ChatGPT, OpenAI’s new artificial intelligence chatbot, has made headlines for over a month now, and for good reason. It’s an advanced bot designed to problem solve. It can “converse” with people on a range of topics. A problem for us to solve now is how to deal with ChatGPT’s invasion into the sphere of education.
Students report using ChatGPT on final exams and papers according to a recent write-up from The College Fix. One College of Staten Island student used the bot on both final exams and “got As on both.” He commented that “half the kids in my class used it.” The student also noted that he used the chatbot to complete a multiple-choice exam, on which he got an almost perfect score.
The Wall Street Journal published a similar article on December 21st titled “ChatGPT Wrote My AP English Essay—and I Passed.” There, journalist Joanna Stern writes,
If you haven’t yet tried ChatGPT, OpenAI’s new artificial-intelligence chatbot, it will blow your mind. Tell the bot to write you anything—an email apologizing to your boss, an article about the world’s richest hamster, a ‘Seinfeld’ script set in 2022—and it spits out text you’d think was written by a human. Knowledge of the topic, proper punctuation, varied sentence structure, clear organization. It’s all there.”
The temptation to use ChatGPT for college exams is formidable. It’s made it easier than ever to slack off and cut corners. However, the technology will severely handicap students, according to Adam Ellwanger, a professor of rhetoric from the University of Houston-Downtown. Ellwanger gave the “text-davinci-003” model of the bot an essay prompt and graded the outcome like he would any other college student. While ChatGPT generated the essay “in about five seconds” and clearly demonstrated a mastery of grammar and syntax, Ellwanger criticized its overall performance, commenting,
Davinci doesn’t advance any arguments of its own – it merely recounts claims that it encountered in its research. What Davinci has really produced is a book report – not an essay that shows some evidence of critical thinking. The abilities of chatbots like ChatGPT are impressive, but they aren’t yet advanced enough to serve as a total shortcut for students. They will be soon, though.”
Ellwanger went on to say that it will be challenging to discern whether students use the bot for assignments, though not impossible. More importantly, he worries about how much ChatGPT will cheapen and degrade higher education. He said,
The only way to become a better writer is to write. Ultimately, good writing reflects the soul of the writer…and Davinci doesn’t have one. Depending on AI won’t just deprive you of refining a critical skill in college – it will ensure that ‘your’ writing is soulless and forgettable.”
Popular speaker and writer Jordan B. Peterson believes writing an essay is a formative way students learn to think and develop coherent arguments. Writing and speaking are central mediums through which we express, communicate, and cooperate. When students depend more and more on ChatGPT to perform their mental horsepower, they deprive themselves of basic skills that help them thrive and succeed. It goes along with the idea that the written and spoken word is not primarily about presenting soulless information, but about communicating among persons capable of mutual understanding and relationship. ChatGPT will only get better, but it won’t acquire the traits that make human life and connection unique and meaningful.
Ellwanger mentioned the soul in his criticisms of ChatGPT. Whatever the soul is, the algorithm of the bot doesn’t have one. To think its feats are comparable to the human mind is to assume people are akin are computational machines, but true education should be concerned with something more profound than input and output. As Dorothy Sayers writes in The Lost Tools of Learning, “For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.”