Teachers and Students React to Emergence of AI Program ChatGPT

The ChatGPT program. Photo by Sawyer Thompson. 

On Monday, Jan. 23, Head of School Russell Shaw addressed community members both in person and through YouTube in his annual State of the School speech. To open the address he read from a speech written by an artificial intelligence program, ChatGPT.

In interviews with the Bit, GDS teachers shared their fears that ChatGPT’s rising popularity could cause students to dishonestly use the AI and try to pass off its work as their own.

ChatGPT is a chatbot developed by the San Francisco based software company OpenAI. The program can write, code, translate and edit written work. The software is programmed to answer questions or prompts in a human-like manner. Since its launch on Nov. 30, a study by web traffic analytics firm SimilarWeb estimates that the ChatGPT website has had over 616 million visits.

After reading the program-written speech, Shaw addressed the audience: “Some of you may have been amused by what you just saw, some horrified, feeling like you’re in some sort of dystopian nightmare.”

Nico Sheets, a high school Spanish teacher, said that he didn’t know about ChatGPT until Shaw presented it at a faculty meeting on Jan. 11. He added that he has used the “fantastic tool” to create assignments. “Whenever I put together a simple vocab quiz, I go on ChatGPT and say, ‘Give me some sentences using this particular word,’ and it helps me think of different ways of approaching that particular word in the quiz,” Sheets added.

Sheets noted that he has only used the program to help him make quizzes and that he does not use ChatGPT to help him make larger assignments such as tests. 

Junior Robert Koukios told the Bit that he and his classmates couldn’t tell that Sheets had used the AI to make quizzes. “Nobody knew that they were made by ChatGPT until he told us afterwards. He was like, ‘I used ChatGPT to create this entire quiz’, and we were all pretty shocked by that.”

Katherine Dunbar, the English Department chair, said that ChatGPT disrupts the creative process and critical thinking necessary to write well. “There are teachers like me who are feeling that we are going to lose the joy in crafting a beautiful sentence,” Dunbar said.

History teacher Sue Ikenberry said that she was worried about the effects ChatGPT would have on the classroom. She expressed concern about having students write papers outside class unmonitored by teachers. “I don’t quite know what to do with it yet,” she added.

“Before ChatGPT there was academic dishonesty, and there will continue to be academic dishonesty, but I think it could be more tempting because of its ease of use,” math teacher Julia Penn said.

According to the GDS Academic Integrity Policy, “Education begins with a dialogue between student and teacher, the basis of which is an honest and truthful exchange of knowledge.”

Penn added that, for the math department specifically, ChatGPT could also have some beneficial uses such as explaining problems to students. “In math, it’s different because if you’re taking a test, you’re not going to have your phone out in class to ask ChatGPT. But if you’re writing a paper for English and you get it to write your paper, it feels really hard to catch,” she said. 

Dunbar said that the English department has experimented with ChatGPT and found that it often produced poor quality essays that would sometimes fabricate plot details even in popular books. “I ran a lot of mock essays through ChatGPT and found them rather appalling,” she said. “I was asking about color and symbolism in The Great Gatsby and it literally made up a quote.” 

In January, the English department added a new part to its academic integrity policy, which states that “any writing that has been derived from chatbot/AI technology at any stage of the writing process—from brainstorming to polishing—is in violation of our academic integrity policy (unless the use of AI technology is explicitly built into the assessment by the teacher).”

Freshman Corina Bellermann told the Bit that in her Communities and Change history class her teacher, James Elish, discussed using ChatGPT to write their Freshman Research Papers (FRePs). “He said that ChatGPT was a ‘real tool’ and he wasn’t going to pretend it was going away,” she said. “He told us that we could go ahead and try to use it to write our FRePs, but that he thought it would be really hard to produce a good paper because ChatGPT can’t give you citations and stuff.”

Bellerman added that she agreed with Elish because she thought without ChatGPT giving resources, links and citations, it would be difficult to produce a good paper. “He [James] said that it would take a lot longer to use ChatGPT instead of doing the research and writing the paper yourself,” she said. 

Sheets said that he thought there needed to be more conversations among teachers to create a plan for handling ChatGPT. “I think we need to figure out responsible ways for students to use it, because it is not going away,” he said. He added that he thought that one way of responsibly using the tool would be by using it to create practice quizzes. 

Dunbar said that the English department was talking about transitioning to handwritten assignments to make it more challenging to use ChatGPT. She also mentioned detection tools such as GPTZero, an AI program created by students at Princeton University to detect AI-written work, as a deterrent to prevent students from cheating. 

Sheets said that one way he tried to discourage ChatGPT’s usage in students’ work was to have students write about things in their personal lives. “Everything can be fudged, but I hope that students would be motivated to want to write out things that are personal to them and not have a bot write out something that’s fake,” he said.

None of the four teachers interviewed by the Bit believed they had experienced a situation of academic dishonesty relating to ChatGPT.

Sophomore Isaiah Lewis said that the AI’s emergence had both benefits and harms. “It’ll be much easier for teachers to make assignments, but there’ll also be some tensions between teachers and students because of cheating,” he said. 

Koukios said that ChatGPT was helpful for remembering information and also helpful for summarizing and providing analysis of readings and books. “I’ve used it in Spanish to create practice quizzes. Also in English, if you’re having a hard time reading documents, ChatGPT can come up with a good summary,” he said. 

Koukios added that he thought that not a lot could be done to ensure an ethical usage of the program because the program produces such human-like responses.

Three other students told the Bit that teachers had yet to discuss the AI program with them. 

“We want our students to not just mindlessly follow steps. We want them to see a bigger picture,” Shaw said in his State of the School speech. “We want them to think critically. We want them to identify when something isn’t making sense, and that skill is going to be especially important as AI becomes a bigger part of their futures.”