ChatGPT goes to college

By Vanessa Crowe

ChatGPT could strike fear in the hearts of educators everywhere but a team at the University of Findlay is trying to make sure it is used for good, not evil.

ChatGPT is an AI that can perform many tasks that it is given. These tasks can range from writing an essay from prompts to designing a course schedule. Students or faculty can type a prompt or ask a question and Chat GPT will give an answer in a couple of seconds. But it takes great responsibility to use Chat GPT and other AI responsibly.

Christine Denecker, Ph.D. who is the Associate Vice President for Learning and Innovation said UF faculty participated in a three-part series Feb. 21, March 7, and March 21.

“The first session was the history of GPT. The second one we called ChatGPT Goes to College and that was more about how ChatGPT works for the classroom,” Denecker said. “And the third one was about the future of ChatGPT.”

ChatGPT is not necessarily a villain in the college world. And just as Google has become a huge help when researching for college projects, ChatGPT and other AI can be too.

“We have a Lib Guide on the Shafer Library website and it has a bunch of articles about Chat GPT, other websites it is linked to and it has each of those recordings of those three sessions,” Denecker said. “We are trying to provide resources for faculty and staff. One of the things we talked about in the whole series is, not to be afraid of [ChatGPT], we have encouraged faculty and staff to play with it.”

Harley Ferris, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center has been part of the team helping the University prepare for this next generation of technology.

“I am a big believer that we can’t be afraid of the future,” Ferris said. “And if we are preparing students for meaningful and productive careers, like we say, then we have to acknowledge that [students] are already going to be encountering this. And we have to be giving them context so that when they get there, they know how to use it.”

ChatGPT can be a tool to use to develop ideas for projects, discussion papers and essays.

“The big thing is to say ‘OK, it is a starting point not the ending point’ it gave sou some ideas now where do you go next,” Denecker said. “What do you do next?”

Checking the sources that ChatGPT and other AI give is important. And verifying that the sources exist is monumental.

“I asked Chat GPT to write me a comparison essay between What’s Left the Jungle and The Dual Kaleidoscope. It told me The Dual Kaleidoscope was a poem and told me the wrong author for What’s left the Jungle,” Denecker said. “It can write a good essay but it may not be accurate, it is definitely not going to have the depth of analysis that you would have with your human brain.”

“Something we have seen in the library and have been practicing is (ChatGPT) will make up citations sometimes,” Denecker said. “Rebecca Quintus (Director of Library Services; College Librarian for Health Professions, Pharmacy, and Sciences) asked it to give her some information about some Occupational Therapy studies and it listed several sources for her. And many of them were not real sources.”

Unlike Google, users can discuss with ChatGPT and ask the AI to go further into detail about what it has written or found on the internet. This can be particularly helpful for students with writer’s block. Or if a student needs clarification, they just have to ask the AI to do so.

“Many of us are using Chat GPT like you would use Google but has more functionality and more interaction with it,” Denecker said. “It is fascinating because it can write a really good five paragraph essay, it can organize things really well. But I think as students and faculty members we have to think ‘what is the right way to use this.’”

Ferris says ChatGPT is like many other tools we’ve used over time. It may be a curiosity at first, but eventually it becomes part of everyday life.

“Thinking about it a lot more like a calculator, in the sense they a calculator can help us do complex math really quickly so that we can turn our attention to more important things than doing long division on applications,” Ferris said. “But if we don’t understand the fundamentals of these arithmetic equations, we aren’t going to be able to use that calculator as effectively.”

“An analogy we shared in our ChatGPT session with faculty was, some days when I go home from work I am not going to make a meal from scratch. I am tired and hungry,” Denecker said. “So, I am going to grab that frozen meal out of the freezer, or I am going to get that boxed meal. ChatGPT is like that ready-made thing.”

Communication is important between students and professors in whether an AI can be used to help the student.

“If I am in a class and I say to my instructor, ‘is it ok for me to use GPT to come up with an outline?’ and that professor is ok with that and that is your shortcut, you may get that outline and chances are you are not going to use it the way it is given to you,” Denecker said. “Again, it is a starting point to generate the ideas for you.”

Denecker thinks UF may discuss guidelines in the future.

“That is a discussion we have been having at the administrative level. And there is a Faculty Technology Advisor Committee, it is called FTAC,” Denecker said. “FTAC has been talking about it too. There will definitely be ongoing conversations about it.”

“I am not aware of any issues that have arisen yet [on campus] but also the fact that we’ve been proactive about it on the administration,” Ferris said. “I know that the deans are working together right now to draft a policy that we can use as an initial approach to how do we think about it responsibly and use it effectively.”

“[Chat GPT] is like any other tool, it is up to how we use it,” Ferris said. “And so, in order for us to us it beneficially and responsibly, we have to understand how it works not just how to work it.”