University of Calgary AI project asks students, teachers about the use of ChatGPT

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University of Calgary AI project asks students and teachers about the use of ChatGPT
The University of Calgary is launching a research project to find out if professors and students can tell the difference between AI generated writing and words written by a student. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, the results could help shape academic misconduct policies at universities across Canada. – Jan 22, 2023

Beatriz Moya prides herself on being a curious and creative student, but that doesn’t stop her from experimenting with ChatGPT.

The AI can write essays and poems and answer questions about many topics.

“If I thought about using ChatGPT for creating an essay, the answer could be ok – I might use it, but I will also be using these other resources because my interest as a student is to create something that can be for the benefit of others,” said Moya who is a research assistant with a new University of Calgary research  project investigating the ethical use of AI in post-secondary learning and teaching.

“I want to be creative and create opportunities for others.”

Known as ChatGPT and created by a company called OpenAI, the software is designed to generate human-like responses to a wide range of inputs by using algorithms.

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“It was interesting to see that this tool could provide some particular insights that could become the starting point of something,” Moya said.

“It can be uncomfortable and scary as a teacher when you’re supposed to know how to assess your students and this whole world is changing faster than we can keep up with,” said Sarah Elaine Eaton, an associate professor at the Werklund School of Education and principal investigator on the team.

University professors and students will be provided with two writing samples as part of the study — one written by artificial intelligence, the other written by a human. They will then be asked what they think.

“From what we’ve seen anecdotally, it’s pretty easy for the artificial intelligence apps to fool people at the first pass when they are looking through it, but then you dig a little bit deeper and you say there’s something about this that seems a little generic or might not seem like it has a personal touch,” Eaton said. “Mind you, the apps are getting better and better every week.”

The results of the project could be used to shape policies at universities across Canada, helping answer: is this plagiarism or misconduct?

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“What we are seeing generated by artificial intelligence is totally original. It takes content from the Internet, aggregates it and produces something original,” Eaton said. “We don’t have a definition of that yet so we’re really trying to navigate a brave new world.”

The survey will ask students and professors their thoughts on ethical questions about the use of AI on assignments.

Eaton said if we want to graduate students who are ready for the workforce, they will need to be prepared to use the apps — hopefully in ways that encourage creativity and critical thinking, not limit it.

“With this artificial intelligence technology we could say that the horse has left the barn but honestly, the horses are stampeding away from the barn. We can’t stop this,” Eaton said.

Many different perspectives are being taken into account for the project.

“For instance, in engineering, there was this view that machine learning was going to change our lives and there were multiple opportunities that we needed to explore,” Moya said. “And also from a perspective of the English department, we could see some concerns that were quite important because what if students start using this technology so that it can write instead of them?”

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Moya said she got involved because she wants to see AI used ethically.

“I see that there might be some opportunities to delegate tasks to this tool. In that case, I might use it, but just to be the starting point,” Moya said.

The project will be launched by the end of the month with data collected by the end of the term.

Currently, ChatGPT can be used freely straight from OpenAI’s website.

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