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Letter to the Editor: When you talk about AI, remember what we’re in school for

By Felicity Phelan     2/14/23 11:37pm

Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. Letters to the editor are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for grammar and spelling by Thresher editors. 

Yes, this article was written by a real person.

The most recent issue of the Thresher included an opinion piece about the use of the artificial intelligence technology ChatGPT in academic contexts. The article, which was generated by the program itself as a display of its writing capabilities, highlighted ChatGPT’s efficiency and usefulness for “students at Rice University who are short on time and need to quickly finish an assignment.” As Rice and many universities grapple with AI’s place in their classrooms and plagiarism policies, I want to contribute a perspective that I found absent in the original article: efficiency is not the point of higher education.

If I was interested in completing all of my academic writing assignments while using up as little of my time as possible, I would simply use one of the many essay-writing services available online — there are a plethora of companies and individuals who will produce original, high-quality, unplagiarized written work about any topic you desire, often for incredibly low rates of pay. I’m a busy student. This is a resource available to me that would ease my workload and allow me to focus on other important things, including my wellbeing. Why should Rice limit students’ freedom to generate their assignments in any way they please, as long as the work gets done?

The answer, I hope, is obvious: turning in work that you did not create, regardless of its originality or quality, sidesteps the fundamental purpose of our education. You are not at Rice to learn how to churn out finished products. As ChatGPT has proven, that is a role that is easily replaceable by technology and AI. You have chosen (and likely paid or been awarded a large sum of money) to come to Rice because you want to push the limits of your understanding, internalize the material you’re learning, contribute original insights and grow as a student and individual. Yes, ChatGPT’s free nature makes it more accessible than online essay writers, but the end result is the same: by using it, you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to leave Rice a more educated, reflective and well-written person than you entered it.

As the original article correctly pointed out, there will be times when the efficiency provided by ChatGPT is advantageous and may even eventually become the norm: cover letters, boilerplate language and automated emails will benefit from this advance in AI technology. The work you do in your Rice courses, however, is not one of those times. For many of us, the rest of our professional lives will be defined by meeting deadlines and quickly producing effective written work of limited originality or reflection. Why not, then, take college and its myriad essays for what it is: not mere obstacles to complete as quickly as possible, but opportunities to learn and grow?

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