How AI Writing Tools Are Transforming Higher Education
AI writing tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT have now become readily available to the general public, making waves across the globe. Buzzfeed’s stock reportedly rose over 200% upon announcing their plans to make AI-inspired content part of their core business, and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, announced that they’ll be making their “experimental conversational AI service”, Bard, available to the public.
An array of AI solutions are already being used to assist with writing theses, reports, and academic papers, having a profound impact on the higher education sector. Whether this impact is positive or potentially dangerous is still to be determined, but we can say with certainty that its role must be explored and understood as AI becomes increasingly advanced.
AI writing assistants can generate content that is largely indistinguishable from human-written text. This has set the internet ablaze with vigorous debates on whether this signals a dystopian future, an exciting opportunity for increased productivity, or elements of both. Ethan Mollick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, has said that the technology has “basically ruined homework” but also points out that it can be a valuable learning companion. Whether you’re completing your online DBA program or considering enrolling in an MBA online, you will likely soon encounter this technology in an academic setting.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at AI writing tools and their impact on higher education – the good, the bad, and the gray. We’ll also explore how students can harness AI’s potential to increase their productivity, and where using an AI writing assistant may land you in hot water for plagiarism and inaccurate information.
What is ChatGPT?
Developed by the now-renowned AI research and deployment company, OpenAI, ChatGPT is an AI writing assistant that allows users to have conversations where the chatbot can respond in a manner that is almost indistinguishable from human-written text.
This can be an invaluable tool for students who are struggling to find the time or resources necessary to write their theses. Because AI solutions like ChatGPT can quickly generate content tailored to the student’s specific needs, it allows them to focus their efforts on more critical aspects of the thesis.
Additionally, AI writing software can analyze a student’s writing and provide detailed feedback on their work structure, flow, and grammar. This can help students identify any issues with their writing, enabling them to address and rectify issues quickly and efficiently. So far, ChatGPT has been able to write songs in the style of Nick Cave, sonnets in the style of William Shakespeare, and it can even pass portions of business, law, and medical exams.
While the chatbot is alarmingly convincing, many have noted that the results are often inaccurate. Sam Altman, the co-founder of OpenAI, states that, “ChatGPT is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness. It’s a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now; we have lots of work to do on robustness and truthfulness.”
As with all new technology, there are drawbacks; kinks that must be worked out of the system. The same can be said for ChatGPT and other AI writing assistants. However, in this instance, when the power of said technology is so great, the drawbacks shouldn’t be understated. Convenient? Yes. Bulletproof? Not quite.
The developers know this too. When signing up to ChatGPT, users are met with the following disclaimer: “…the system may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information and produce offensive or biased content. It is not intended to give advice.”
With great power comes great responsibility, but who is ultimately responsible for accuracy when it comes to AI writing tools? And what impact will these tools have if there is no answer to be found for this important question?
How are ChatGPT and AI Solutions Impacting Higher Education?
Despite these warnings about AI writing assistants’ potential for inaccuracies, it has already had a significant impact on education, particularly in the writing of academic papers, exams, and essays. Subsequently, it has been banned at various schools and universities across the world in a bid to prevent plagiarism. But is this a legitimate concern or a knee-jerk reaction?
With some journalists referring to it as the “calculator for this generation of students,” it’s impossible to deny that ChatGPT holds potential as a valuable learning tool. Debarka Sengupta, an AI expert at the Infosys Centre for Artificial Intelligence at the Indian Institute of Technology, points out that “plagiarism and cheating have always existed.” However, he notes that the most significant risk of AI software isn’t plagiarism—it’s that students become overly dependent on it, losing the ability to write essays and reports independently.
While AI technology can negatively impact students by reducing the need for critical thinking, presenting inaccurate information, and providing generic responses that do not take context into account, it can also offer some positive benefits which include:
An AI writing assistant can help students efficiently access information and answers on a wide variety of subjects. But, because AI technology has been known to provide inaccurate information, it’s essential that students supplement their AI research with their own research stemming from credible sources. Jasper.ai (another AI writing assistant) writes “Similar to ChatGPT and other Chat interfaces, Jasper Chat is not a search engine and any facts in its responses should be fact-checked. Responding to informational queries is not its purpose, helping you communicate an idea through writing in a range of formats is.”
AI writing software can help spark new ideas, generate outlines, and help students structure their arguments. While this has led to a backlash from teachers in secondary education, some educators see it as a powerful tool as a learning companion—both for students and educators. For example, Ethan Mollick has used it to craft a syllabus, a lecture, and a grading rubric for MBA students.
Flipping the Classroom
“Flipping the classroom” refers to a type of blended learning which strives to increase student engagement by having students work on problem-solving during class (as opposed to at home). Zeynep Tufecki from the New York Times describes a future where educators could assign a complicated topic, allowing students to use AI tools as part of their research. For example, instead of using AI technology to write an entire essay, it could be used to generate the building blocks of an essay with the goal of increasing the quality and complexity of the argument.
An Innovative Approach to Higher Education
While the text generated by AI applications like ChatGPT appears natural and human-like, it’s essential to remember that its answers aren’t original. The platform has been trained by trawling millions of web pages—meaning using this pre-existing content in an academic paper may be considered plagiarism.
The venture capitalist Paul Graham (whose wife is one of the backers of ChatGPT’s parent company, OpenAI) has come up with a new term that describes the type of plagiarism we are likely to start seeing as a result of AI-generated content: AIgiarism. He notes, “The problem with plagiarism is not just that you’re taking credit away from someone else but that you’re falsely claiming it for yourself. The latter is still true in AIgiarism.”
However, others have noted that, in all spheres of academia and art alike, there is no such thing as absolutely original thought. All ideas come from somewhere, it’s an indisputable fact. The challenge comes in when you’re writing a thesis for your DBA, for example, and are required to add something new and original to the existing literature. For this reason, AI writing assistants become more useful in generating ideas, topics, and outlines, rather than relying on them to contribute original thought to a thesis.
While AI writing tools are still so new that higher education is racing to catch up, it’s clear that the technology is pushing academic institutions to evolve rapidly alongside it. For them to become valuable learning tools that support higher education, institutions need to take an innovative approach to teaching, flexible learning, and assessment.
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