Students express mixed feelings on AI writing generator

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It’s happening, the machines are taking over. created with the assistance of DALL.E

What do the students say? Is it a tool or a takeover?

The world’s leading science journals are feuding over the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in academia this week.  

Nature, the world’s most cited science journal, and Science, the world’s third most cited science journal, released conflicting statements this week about the use of an AI known as ChatGPT. ChatGPT is a publicly available chatbot which has co-authored scientific papers submitted to journals while also producing well-written essays. Nearly two full months after its release, ChatGPT is continuing to make headlines due to its ability to make human-sounding text responses. ChatGPT’s potential use for breaching academic integrity has been a serious concern at universities since it is freely accessible and bypasses most plagiarism checkers. 

Dominick Smarda recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and is now pursuing an education degree.   

“You’re supposed to use your own authentic work,” Smarda said on the flares of ChatGPT being used in other universities across Canada. He said students should not use ChatGPT for schoolwork. 

“You’re not understanding the things university is meant to teach you,” he said about students who use the AI program for their schoolwork. “That’s where academic integrity is being tarnished with these chatbots, you’re lacking in your authentic work.” 

Liz Ordiz, an education student who recently completed a Bachelor of Public Health degree, couldn’t see herself making use of ChatGPT.  

“My work should reflect my creativity,” said Ordiz.  

On January 24, Nature released an editorial outlining the appropriate use of chatbots in writing scientific papers. Nature warned “Researchers should ask themselves how the transparency and trust-worthiness that the process of generating knowledge relies on can be maintained if they or their colleagues use software that works in a fundamentally opaque manner.” 

Referring to some research papers recently published with ChatGPT listed as an author, the editor said “no LLM [large-language model] tool will be accepted as a credited author on a research paper.” The editor reasoned “that is because any attribution of authorship carries with it accountability for the work, and AI tools cannot take such responsibility.”  

However, Nature did not ban the use of chatbots in academic writing, but instead laid out ground rules for its use. The appropriate protocol for using chatbots is to be transparent about the chatbots use in the acknowledgement or methods section and not to credit it as an author.  

Another leading journal, Science, released an editorial two days later stating that any use of chatbots will be considered academic misconduct. While Nature focused on authenticity, Science focused on humanity, saying “The scientific record is ultimately one of the human endeavor of struggling with important questions.” 

Here at the university, students are also thinking about what ChatGPT might mean for life outside academia. Megan Fries, an Education student, has concerns that teachers may use the chatbot to help plan lessons.  

“The magic happens in the classroom,” said Fries. “You can get a lesson plan from a different teacher or from a textbook or from a chatbot and with how you implement it, it’s completely your own.”  

While ChatGPT is new, researchers have already been looking into the potential uses of chatbots in education. A 2021 systematic review of the applications of chatbots in education published in Computers and Education: Artificial Intelligence found that chatbots were being used by some teachers to offer more individualized and interactive help to students, since students could engage the chatbot in dialogue and questioning.  

Fries saw some potential use, saying “I’m a creative person, so I would think that a chatbot would be good if you’re stuck, […] you can start with at least some sort of prompt.” Speaking about whether students may find it useful, Fries said “Maybe not in a university.” 

While Science may not approve of ChatGPT’s use in published work, the editor of Science said “The implications for education may push academics to rethink their courses in innovative ways and give assignments that aren’t easily solved by AI.” Science concluded “That could be for the best.” 

Meanwhile, public schools in New York state, Seattle, and some Australian states have banned the use of ChatGPT.  

The University of Regina’s academic integrity is handled on a department-by-department basis, and the university has not yet released a position on the use of ChatGPT.  

Plagiarism is defined as “a form of academic dishonesty where the work of another person is submitted without acknowledgement,” according to the U of R’s student code of conduct.  

Smarda expressed some confusion over how chatbots fit into the definition of plagiarism.  

“It’s technically no other person’s work, but it’s just not your own,” he said. Dominick found it to be a bit of a grey zone. “It kind of drives that fine line.” 

Many students I spoke to declined to be interviewed because they did not feel familiar enough with the use of chatbots to comment. This would seem to contradict one survey by study.com which found that 89 per cent of students reported using ChatGPT to help with homework. The survey asked 1000 students, though it does not have a transparent methodology posted.  

Fries reported learning about the chatbot when an online friend posted a misleading video on social media that claimed ChatGPT could write a novel in three seconds, and, upon trying it herself, “found that it was a lot slower.” 

Similarly, this week, stories were widely circulating about ChatGPT being able to pass the medical licensing exam in the US. However, this is based on a misreading of a pre-print paper which showed that ChatGPT could barely average passing range on two of the three sections under some circumstances and not under others. All three sections would need to be passed to be licensed, and licensing also requires other training and skills. 

Some students expressed concern, such as Liz who was concerned that her work is “competing” against bots.  

“What are we losing because of it?” Fries asked, appearing not yet certain of the answer.  

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