Leveraging ChatGPT Instead of Banning:
Five Ways Faculty Can Help Students Use ChatGPT Productively
Facing a morning deadline with an assignment not yet started, a student pastes the assignment question into ChatGPT and asks the tool to generate a 1,200 word essay. A week later, the instructor unwittingly returns the assignment with a slightly above-average grade, noting the clarity of the writing but pointing out a few minor inaccuracies.
If you are teaching now, this scenario is not hypothetical – there is a very good chance someone in your classes has already done this. Described in this article are five strategies, with examples, you can use to encourage students to use ChatGPT productively, not dishonestly.
What is ChatGPT and its potential impact?
ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence tool released in November 2022 that is already disrupting higher education. Drawing from its immense dataset culled from the Internet, the tool can understand and respond to natural language questions on a diverse array of topics. Its responses are uncannily quick, accurate and literate. You can ask ChatGPT to write essays or academic articles, summarize text, compose poetry, improve the fluidity of text you write and even solve mathematical problems.
Clearly, ChatGPT opens the door to plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct. Considering this, as an instructor you face two choices: Either ban ChatGPT and threaten severe reprisals for its use, a tactic that rarely succeeds, or choose the more viable option of modeling to your students how the tool can be used productively to enhance their learning.
The five ways ChatGPT can be used to help accomplish this goal are:
- Brainstorm a topic
- Research a topic before writing
- Summarize texts
- Improve writing
- Help with STEM topics
1. Brainstorm a topic
When asking students to write about a topic they are unfamiliar with, you can demonstrate how ChatGPT can serve as a brainstorming tool. You can enter a basic question about the topic and ask ChatGPT to generate a response. The response can be discussed with students and the question reformulated and re-entered into ChatGPT. This process can be repeated as many times as you feel is necessary for students to get a full perspective of the topic. At this point students will be in a stronger position to choose the specific focus of their paper. It’s important to point out to students that ChatGPT draws its information from the Internet. Therefore, common misperceptions, biases and inaccuracies found on the Internet will be reflected in its answers.
Example. Suppose you’re teaching about global warming. You ask ChatGPT for the main cause. It responds by saying, “The main cause of global warming is the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere, primarily carbon dioxide (CO2).” It then lists five human activities that increase CO2 e.g., burning fossil fuels, deforestation, agricultural practices. Students may already be familiar with the effect of burning fossil fuels but curious about deforestation. So you ask it to explain how deforestation contributes to global warning. ChatGPT lists fours ways it contributes to the problem, one of which is loss of biodiversity. This topic or others could, in turn, be explored further and students could then choose to write on one of them.
2. Research a topic before writing
In a process somewhat similar to above, ChatGPT can be used as a research tool much like Google or Wikipedia. To demonstrate this, you can ask ChatGPT initially to generate an overview of a chosen topic. If there are aspects of the topic that need clarifying, those parts can be researched further until students have a good overview. Indeed, you might compare ChatGPT’s responses to information gathered via Google and Wikipedia - tools students routinely use now. Any differences between the various tools can lead to stimulating discussions and clarifications. Students can then use this approach when they embark on their own research on this or other topics.
Example. was Assume you are a history professor teaching about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam war. I ask ChatGPT why the US was involved. It responds by saying the country “became involved in the Vietnam War in the 1950s as part of its efforts to contain the spread of communism during the Cold War.” You then ask why the country was concerned about the spread of communism, to which it replies, “Communism was a threat to its national security because communist countries were often allied with the Soviet Union, which was seen as a rival superpower and a potential military threat.” This result could then spur students to inquire and write further on the topic.
3. Summarize texts
ChatGPT has a remarkable ability to accurately summarize text. This is helpful for students trying to understand and process a larger, complex body of text they just read. You can ask ChatGPT to summarize the text in a specified number of words, say 50 or 100, as a classroom activity. You could use this feature of ChatGPT in a classroom activity. Ask students to read different texts, summarize them with ChatGPT and share results with the class. They would be expected to have read the entire text as others in the class would be able to ask questions on any part of the full text.
Another use of the summarizing feature is to suggest it to students for consolidating material on a topic before you move to another topic in your course. You might also recommend the feature to students before taking any texts or exams.
Example. Let’s say you’re explaining social constructivism to your teacher education students. The theory is quite complex, and you want students to get the gist of it and how it could apply to their own teaching. The textbook doesn’t do a good job of explaining the topic. Therefore, you ask ChatGPT to explain the theory and how it can be applied. The tool responds by giving four applications: collaborative learning, inquiry learning, problem-based learning and cultural sensitivity..
4. Improve writing
Everyone’s writing can benefit from another set of eyes. ChatGPT can be the proofreader on anything students (or you) write. You can demonstrate this feature to students by pasting into ChatGPT something you’ve written and seeing what the tool generates. You can then discuss the output and share with students whether you think ChatGPT has improved the clarity of your text. Students could be asked to do the same with their own writing and share the results with the class.
You may also suggest that students have ChatGPT check their own writing before submitting an assignment. Some may consider this as a form of academic dishonesty, but campus writing support centres typically have tutors who review student writing and point out ways to improve it. One might argue that ChatGPT is making the same service available to any student at any time.
Example. You ask ChatGPT to rewrite the opening sentence of this article. It responds by suggesting: “A student who has an assignment due in the morning and has not yet started it decides to use ChatGPT to generate a 1,200 word essay.” You can then decide which opener you like better.
5. Help with STEM topics
Thus far we’ve focused on courses where text is predominant. ChatGPT also has been trained on a wide selection of scientific literature, including mathematics. If you teach in the STEM fields, your students can take advantage of ChatGPT to explain scientific concepts, theories, laws, formulae and solutions to many mathematical and scientific problems. You can demonstrate how the tool responds to key topics in your courses and discuss the accuracy of its outputs. You can explain how students can use the tool to enhance their understanding of key topics in the course. You can also point out how ChatGPT can help students refresh themselves on topics that are prerequisites to success in your course.
ChatGPT doesn’t show the step-by-step solution to quantitative problems – only the answer and a description of how the problem is solved. Therefore, when assigning these problems to students, you’ll have to emphasize assessment of the steps used to arrive at solutions as a significant criterion for grading.
Example. Youask ChatGPT to solve the simple equation if a^2 + b^2 = 25 and a = 4 what is b? It responds: “The equation a^2 + b^2 = c^2 is known as the Pythagorean theorem, and it states that the sum of the squares of the lengths of the two sides of a right triangle is equal to the square of the length of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle).” Since solving this problem requires taking the square root of “b” – a process that is no longer taught in schools since the advent of calculators – you ask how to calculate the square root of a number. . ChatGPT responds that you find the square root with calculators or online tools but also explains the two traditional methods: long division and prime factorization.
What to do next
To get started with ChatGPT, create a free account at https://chat.openai.com/ and log in. The tool is designed to understand natural language, so just use your own words to tell it what you’d like it to do. It’s best to use a clear, concise question or statement with proper grammar and punctuation, avoiding any ambiguity. Normally within seconds you’ll get a response, although lately ChatGPT’s response time has been slower because of exceptionally high demand. If you are not satisfied with the result, click on the Regenerate button that appears after it responds.
After experimenting for a few minutes, enter one of your student assignment questions. Tell ChatGPT to write, say 1,000 words, on a topic. Also, try pasting in several pages of text and ask ChatGPT to summarize the text.