May 2023
lines connecting and converging

ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that can understand and respond to human language prompts, has been making waves in higher education. While some see ChatGPT as a potential game-changer that will transform the way faculty teach and students learn, others see it as a potential threat to student academic integrity and the holistic learning process.

To explore the role of ChatGPT and other chatbots in higher education, the Minnesota Private College Council hosted a spring panel discussion, ChatGPT: Hype, Threat or Something Else?, with four experts within disciplines ranging from law and philosophy to chemistry and data analytics. Paula O’Loughlin, provost and senior vice president at Augsburg University, moderated the discussion.

Panelists included:

  • Jon Choi, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School
  • Ashley Comstock, associate professor of philosophy at The College of St. Scholastica
  • Michael Ratajczyk, business intelligence professor at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
  • Darin J. Ulness, professor of chemistry at Concordia College.

Here are excerpts from the discussion.

What can higher education institutions do to address ChatGPT?

Choi: The long-term response, ideally, would be to reconsider our exam modalities and the kinds of things we’re teaching. I know some colleagues in Sweden have classes where the professor will provide a first draft [of a written piece] to a student and ask them to improve it — so asking students to do the kinds of things they would need to do with a first draft produced by ChatGPT rather than writing from scratch.

Comstock: Related to academic integrity, one of the things our institutions need to do is revisit our institutional academic dishonesty policies to make sure they are broad enough to allow faculty members to say that using artificial intelligence to generate content is a form of plagiarism. In my experience talking to colleagues, different faculty members in different disciplines are going to take different approaches. We assume our students just know ChatGPT is plagiarism, but the lines are going to be blurred. We need to be clear about why we want students to produce original work and talk to our students a lot about this technology.

Ratajczyk: Regarding how we detect AI in the classroom, it really pinpoints the need to get to know your students and understand their writing abilities, levels of thinking, and consistency in writing. ChatGPT is going to keep developing and there’s going to be a whole industry based around it. The best way to detect the use of ChatGPT [in coursework] is to get to know your students.

Ulness: I think we would stifle creativity if we came from the top down and implemented institution wide policies. Now, I was also a part of a team that was thinking about our institutional response as well. We decided that Concordia College would come out with a statement acknowledging that we’re familiar with this technology and we will deliberately be thinking about how to institute certain policies. We want students to know that institutionally, we’re aware of this and understand its capabilities, but we wanted to be thoughtful and not jump quickly to make actual policy that we would have to change later. I’ve had the perspective from both sides — the discipline side and the institutional side.

How might ChatGPT be effectively used by our institutions or in ways outside the classroom? What can we offer students?

Choi: There are a ton of opportunities that we as educators and as human beings should be extremely excited about the kind of work that will be possible in the future. The kind of leverage that individuals can now get and unlock the potential for people without specific technical training to do technical jobs. There are obviously a lot of concerns, but there are also a lot of opportunities to transform the labor market for the better as a result of these AI tools.

Comstock: Lots of industries are getting really excited about ChatGPT. There are still a lot of privacy concerns that need to shake out. That’s one of the reasons I’m cautious at this stage, for example, to require my students to sign up for a ChatGPT account. It’s clear that AI is here to stay. We need to be ready to answer students’ questions about that. This is the world we’re in and I’m excited to see what we’re able to do with ChatGPT.

Ratajczyk: In the business intelligence and analytics fields, I think of ChatGPT as another data visualization tool. We already teach those tools because that’s what the workforce uses, so I believe the onus is on us [instructors] to prepare students for those changing work environments.

Ulness: That’s a huge question. One thing that comes to mind when giving our students the education to succeed in life after college is teaching them how to use these tools both ethically and effectively in their professions. There are nuts and bolts of ChatGPT that we can use to teach students how to leverage ChatGPT as a tool. It would be irresponsible for us [instructors] to send students out into the world without having provided an opportunity to learn how to use ChatGPT as a tool in an ethical way.

Takeaways: Is ChatGPT a threat, hype or something else?

Choi: The overall frame is that in the immediate future, I don’t think these tools will just displace humans. Rather, these tools will work better in collaboration with humans. As a result, it’s incumbent on us as educators to teach students how to use these tools appropriately and effectively.

Comstock: It’s not hype, and it can be a threat. Primarily, it’s an extremely powerful tool that we now suddenly all have access to. We’re learning about ChatGPT and the creators of it are learning about it at the same time, so it’s really important for us to be exploring this.

Ratajczyk: I show any faculty member on campus ChatGPT; the good, the bad and the ugly. Then our conversation usually gravitates towards plagiarism. I’m excited about ChatGPT, but I think instructors need to be educated.

Ulness: I would further encourage everyone to really think about ways to utilize ChatGPT in their specific areas. That’s how higher education can change a little bit faster.

 

From the panelist discussion, it’s clear that just as ChatGPT is rapidly developing, so is the discussion around the use of ChatGPT at Minnesota Private Colleges. As O’Loughlin, moderator of the discussion summarized, “We need to understand ChatGPT as an ethics question, a compliance question and an opportunity question. It’s the ultimate liberal arts test.”