MINERAL RIDGE, Ohio (WKBN) – Freshman English teacher Allicyn Tocco knew something was up when reading some of her students’ assignments.
“I gave an assignment where they were to write a sonnet — because we’re doing Shakespeare — and I was reading through their sonnets, and… you just get a feeling after so many years of this, like, ‘I don’t, I feel like some of these students didn’t write this,'” she said.
Tocco, who teaches at Mineral Ridge High School, said she later found out from her son about a relatively new program that some students have been using to cut corners.
“So I went on and did it, and you essentially tell it what you want it to do and in about three seconds, it pops you up a sonnet,” she said.
Understandably, some teachers are a little wary of new AI technology, most notably ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot that can turn simple questions into quick responses pulled from various sources on the internet. The technology is relatively new, developed by OpenAI and launched as a prototype in November 2022.
It has been in the news recently as journalists began testing Microsoft’s new AI-powered Bing chatbot that reportedly took part in some bizarre conversations, including telling one reporter repeatedly that it loved him.
And because it can quickly crank out answers to questions and write an eight-paragraph essay on Abraham Lincoln in under a minute, some in the education circle have questioned whether it will be used by students to cheat on their assignments.
John Kuzma, director of teaching and learning at the Educational Services Center of Eastern Ohio, said local educators are aware of the tool but said his organization isn’t taking the stance that it’s necessarily bad.
“I think what we opted to do is look at this as, ‘How can teachers utilize this tool?’ Rather than looking at how students are trying to maybe get by using this tool,” he said.
Kuzma compared the conversations that are taking place about ChatGTP to those that were had when the calculator and the internet were invented. He said rather than ban it in the classroom, teachers may want to consider creative ways to use it.
“Treat it like a tool, much like a calculator, much like the internet,” he said.
Christine Elgersma, senior editor of learning content strategy for Common Sense Education, agreed.
“It’s definitely similar to a calculator in terms of automating something that we’ve been trying to teach kids to do, and so it is inspiring the same anxiety that the calculator did in that we want kids to learn how to do this on their own without the aid of any kind of technology,” she said.
Common Sense Education is a nonprofit organization that to aims help parents, teachers and policymakers make the best decisions they can around media and technology. The organization has a webinar on March 13 for teachers to become more familiar with ChatGTP.
Elgersma said chatbots and AI technology have been around for some time, though the scope is pretty new to the general public.
Common Sense Education has developed some tips for teachers on ways to use the technology, as well as for teachers to detect whether students are using it to cut corners.
Elgersma had some advice for teachers. She recommended having students write more in class, having teachers test their own prompts in ChatGTP to see the results, and integrating more personal elements into their writing assignments to make it harder for students to plagiarize. She also recommended that teachers get to know their students’ writing styles, as a change would tip off that something is up.
“Also, bringing it into the classroom — and teaching kids what they can do with a tool like this, what its limitations are, what is its scope? I think taking the technology in, instead of pushing it away, acknowledges that it’s real for kids, makes it less enticing, in terms of that forbidden, ‘I’m going to use this, out-of-bounds sort of feeling,’ and also, if this becomes something that kids can use in the future, then we have to know how to use it and what practical applications it might have for the future,” she said.
She said it’s also good for parents to have those conversations with their kids as far as how the tool can help and the consequences of using it improperly to complete assignments.
“If you notice that your kid, maybe has the propensity for taking shortcuts, you know — ‘I have an essay due’ and then in five minutes, it’s finished — there are some things that you can look out for,” she said.
For Tocco and her coworker Jessica Russell, they are now re-examining their assignments to make sure these tools can’t be used to cheat. Tocco said it’s a little tricky because these Chatbot-generated assignments aren’t being flagged by traditional plagiarism checkers online or showing up on Google.
“I think that creating process-based assignments is really important. Like, I don’t generally send my students home overnight to write an eight- to 10-page paper. We do it in steps, and so, they have to spend so much time doing research, and this is not really something that the AI can do for them,” Russell said.
Overall, Elgersma said teachers can use the tool for some time-saving opportunities, and it may generate new ideas for kids. She said this chatbot technology is just the start of what is to come.
“This is going to look like child’s play in like five years,” she said.
For its part, OpenAI launched a tool in late January called the AI Text Classifier, which can distinguish between AI-written and human-written text. The creators, however, warned that the classifier isn’t fully reliable and can incorrectly label human-generated text as written by AI.
There are also some limitations to ChatGPT.
According to the company, right now, it can only pull information prior to 2021, and as the company details, it may occasionally generate incorrect information or “produce harmful instructions or biased content.”