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The recent release of ChatGPT has unsettled higher education. This AI (artificial intelligence) chat tool can write and revise text and code on command, raising questions about academic integrity, the nature of our assignments, and new ways we may ask students to think and learn. 

Below, you can find an overview of ChatGPT and potential ways faculty might respond.

In all of this, keep in mind that we are in the early days of considering the implications of ChatGPT and similar AI tools that will follow. We are still learning how these tools will be used and what their impacts will be.

If you would like to discuss concerns related to ChatGPT and your teaching, CTL staff are available to meet. CTL can also work with programs or departments to bring instructors together to consider strategies and implications related to this new platform.

What is ChatGPT? What Does It Do?

Released in late 2022, ChatGPT uses artificial intelligence to produce coherent written responses – or computer code – to a user’s natural language prompts. It can adapt its responses based on user feedback or additional prompts. OpenAI, the company that developed Chat GPT, is currently providing the tool for free (with user registration), and the company will continue to enhance the tool over time. Other similar tools are in development.

ChatGPT has already been used to produce a wide range of essays, exam solutions, letters, fiction, blog posts and many other outputs at various levels of quality and accuracy. Materials are usually clearly structured and grammatically correct. ChatGPT can also generate code and fix coding bugs.

While there is a lot that ChatGPT can do, it also has some limitations – two significant examples at this point being that it is not always accurate and has difficulty with citations. According to the tool’s FAQs, it can produce harmful or biased content and its outputs may be “inaccurate, untruthful, and otherwise misleading at times.” While the tool provides responses using publicly available information on the internet, it cannot provide its specific sources, and it is not clear what information is being used to inform the responses. It cannot access content behind logins or paywalls and currently has very limited knowledge of events after 2021. As the AI develops, however, this may change.

Ways to Address ChatGPT: Academic Integrity and Rethinking Assignments

Expand the strategies below for additional information.

Under Penn’s Code of Academic Integrity, students may not use unauthorized assistance in their academic work. It is up to instructors to decide what that means and let students know. While some instructors may consider any use of AI-assisted work to be an academic integrity violation, others may allow students to use AI-generated content in particular instances, such as part of brainstorming, to inform revisions, or for a particular assignment. Some may allow students to use ChatGPT as long as they disclose their use of such tools. Therefore, it’s important to be clear what the policies are for your class or for particular assignments or activities if it will vary.

You should include your policy in your syllabus and on Canvas, such as: 

  • You are not allowed to use ChatGPT (or tools like it) for your work for this class. Using such tools will be considered a violation of Penn’s Code of Academic Integrity and suspected use will be reported to the Center for Community Standards & Accountability. Please contact me if you have any questions about this policy.
  • You may use ChatGPT and other AI assistants for your work in this class but you must contact me for permission first so we can discuss how you plan to use these tools and how you will indicate their use in your work. If you do not first request permission, using such tools will be considered a violation of Penn’s Code of Academic Integrity.

You will also likely want to address this in class, especially when introducing new assignments or projects.

Being transparent with students about the purpose of an assignment, can help students appreciate what they are learning, the importance of the skills they are developing, and the excitement of creating their own ideas.

Seeing what the tool produces can help you think about what you’re assigning to students – and what an AI-generated response might look like. Consider sharing what you’ve found with students. Pointing out any issues you’ve seen regarding the quality and accuracy may help students better understand these tools and their limitations (both for their classwork and beyond).

There are lots of efforts to develop effective means of detecting AI-written prose, but at present it is not clear how effective any will be. Nevertheless, you can try running student work through the plagiarism-detection tool in Canvas, Turnitin. According to Turnitin’s blog, Turnitin can currently “detect some forms of AI-assisted writing” and they plan to roll out additional features to improve detection in the coming year.

As always, though, assignments should ask students to practice or demonstrate the kinds of thinking you want them to develop.

Consider taking into account ChatGPT’s current limitations. You might ask students to:

  • Cite their sources, even in informal work. If prompted for sources, ChatGPT has been known to make-up sources that do not exist.
  • Incorporate or engage with ideas from particular sources or discussions from class. In particular, articles, media, and other content that requires a login or subscription will likely not be accessible to ChatGPT.
  • Respond to visual materials. ChatGPT cannot yet interpret images.

Consider designing assignments that make students’ thinking and their process of doing the work more visible. You might ask students to:

  • Submit notes they took on sources to prepare their papers or presentations. This is particularly easy to introduce mid-semester, when you first discuss an assignment.
  • Show their work in progress or submit components of assignments in steps prior to the final deadline, so you can see the development of their ideas or work over time. This might include submitting an outline, a list of sources, an explanation of their approach, or a first draft before the final product. 
  • Write briefly about a source they decided not to use and why they did not.
  • Talk with you briefly about their essays, explaining their thinking beyond what is written. If the class is small, you might do this with the whole class. If it is large, you might tell students you will hold these conversations with some of them once you have seen their papers.
  • Present their learning using different modalities throughout the class: in addition to written work, students might also submit slides or presentations, video or audio recordings, or infographics.
  • Draft group work and other collaborative projects in tools like Google Docs where you can see version histories and the development of the work over time.

Consider policies that give students some flexibility when they fall behind in class or the option to revise and resubmit certain assignments when they don’t do well. This may make students less tempted to turn to AI tools when they get behind or worry they are unable to perform at their best.

Making ChatGPT Part of Your Teaching

Some instructors may want to incorporate AI tools into their teaching deliberately. Some may want students to develop skills related to working with such tools. Some may find them a useful way to help students learn about their fields or course content. 

In such cases, consider designing assignments that ask students to engage with AI tools and AI-generated materials. You might ask students to:

  • Analyze work that you or they generate from ChatGPT or similar tools. For example, students could:
    • Try to improve or revise code produced by AI 
    • Fix inaccuracies and address gaps from an essay produced by AI 
  • Experiment with how different prompts, guidance, and directions result in different outputs from ChatGPT and reflect on how this might inform more productive and appropriate uses of tools like this.
  • Hold a dialogue on a course topic with the AI. Students could submit the conversation and/or a reflection on what they learned from the back and forth.
  • Explore questions around the implications of tools like this for education, scholarship, and the workplace.

Alternatively, some instructors may decide they want students to practice collaborating with the AI as a writing partner of sorts. In such cases:

  • Decide what aspects of the work, if any, you want students doing on their own and what aspects are appropriate to use ChatGPT for. For instance, some instructors may decide students can brainstorm ideas with the AI, but should draft on their own; others may want students to come up with the ideas themselves, but may use the AI for revising.
  • If you are open to students deciding how they wish to use the tool, it can be valuable to have them to explain how they have used it so students are explicit and intentional about their choices.
  • Make clear to students that they are responsible for any inaccuracies in content or citations generated through this collaboration, and that they should own whatever positions they take in submissions.

If you plan to use ChatGPT with your students, encourage them to read the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. Since ChatGPT collects information on users, give students the option not to use these tools if they do not feel comfortable with how their data is being collected and used. You can provide alternatives like having students work in groups or providing students with samples you or others have generated using the tool.

Sources and Further Reading

Below are some sources we consulted to develop this page. You may also find these sources helpful if you’d like to read more: