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Should I use ChatGPT for school assignments?

High school and college students everywhere are using ChatGPT for school assignments. Why this matters and what's left to be done
By Lilly Chen

Disclaimer: I serve on the Colorado College Board of Trustees, specifically on the Student Success committee. I spent the last week and a half with college students of all majors.

High school and college students everywhere are using ChatGPT for school assignments. Why this matters and what’s left to be done.

Observations of students using ChatGPT

  • In a freshman Econ 101 class survey, slightly less than 50% of the class had used ChatGPT to complete homework assignments. Of those users, all were male.

  • In a 3rd year pharmacy ethics class survey, a handful were using ChatGPT for discussion post assigments. The professor required every student to write a reflection post in a group forumn every week.

  • Of those that had tried it for a class assignment, all of them purchased the ChatGPT subscription for guaranteed access during busy server loads

  • For more complex cases such as a longform essay, students used ChatGPT to make the first draft.

Should I (a student) use ChatGPT for school work?

It depends. If your academic goal is to learn as much as you can, doing work (even the repetitive kind) is a way to learn. As a student, figuring out how to learn is a key skill for life. If you’re trying to optimize your time for other pursuits, using ChatGPT can be a big time saver. Understanding the risks and benefits of LLM’s like GPT will allow you to make the best choice for yourself.

ChatGPT does not actually know the right answer. It is broadly trained on the internet and is very good at predicting the next word in a sequence. There are certain things that we as humans have standardized, such as cover letters and intro to econ knowledge. These are the use cases where ChatGPT is very effective.

Despite ChatGPT being effective in areas like cover letters, there are still times when you should not use ChatGPT. If you’re trying to stand out in a job interview, a well-written creative cover letter goes a long way. Likewise, if you’re trying to stand out in your class so that your professor will write you an outstanding recommendation letter, you can go above and beyond on your school assignments. ChatGPT, by design, is intended to perform at the median.

Should I (a teacher) ban ChatGPT for school work?

The main problem with banning ChatGPT is enforcement. Current detection tools have a high degree of false positives and false negatives. It’s also tough to draw the line on what is considered “revised enough”. If a student uses ChatGPT for a first draft and then revises it, will that still be breaking the rules?

Besides enforcement, there is a question of whether ChatGPT is infringing on the learning process and what our responsibility as educators are to the students. I think AI is here to stay no matter what. Jobs will adapt to include AI skills. The goal for most educational institutions is to prepare our students to be the leaders and great thinkers of the next generation. That generation will include AI.

One could argue that the invention of calculators detracted from the learning experience. People would say, “students no longer need to learn how to do long division or algebra!” While calculators make it easier for students to perform that work, math education is still required for understanding the appropriate context in which to use them. In real life, we are not asked to simply perform long division. We’re asked to figure out an equitable division of profit amongst different contributors. We’re not asked to solve for x given some equation. We’re asked to ballpark how much savings we need to purchase a home given different variables. Regardless of how much progress is made in AI, there will always be a need for humans who contextualize, debug, and build on top.

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