Will Hagaman

AI presents a monumental change in education, how are teachers reacting? Image made in Canva.

Stafford Faculty Face Challenges of ChatGPT

Since the dawn of the internet students have been able to outsource their writing, but a new writing revolution has dawned, and that is for a reason: ChatGPT.

ChatGPT, created by OpenAI and released in November, 2022, is an increasingly popular AI chatbot, which crossed 100 million users last month according to DemandSage. The bot can be used to create believable essays and short answers to a given question. The use of ChatGPT is currently free and available to all.

The answers generated by this chatbot can pass as being written by a human. Users can customize the length of papers, subject, sources, and writing style, creating a temptation for an easy grade that some may find hard to resist.

Having messed around with ChatGPT himself, English teacher Mr. James Dawson recognized potential cheating when a student’s answer read more like a summary than an answer to his analysis-based questions.

“Whenever you have a student who doesn’t answer the prompt in the assignment that you give them it automatically raises some red flags. I figured, let me see if the students use chat GPT. I had a friend that sent me an AI checker that she was using at the middle school level. So I just plugged [the student’s writings] into that and it came back with I think 99% confidence that it was written by ChatGPT,” Mr. Dawson said.

Mr. Andrew Carr, who teaches Social Studies here and is adjunct faculty at Germanna Community College, has incorporated various roadblocks for AI tools in his at Germanna.

“So that seems the best thing so far is that if I have a map, and the map itself illustrates a certain aspect of history or culture, that’s what the question is about or trying to connect a primary source to another primary source,” Mr. Carr said.

By requiring a human to visualize and understand the map to then connect it to support an idea, Carr taps into ChatGPT’s weakness: making connections from one source to another.

Mr. Byron Spicer, who teaches APUSH, another class that relies on written work elements such as short answer questions (SAQs,) free response questions (FRQs,) long answer questions (LAQs,) and document-based questions (DBQs,) similar to many other AP classes, has not yet suspected a student of his using ChatGPT or any other AI, but is still on-guard on what it may bring in the future.

“I haven’t given something that would allow AI to be beneficial, so I feel pretty good in my class right now about that. But again, who’s to say who’s using it and who’s not?” Mr. Spicer said.

While he has not seen it used in his classroom, he still has concerns.

“While it may have a positive application, it probably has more negative application right now in terms of grading authenticity and learning authenticity in a school environment,” Mr. Spicer said. 

He also has the additional worry that other than potentially breaking the rules when students use AI to write their assignments, it also presents a danger to students who use it in the first place who don’t develop proper writing skills from using the software.

“There is real damage done when students cheat to get ahead, because the victim could be the student themselves ultimately. They can’t succeed where they are because they haven’t learned what they needed to learn because they’ve relied upon AI,” Mr. Spicer said.

Besides working around AI, teachers can now use Turnitin, a software for turning in papers and checking for plagiarism, which claims its software can detect if a piece of writing was created using AI. But these tools present a whole new difficulty.

According to Ms. Sarah Conley, Forge’s Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) and former English teacher, unless it is 100% accurate she believes that educators should avoid using the pieces of software.

“In my professional and personal opinion if it’s not 100% I don’t feel like I can use it. I caution teachers from using them. I know I and our administration, and any teacher, would never want to accuse a kid who wrote something and say that they didn’t write it, we never want to falsely accuse a student of anything,” Ms. Conley said.

Although, teachers may not need AI-checking tools to know if a student has AI to write for them, teachers know their students’ writing skill and style, and AI may find that hard to replicate.

“I definitely get a really good sense of their writing styles pretty early on, and even before Turnitin came out as a tool I was able to detect differences in syntax for instance,” Mrs. Laura Spicer, an English and AP Capstone teacher, said. “If a student did something, say patchwork plagiarism, where the student would write a little bit and then copy and paste something from the internet or something that was written in a scholarly source, I can see the differences in syntax and diction, enough to suspect that something’s going on.”

Stafford County Public Schools has not yet implemented a policy for students who have been caught using this AI software, or a policy that addresses it.

The county is working on determining whether or not using ChatGPT is cheating, or if it is plagiarism. Maybe a new type of ‘cheating’ altogether.

“Plagiarism is taking someone else’s words, and you’re taking someone else’s words, but that someone is a robot, so is it really taking their words or is it not? I think it’s an ethical conversation to have there. It’s a realm of avoiding work, which kind of ties into cheating at times, but taking stuff that you didn’t do and claiming it’s yours, which ties into elements of plagiarism. So, I think it’s a combination of both. But I will say, the county is working on creating a policy to better define what it means for the larger world of education.” Ms. Conley said.

CFHS faculty may be waiting for a decision regarding how to properly deal with AI-tools, but some have a more positive outlook in regards to ChatGPT.

“There might be a world where we do utilize AI for practical uses. I think of another kind of tool that kids use for cheating: SparkNotes. When I was teaching Shakespeare I encouraged my students to look at SparkNotes to understand the basics of what was happening, so then in class, we were able to really dive into the language. I see a world where we’re gonna find a way to embrace [AI] or find a way to work adjacent to it. Just like with SparkNotes,” Ms. Conley said.

Besides using ChatGPT as a teaching tool for students, it can also potentially be used to create lesson plans, as Mr. Dawson points out.

“I could see [ChatGPT] being helpful. I’ve used it myself just to create lesson plans and things as well. I haven’t actually implemented it in class yet, I’ve kind of just messed around with doing that. So, there are obviously ways that this can be used that are not fraudulent, and not about trying to get away with cheating,” Mr. Dawson said.

For the wider world, Mr. Carr shows his passion for economics and floats the idea that software such as ChatGPT can change the world economy for the better

“It’s only in the education world where it’s a problem. I think ChatGPT has much more significant benefits to the overall economy in a way that increases worker productivity, which I think is huge. This is a really significant technology that will drastically change the American economy, so I don’t see this as a bad thing whatsoever. Education has to deal with it for sure. But as far as just the technology itself, I think it’s great,” Mr. Carr said.

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