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How is artificial intelligence changing education?

There's a new frontier in the world of higher education — artificial intelligence. More specifically, it's AI that can generate text like ChatGPT.
Posted at 3:10 PM, Mar 07, 2023

Plagiarism is nothing new, but the role artificial intelligence is playing in it is now a concern at colleges across the country. So, Scripps News went to several schools to see how professors are trying to ensure students' work is actually their own.

There's a new frontier in the world of higher education — artificial intelligence. More specifically, it's AI that can generate text like ChatGPT.

The technology is capable of writing whole essays just by asking it a question or specifying a topic, and can sometimes be hard to detect when it's used because the AI creates individual responses each time — no two are identical.

It all raises real questions about how students complete some class assignments. 

Since late last year, ChatGPT has taken the tech and media world and the evening news by storm. 

Microsoft is now placing artificial intelligence into its software, beginning with Bing (it's search engine) and Edge (its browser). 

"It’s the most exciting and powerful technology I have ever touched. But with technology this powerful, I also know that we have an even greater responsibility to ensure that it is developed, deployed and used properly," said Sarah Bird, the AI lead for Microsoft research. 

That’s top of mind in the halls of academia, where artificial intelligence poses new challenges for teaching. For perspective, we turned to three different professors from three different universities.

English professor Paul Fyfe at North Carolina State, Lee Tiedrich a professor at Duke Law School and Caleb Husmann who teaches political science at William Peace University.

"Nobody's got the answer at this point. We're just figuring it out. And I think being candid with your students always goes well," Husmann said. 

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So does altering class instruction. 

"We like debates and simulations and like games and stuff like that. That ChatGPT can't, you know, do a simulation as a lobbyist for you. But it doesn't change the fact that a classic essay is a fundamental part of a college education," Husmann said. 

That's something English professor Paul Fyfe decided to tackle several years ago. 

"I've been interested in text generating, I guess, for a few years, and starting in Fall 2020 have been assigning students to try and experiment with it, requiring it to be used to 'cheat' on their final papers as a way of thinking about the potential downstream consequences," Fyfe said. 

That may sound like a win for the students, but as they found out, it was anything but. 

"A lot of them are like, 'wow, we're going to get away with something. This is going to be so easy. I'm just going to press a button,' and all of them realize it doesn't work that way, that the AI is troublesome," Fyfe said. 

That's partly because what the AI generates can be vague or just plain wrong, as it's based on information from all kinds of online sources — some with incorrect information. 

"To pretend that it doesn't exist, I don't think is the right approach," Tiedrich said. 

At Duke Law, Lee Tiedrich is a distinguished faculty fellow with a focus on ethical technology. 

She says embracing ChatGPT may be a better approach.

"I think we need to have a national learning moment about artificial intelligence, which is something I've been saying for a while, because students need to understand how it works. What our students need to learn is, you know, 'how are some of the beneficial uses? How can it help you with research? But, you know, what are the responsibilities that come with using the technology?'" Tiedrich said. 

A responsibility that students may be facing more now than ever before.