In his university teaching days, Mark Schneider watched as his students’ research sources moved from the library to Wikipedia to Google. With greater access to online information, cheating and plagiarism became easier. So Schneider, who taught at State University of New York, Stony Brook for 30 years, crafted essay prompts in ways that he hoped would deter copy-paste responses. Even then, he once received a student essay with a bill from a paper-writing company stapled to the back.
Teachers probably spend more time than they’d like trying to thwart students who are able to cheat in creative ways. And many educators are alarmed that ChatGPT, a new and widely available artificial intelligence (AI) model developed by OpenAI, offers yet another way for students to sidestep assignments. ChatGPT uses machine learning and large language modeling to produce convincingly human-like writing. Because users can input prompts or questions into ChatGPT and get paragraphs of text, it has become a popular way for students to complete essays and research papers.
Some schools have already banned ChatGPT for students. At the same time, some educators are exploring ways to harness the tool for learning. To help educators understand how artificial intelligence might fit into a classroom environment, Schneider, who is now the director of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), an independent research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, compares it to the invention of the calculator. “For years there was a question about whether or not students should have calculators when they do a math assessment,” he said. “And this happens all over the place: Some new technology comes [and] it’s overwhelming.”
Eventually educators decided to permit calculators and make test questions more complex instead of constantly having to monitor students’ behavior. Similarly, with ChatGPT, Schneider urges educators to ask themselves, “What do you need to do with this incredibly powerful tool so that it is used in the furtherance of education rather than as a cheat sheet?” In a conversation with MindShift, he addressed teachers’ ChatGPT worries and offered insights on how to ensure students continue to have meaningful learning experiences.
Using ChatGPT to cheat isn’t fool-proof
ChatGPT produces essays that are grammatically correct and free of spelling errors in a matter of seconds; however, its information isn’t always factual. ChatGPT provides answers that draw from webpages that may be biased, outdated or incorrect. Schneider described ChatGPT’s output as “semi reliable.” It has been shown to produce plausible references that are inaccurate and supply convincing answers that are not rooted in science.