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ChatGPT is far from the villain it’s made out to be.

hamza-saeed
Photo courtesy Hamza Saeed

By Hamza Saeed     2/21/23 10:17pm

Last week’s issue of the Thresher included a letter to the editor that discussed the use of ChatGPT by Rice students. Felicity talks about how the reason we came to Rice was “to grow as a student and individual,” and I believe that in this regard, they are absolutely correct. Where she errs is when she implies throughout the article that this growth and intellectual stimulation are completely incompatible with the use of ChatGPT as an online tool. She is most certainly not the only one who holds that view. Many professors at Rice and across the world are currently grappling with how to handle the rise of A.I. I firmly believe that ChatGPT does have a place in academia and that the vast majority of Rice students are using ChatGPT in a positive manner that actually contributes to their educational pursuits. 

To initiate any defense of ChatGPT, it is important to look at what the software can really do. ChatGPT is an A.I. software that generates outputs based on online templates, writings and articles in response to user prompts. ChatGPT scours the web for works that are related to the given input, and then, regardless of the veracity of the information it cobbles together, presents it to the user for judgment. As soon as instructors create prompts or assignments that actually challenge a student and force them to expand their thinking (i.e. assignments that are not simply “busy work”), ChatGPT struggles significantly with providing an adequate response that can just be dropped into a Canvas submission. As such, assuming that these assignments allow for the use of online resources, I fail to see how using ChatGPT to highlight new ideas and concepts from across the web means that a student has cheated themselves out of the learning process. Fundamentally, what is the difference between me searching up research articles and writing templates to help me develop an argument and asking ChatGPT to round up those resources and present them to me? If I were to clearly cite my sources and provide my own interpretation of the information that I find, I do not believe many professors or students on this campus would find ethical issues with online research, so why should they find issue with the use of ChatGPT?

Despite this apparent contradiction, or perhaps in spite of it, many individuals have made the point that turning in work that you did not create is in conflict with why we all decided to pursue higher education. This argument’s fatal flaw, however, is that it hinges upon the assumption that Rice students are directly submitting outputs, as well as the fact that it seems to be a subtle insult towards students: their work somehow wasn’t honest or had no effort behind it because they made use of an online tool. Call me naive, sure, but I do sincerely believe that most people here at Rice do want to present their own work and put in a lot of effort to submit things that they themselves are proud of. There does seem to be a lack of nuance in these arguments where you are either completely working from scratch and actually learning the material, or you blatantly and unethically plagiarized someone else’s work.



To be clear on where I stand, I absolutely agree that online essay writers are inherently unethical, no matter what the circumstances are. Taking someone else’s writing and completely passing it off as yours is, to put it simply, wrong. But drawing a parallel between that and the utilization of ChatGPT when professors permit online resources is, in my opinion, a vast oversimplification and a position that fails to recognize the differences in how a resource can be utilized. Going forward, I hope to see an integration of new technologies in the academic space. Instead of shaking our fists in the air, Rice should put some serious thought into the best way that tools like ChatGPT should be integrated into our curriculum. Should we get rid of busy work, weigh presentations and exams higher than essays or even bring ChatGPT directly into the classroom? Quite frankly, I don’t have an answer for you, but I am confident that we, collectively, can figure it out.



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