Since its release in late 2022, an artificial intelligence-powered writing tool called ChatGPT has won instant acclaim but has also raised concerns, especially on school campuses.
High school senior Galvin Fickes recently demonstrated how entering a short command can generate a summary of Jane Eyre, a book she was assigned to read.
“I think it did a pretty good job, honestly,” said Fickes, who has used the software to help with studying.
Across the U.S., school districts are choosing to restrict access to ChatGPT on their computers and networks.
Developed by San Francisco-based OpenAI, ChatGPT is trained on a vast amount of language data from the internet. When prompted, the AI generates a response using the most likely sequence of words, creating original text that mimics human thought.
Some teachers like LuPaulette Taylor are concerned that the freely available tool could be used by students to do their homework and undermine learning. She listed the skills she worries will be affected by students having access to AI programs like ChatGPT.
“The critical thinking that we all need as human beings, and the creativity, and also the benefit of having done something yourself and saying, ‘I did that,’” said Taylor, who teaches high school English at an Oakland, California, public school.
Annie Chechitelli, who is chief product officer for Turnitin, an academic integrity service used by educators in 140 countries, said AI plagiarism presents a new challenge.
“There's no, what we call, ‘source document,’ right?” she said. “Or a smoking gun to look to, to say, ‘Yes, this looks like it was lifted from that.’”
Turnitin’s anti-plagiarism software checks the authenticity of a student paper by scanning the internet for possible matches. But when AI writes text, each line is novel and unique, making it hard to detect cheating.
There is, however, one distinguishing feature of AI writing, said Eric Wang, vice president for AI at Turnitin.
“They tend to write in a very, very average way,” he said. “Humans all have idiosyncrasies. We all deviate from average one way or another. So, we're able to build detectors that look for cases where an entire document or entire passage is uncannily average.”
Turnitin’s ChatGPT detector is due out later this year. Wang said keeping up with AI tools will be an ongoing challenge that will transform education.
“A lot of things that we hold as norms and as status quo are going to have to shift as a result of this technology,” he said.
AI may become acceptable for some uses in the classroom, just as calculators eventually did.
Computer science teacher Steve Wright said he was impressed when his student used ChatGPT to create a study guide for her calculus class.
“You know, if ChatGPT can make us throw up our hands and say, ‘No longer can I ask a student to regurgitate a process, but now I'm going to have to actually dig in and watch them think, to know if they're learning’ — that's fantastic,” said Wright.
In schools and elsewhere, it seems clear that AI will have a role in writing the future.