‘Mixed emotions’ about ChatGPT in higher ed

By Samantha Eley, Audrey Hill, Aarushi Sahejpal


Education Technology
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Top research universities across the country are leaving decisions about how and whether to allow the use of ChatGPT and other popular AI services up to individual professors, according to a recent IRW survey.

ChatGPT is a tool that uses pre-existing data from the internet to produce answers to prompts, which can range from how to analyze Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for an English class to how to write code in a data analytics class. Students use ChatGPT to answer questions on tests and write cover letters in their job searches.

While it is one of the most discussed platforms, the use of artificial intelligence in the classroom is not new. Programs such as DALL-E, Powerpoint Speaker Coach and Grammarly all use aspects of artificial intelligence and have been present in the classroom for years.

But behind the scenes, professors and administrators at such schools as New York University and the University of Texas at Austin are grappling with where to weave the technology into their curricula and where to ban it. Many of them created working groups and formed faculty committees to discuss options — and determine the accuracy of such programs — throughout the current spring semester, following the release of ChatGPT last November. Yet only a handful of the universities report any clear answers or policies.

IRW’s survey takes a national look at how university academic integrity policies have shifted. The analysis of 42 of the top research universities in the United States shows that nearly all of the universities contacted allow individual professors to determine whether ChatGPT is a violation of academic integrity.

The team at IRW first reviewed student newspaper articles and university websites for any mention of a university’s policy surrounding ChatGPT.

After collecting that public documentation, if any, then every university was individually contacted to clarify whether the use of ChatGPT is allowed in the classroom and the level of discretion faculty have in permitting or prohibiting the technology.

Their responses were individually recorded and given a score of either 1, 2 or 3 based on

predetermined categories. Of those surveyed, 93% were found to let instructors decide whether and how to integrate artificial intelligence into their curricula.

Many universities are still deciding if a blanket policy is feasible.

Differences in pedagogy across departments, along with unknowns in the capabilities of the technology, have made it difficult for schools to evaluate the role of ChatGPT in academia other than on a case-by-case basis.

Melinda Rhodes, executive director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Assessment (CTLA) at Ohio University, wrote in an email that “CTLA is approaching the issue of AI in the classroom assuming that it can be leveraged in some cases as a learning tool and in other cases poses academic integrity concerns.”

The accessibility and wide-ranging capabilities of ChatGPT are largely unprecedented. Virtually anyone with a computer and an internet connection can create an account.

OpenAI is constantly releasing updates to GPT, the language model that provides answers to users’ prompts entered in ChatGPT. The company’s newest release of GPT-4 scores above the 90th percentile on the Reading and Writing portions of the SAT, the Uniform Bar Exam and Verbal reasoning section of the GRE.

Many of the universities that responded to the IRW survey also published guidance for how faculty can explicitly use ChatGPT as a tool in the classroom. Some departments shared syllabus sample text for professors to use at their discretion when deciding how to communicate with their students.

The technology can edit students’ writing for punctuation and grammar errors, and even offer suggestions for rephrasing and reorganization — capabilities that have made drawing a line between useful help and plagiarism a moving target.

“We do know that these issues and programs are here to stay,” said Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing for Oregon State University. “So we must provide for the best ways to accommodate and guide both faculty and students.”