We’ve been hearing a lot in the news about how the access to ChatGPT will revolutionize our teaching practices. Understandably, faculty have deep concerns about how this will impact student learning and academic integrity. We also have a lot of questions about how much we will have to change our teaching practices and how much time and effort this will take. Many faculty had to do a lot of revision, reflection, and learning in March 2020 and still feel worn out from that experience. While some faculty might view ChatGPT as an exciting new opportunity to enhance learning, others may feel wary and overwhelmed by its possibilities.
The following is our attempt, in February 2023, to synthesize what we’ve learned, and make some targeted suggestions to faculty for the Spring 2023 semester. Some of our suggestions should be pretty fast to implement, and others more time-consuming.
What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT, the acronym for “Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer,” is a web-based “chatbot” that responds to user prompts about any topic. The application’s creator, OpenAI, says that ChatGPT can “answer followup questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests.”
In practice, ChatGPT returns seemingly educated responses on a wide variety of topics. It can spot errors in programming code, craft an email, construct a resume, write an essay, or answer multiple choice questions, among many other text-based capabilities. It can also alter its responses or expand upon them at the user’s request. However, it is important to note that the application itself does not analyze concepts in the way a student would while writing a paper, or a faculty member would while doing research. The New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose explained that ChatGPT works, “in extremely oversimplified terms, by making probabilistic guesses about which bits of text belong together in a sequence, based on a statistical model trained on billions of examples of text pulled from all over the internet” (“The Brilliance and Weirdness of ChatGPT,” December 5, 2022). Simply put, it strings together words and phrases that are statistically likely to be related and forms them into grammatically accurate sentences and structured paragraphs. And while it does that very well, it has several notable shortcomings. Among them are: lack of depth, repeated responses, and fabricated citations.
ChatGPT was made available for public use in November 2022 and is still in what OpenAI calls a “research preview.” While it’s currently free to use, it is unclear if, when, and how the application will be monetized in the future.
It’s incredibly important to remember that we are now in a moment when we are reacting to a new technology that is receiving a lot of attention. Faculty should first try the technology and then draw their own conclusions as to how it may impact their teaching and student learning in their classes.
We encourage faculty to use the introduction of the ChatGPT tool as an opportunity to reflect on their teaching practices and broaden learning rather than to immediately jump to simply monitoring student assignments through one of the new ChatGPT detectors.
We therefore recommend a pedagogical approach. Our position is motivated by our mission to reflect upon pedagogical opportunities and the enabling role of technology in education. At the CTL, we encourage incorporating technology as part of our pedagogy, not simply as a solution to any given classroom problem. This includes an honest and critical assessment of educational technologies that also takes into account the pedagogical environment our faculty and students work in. That environment is always evolving, leading us to think even more critically (and creatively) about the role of technology in education.
The rest of this document shares our experiences investigating ChatGPT, as well as the observations of many of our Baruch colleagues.You’ll see that within a short amount of time there has already been thoughtful exploration, constructive advice, and an array of perspectives. At the end of the document, you’ll see who has contributed.
Our first recommendation is for you to see what ChatGPT is for yourself and to reflect on your experience with the technology. To get started, visit the site where it is hosted. We suggest having on hand one of your assignment prompts or test questions. Enter these course materials into ChatGPT and look at the results.
Some things to consider:
- How easy was it to use?
- What do the results look like? Do they look convincing, like a student’s work in your class? Is it obvious that it wasn’t a person studying your topic in your class?
There are several articles that outline situations in which ChatGPT performs shockingly well and others in which it is obvious that it is Artificial Intelligence, rather than a human answering a question. Following are some observations. As you read through them, consider whether or not this reflects your experience trying ChatGPT.
Recommended Pedagogical Approaches
Following are some actions faculty may take. Some of them, such as reviewing your test questions, might be part of your regular course preparation. Others, such as a critical review and revision of your academic integrity statement, might be something you do occasionally. If you want to incorporate many of these suggestions this semester and can do so, great! It’s also good to try a few of them, see how they go, and plan to do more for later semesters.
Rethink your Assignment/Assessment Choices
This is a good moment to take a look at your course learning goals, activities, and assessments. If you have flexibility to change your syllabus, reconsider if your current approach still is the best choice. It’s easy over time to get comfortable using a particular assignment or set of test questions. It can be a lot of work revising and writing a curriculum plan. Sometimes we need to learn a new technological skill or tool. Yet, perhaps there is another way to reach that learning goal? Or to update the mode or set of assignment instructions.
Based upon the results of our COVID-19 Student Experience survey, we know that our students value a course in which there is consistent and clear communication, the assignments and readings are “relevant,” and there is active engagement. Are there moments in your assignment instructions that you share why the assignment/assessment is relevant to their learning and future?
As technology evolves, many of the norms and assumptions about plagiarism, revision, and cheating require interrogation. Some questions that come to mind:
- What’s the line for using ChatGPT before it’s plagiarism or cheating?
- Can you use it for ideas for your paper as long as you do the research and write it yourself?
- Can you use it to break through a bout of writer’s block?
It’s important to remember that there were concerns with the introduction of calculators, Wikipedia, Google Search, laptops, and Grammarly. We have largely navigated these introductions as a society in a process that has required labor and reflection, but arguably enriched the way we think about the evolving potential and limitations of technology.
Similarly to ChatGPT, Wikipedia is valuable as a way to engage with and point to information but does not work as the source itself. And while plagiarism of Wikipedia is easier to catch than content generated by ChatGPT, we hope that the information in this document about ChatGPT’s limitations and potential uses will provide a framework for thinking critically about its impact on teaching and learning.
Our teaching environment and context is always evolving. In some moments they have been problematic, and in others they have opened up opportunities for deep learning and innovation. ChatGPT is another such introduction and it will take some time for us to get acclimated to its broad introduction.
Credit and Context
Included in the Center for Teaching and Learning mission is to “reflect upon pedagogical opportunities and the enabling role of technology in education.” This includes an honest and critical assessment of educational technologies that also takes into account the pedagogical environment our faculty and students work in. As Sean Micheal Morris and Jesse Stommel point out in their essay on critical digital pedagogy, “We are better users of technology when we are thinking critically about the nature and effects of that technology.”
The following people were part of the conversations that helped develop this document and/or have pedagogical ideas included. As in any good process where there is healthy debate, the resulting document does not necessarily reflect the opinions of everyone who was part of the discussion. Yet, we think it’s important to acknowledge that this issue is important to many people in our community and many people are engaging in its exploration.
Lauren Aydinliyim, Stefan Bathe, Shiraz Biggie, Donal Byard, Christopher Campbell, Lukasz Chelminski, Raquel Benbunan-Fich, Julia Goldstein, Seth Graves, Maria Halbinger, Diana Hamilton, Catherine Kawalek, Romi Kher, Marios Koufaris, Arthur Lewin, Brandon Lock, Alex Mills, Kannan Mohan, Scott Newbert, Harmony Osei,Glenn Petersen, Rachel Rhys, Allison Lehr Samuels, Christopher Silsby, Dennis Slavin, Craig Stone, Pamela Thielman, Katherine Tsan, John Wahlert
Editors: Allison Lehr Samuels, Craig Stone
A note to our colleagues at other institutions: Feel free to remix this document for your own institutional contexts.