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Foothill holds ChatGPT Forum

March 29, 2023

Ben StefonikWhat is ChatGPT? It’s a question that has been in the news recently. This artificial intelligence chatbot can write your resume or your dating profile. Some reports have expressed concern that ChatGPT and its ilk may have the ability to become sentient. Others are worried that its human creators’ biases may increase disinformation and political division. ChatGPT has scored high marks on standardized tests like the SAT, LSAT, and GRE. It can also compose essays and even answer multiple choice questions.

So, what does such a tool mean for education? Foothill College held a forum recently to discuss this new technology and its effect on academia. The idea originated with students in Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences, taught by psychology instructor Ben Stefonik.  

Stefonik first heard of ChatGPT from another professor last fall. “The first thing that jumped out at me was that this could represent some major concerns around academic integrity,” said Stefonik. “ChatGPT has the capability of completing many types of academic tasks that we’re currently employing to encourage and measure learning.

Over winter break, Stefonik took time to engage with ChatGPT and reflect on its uses. His own research showed that artificial intelligence tools could have far-reaching implications for his own classes and society at large. “You can ask it questions in many types of ways, and it will do a really good job of understanding your question and providing a pretty good answer,” Stefonik added. “It can produce these kinds of responses that we would associate with creative work.” 

Current antiplagiarism tools are able to detect work that already exists in the world. If, for example, a student lifts whole paragraphs from a scholarly journal or blog post, antiplagiarism technology can trace the plagiarized material back to its original source. But artificial intelligence like ChatGPT can write wholly original work.  

The first day of Stefonik’s winter quarter Statistics class, he did something different. He put ChatGPT up on the screen, put in the homework he’d usually assign, and demonstrated how the AI would give the correct answers.  

Following a classroom discussion about AI’s impact on education, the students came up with the idea for two surveys, one for faculty and one for students, to share their opinions on ChatGPT and artificial intelligence generally.  

Looking at the data reveals two camps. “There are a number of reasons why people are leaning in – technology is always changing, and you have to adapt. People are engaging with it, excited about it, and seeking the benefits of how to learn from it and use it as a learning tool,” Stefonik said. “Then you have those who are more cautious and apprehensive and see potential downsides to it. People who have concerns about what this means for society.” 

Stefonik believes most students have good intentions. Even those who cheat in more traditional ways do so for complicated reasons. They are busy with work and family and don’t have the proper time to engage with the material and create original work. Circumstances may lead them to take short cuts. But the prevalence of artificial intelligence means instructors will have to adjust their assessments, especially as AI becomes more sophisticated and better able to evade detection software. 

“Ultimately, I think AI is going to win this cat and mouse battle between AI-generated content and AI-detection. On the upside, I think both students and faculty will discover exciting ways to use this technology to benefit learning. And as educators, it is our responsibility to prepare students for the world ahead, so we should also help train students in how to use this technology. However, I also think this technology will reduce the number of assessment tools - especially in online classes - that instructors can use to ensure that students, and not AI, are demonstrating learning,” said Stefonik.  

Artificial intelligence bots have other implications for faculty. Faculty can ask ChatGPT to comment on and grade work. There is a larger discussion to be had across the district, Academic Senate, Faculty Association and administration to help determine next steps. The future of artificial intelligence is unclear, but one thing is certain – ChatGPT and its competitors are here to stay. How educators and students use these tools remains to be seen.  

The survey results and ChatGPT Forum slides are available on the college website.