While questions about the impact of artificial intelligence in higher education are not new, the emergence of a new tool called ChatGPT that uses increasingly popular chatbot technology to generate human-like, long-form writing has opened the door to new curiosities and concerns.
This document provides suggestions for instructors who wonder how this tool may affect their course design and teaching. The content has been generated by our team, our campus community, and nationally/internationally recognized teaching and learning professionals. Please note this is a rapidly evolving issue with new perspectives, articles, and resources emerging regularly. CTL will continue to monitor developments and share them with the campus community as we are able, as well as create new resources and opportunities for interactions to guide our collective thinking.
1. What is ChatGPT? How does it work?
ChatGPT is a type of artificial intelligence model trained to generate coherent, human-like pieces of writing on a given topic. “ChatGPT was optimized for dialogue,” (1) which means users interact with a chatbot in a conversational context, and the chatbot will compose text based upon the user’s prompts. The bot is capable of generating text on a variety of topics and in a variety of styles, “you simply type in a question or give it a command and it generates text for you.” (2)
For more information about ChatGPT, our colleague from the Office of Academic Technology Dr. Juile Schell created this brief video on what ChatGPT is, how to sign up for it, and how it works.
Another helpful resource to learn more about Chat GPT is this presentation developed by Dr. Torrey Trust (U Mass Amherst) that includes a variety of previously submitted prompts and completed output. (4)
2. Why is ChatGPT significant?
Students can enter an assignment prompt and receive a product they can turn in as their work. The text generated by the chatbot could be a well-composed and accurate response depending on the complexity of the assignment and the student’s skill in creating effective prompts. Many higher education instructors and scholars testing the tool report mixed responses, including:
- ChatGPT-generated papers received B+ to A- minus grades according to a set rubric.
- A ChatCPT-generated paper did not flag the Turnitin plagiarism detector tool (i.e., no plagiarism was detected).
- ChatGPT chatbot produced grammatically well-written papers relevant to the topic, but struggled with creating detailed responses that demonstrate deep understanding
- ChatGPT was able to do everything asked, including using APA formatting and correct citation; for Nursing content, it was accurate and specific.
In addition, many higher education scholars and practitioners have noted that the tool might be appealing for students in large courses where it can be a challenge to integrate personal approaches to teaching writing and providing in-depth feedback.
3. What are the downsides?
- Submitting personal information to the OpenAI website without an awareness of how the data will be used by OpenAI
- Students not mastering skills needed to succeed, such as audience design, global organization, and researching a topic
- Ethical violations, a lack of integrity
- Uncritical use of digital technologies
At the same time, there is also a downside to banning this technology and neglecting to understand why it was created and the problems it is attempting to solve.
4. Where is ChatGPT going?
The applications of artificial intelligence technology will continue to evolve in ways that currently may not be clear, requiring ongoing conversations focused on ethics, instructional values, and effective pedagogy.
5. What are the implications for UT Austin instructors?
As a first step, learning about this tool will help instructors gain awareness and know to seek assistance when issues related to ChatGPT arise. In addition, the release of ChatGPT encourages us to revisit the best ways to assess student learning in a variety of instructional contexts (5). It invites us to ask important questions, such as:
- Why and how do we best equip students as strong writers?
- What other ways can students demonstrate learning in addition to written papers?
- What is the best way to solicit student writing that is meaningful and authentic?
- If students rely on ChatGPT as a source of information to answer factual questions, how will that affect their development of research skills?
This focus on the relationship between students and instructors and the educational mission of the university fits with broader efforts underway to reinforce the importance of the process of learning, including making and correcting mistakes. The university is in the process of refreshing our honor code and honor code affirmation to renew our commitment to supporting students in their journey to master complex knowledge and skills. In addition, please see the Faculty Writing Committee Statement on AI in Writing Flag Classes.
With these types of questions and issues in mind, we have gathered a variety of suggestions you can pick and choose to incorporate in your teaching practice if students’ use of ChatGPT is relevant for you.
Incorporating one or two of the following approaches may help ease concerns and challenges that could arise with the introduction of the ChatGPT tool:
Beginning of the Semester
- Be clear on what you want your students to know and be able to do or demonstrate by the end of the course and why that knowledge is valuable to their lives. (See this resource for assistance in developing learning outcomes for your course.) Help students see that the ways you are assessing their learning are key to understanding what they are gaining from the course and where they may need extra coaching and support. (6)
- Talk to your students about how relying heavily on this tool may interfere with achieving the learning outcomes you hope they will achieve in this course (e.g., problem solving, developing an authentic writing voice, etc.).
- In particular, “If you can explain to students the value of writing, and convince them that you are genuinely interested in their ideas, they are less likely to reach for the workaround.” (7)
- Have an open discussion with your students about the ethical implications of ChatGPT and the value of authentic learning for students’ lifelong development as learners. This may include having conversations around digital literacy and bias in research and scholarship, as AI writing tools like ChatGPT are limited to the public source material they have access to on the internet. Don’t feel you have to have all of the answers, as this is a continually evolving issue. (6)
- Ask students to reference and/or cite class materials, notes, and sources (particularly sources that are normally behind paywalls but available through the UT Libraries subscription databases and journals.) in their written assignments. This instruction is valuable because ChatGPT draws on text models from public websites.
- “Require students to reflect more deeply and critically on course topics. This tip is always a good assessment strategy and ChatGPT currently performs better on more superficial and less detailed responses.” (8)
- Use in-class time for students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding in a variety of ways through low-tech, low stakes in-person activities like freewriting and live presentations.
- Craft an assignment where you generate a ChatGPT output based on a prompt and ask your students to critique the response, indicating where it did a good job of articulating key points and what nuances it missed. (For 10 other ways to creatively use ChatGPT in course assignments, see “Update your course syllabus for ChatGPT”; keep in mind that asking students to engage with ChatGPT may generate privacy concerns, so it may be better practice to provide them with a copy of ChatGPT responses that they can use.)
- Focus on critical skills that artificial intelligence struggles with. NPR education correspondent Anya Kamanetz describes three of these areas as:
- Give a hug: empathy, collaboration, communication, and leadership skills;
- Solve a mystery: generating questions and problem finding; and
- Tell a story: finding what's relevant in a sea of data or applying values, ethics, morals, or aesthetic principles to a situation. (9)
- Carefully scaffold assignments with time and space for students to complete each step along the way, and consider whether the number of time-intensive tasks might require more bandwidth than students have to spend. Students are more likely to utilize a tool like ChatGPT when they are short on time. (6)
- Treat ChatGPT as a tool that some students may want to use to help get started writing. For example, students who have difficulty starting writing assignments might be encouraged to generate a paragraph with ChatGPT as a stub that enables them to continue writing. As long as the student ultimately adds significant new material and thoroughly edits or ultimately eliminates the output from ChatGPT, they are producing a document that reflects their own work.
One way to help encourage students to make better decisions about using tools such as ChatGPT is to design your classroom climate to engender mastery approaches to learning, which involve a focus on deeply understanding the knowledge and skills rather than simply achieving a particular score on an assessment. In a mastery-oriented classroom, students are more likely to engage in strategies that will help them truly learn the material rather than for the goal of performing a task and receiving a grade for their work.
Three simple tips for encouraging mastery approaches in higher education classrooms include:
- offering flexible evaluation design: consider providing opportunities for students to revise and redo specific portions of assignments;
- focusing feedback on process and effort: offer feedback oriented toward student effort and their learning processes rather than on high grades and performance relative to others. When possible offer elaborative feedback rather than feedback based simply on correctness.
- building a sense of belonging: discuss, emphasize, and model that making errors and mistakes is part of everyone's learning processes rather than something that only poor performers or people who "don't get it" do.
Larger, Ongoing Issues for UT Austin & Higher Education
UT Austin is putting in place a structure to respond to new developments such as ChatGPT. The Academic Affairs team consists of experts in teaching and learning, assessment, and academic technology. The team also engages with faculty from across campus and welcomes your participation in our activities. This portfolio will convene campus conversations to evaluate investments in tools, technologies, and instructional practices that help us accomplish the objectives articulated in the strategic plan. Excellence in these areas of work can be achieved through strong partnerships and collaborative vision.
Next Steps for CTL
- Continue to learn about the tool and stay updated on new developments
- Convene campus conversations to hear from multiple perspectives
- Create resources to support the teaching community
- Identify policies and practices that advance authentic assessment in courses
- ChatGPT FAQ | OpenAI Help Center
- AI ChatGPT Overview.pdf, Center for Teaching and Learning, American University of Armenia
- ChatGPT, Dr. Torrey Trust
- ChatGPT & Education, Dr. Torrey Trust
- What If We Create a Culture of “Transparent Assessment” (AI & AI), Maha Bali
- Update Your Course Syllabus for chatGPT | by Ryan Watkins | Dec, 2022 | Medium
- Will ChatGPT Change the Way You Teach? EdSurge Podcast
- https://utexas.instructure.com/courses/1293240/pages/chatgpt-faculty-resources (unauthorized)
- 3 Things People Can Do In The Classroom That Robots Can't : NPR Ed
- Faculty Writing Committee Statement on AI in Writing Flag Classes
- "Teaching" Newsletter, Jan. 5, 2022, Chronicle of Higher Education
- Some ill-formed thoughts about AI, robot colleagues, resistance, refusal. Anne-Marie Scott
- Teaching Experts Are Worried About ChatGPT, but Not for the Reasons You Think, Beth McMurtrie, Chronicle of Higher Education
- How People Learn II (See page 121) - Mastery Learning Resources
The content of this document is inspired by the format from the Educause “7 Things You Should Know About” series.
In addition, many of the perspectives and strategies shared in this document were formed through conversation with our colleagues on campus who support teaching and learning at UT, including Brandon Campitelli, Mary Crawford, Linda Neavel Dickens, Rachelle (Shelly) Furness, Mario Guerra, Jeannette Herman, Kristie Loescher, Art Markman, Michele Ostrow, Julie Schell, George Schorn, and Sean White. We are grateful for this growing network of partners that help us respond to rapid changes affecting higher education.