interviews with teachers and how they’ve adapted to the prevalence of ChatGPT. One high school English teacher in Oregon incorporated it into her lessons, having students study using it before writing essays longhand in class. Another Rhode Island-based educator used ChatGPT on his own time to draft quizzes for his class, taking weight off his shoulders in regards to creating assignments manually.

It’s not only educators who have been intrigued, yet alarmed by ChatGPT’s expeditious rise to the spotlight. Indeed, institutions of every form have felt the whiplash of AI’s stardom. Buzzfeed recently announced their future usage of ChatGPT to pen articles after laying off 12% of their workforce, bewildering writers who now contemplate the future of their careers. Google’s CEO also expressed significant unease at the news, and reassigned numerous internal teams to instead focus on developing an AI competitor, fearing a threat to their search engine dominance.

If all-encompassing school systems like New York City and Los Angeles and unshakable corporate giants like Google can shudder from the ascent of ChatGPT, then we can be certain that AI in the modern age is no paper tiger. Despite how quickly advanced AI tools exploded on the scene, having the answers to all of its blessings and its issues is nowhere near as expeditious a task. OpenAI themselves have attempted to alleviate the worries of many by creating their own AI detection tool, but they themselves admit it can generate false positives and can be evaded through changing words and sentences. All that can be certain is that ChatGPT is here to stay, and it is up to human minds to conceive the right response.


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