Take a walk on any university campus and you’re bound to hear ‘ChatGPT’ popping up. The generative AI has already taken the world by storm with its ability to write well-crafted essays on pretty much anything. Students, of course, were bound to take note of it.
Not only are students savvier and keener on adopting new technology but ChatGPT and its peers provide services that are extremely interesting to someone looking to, say, pass an exam or write an essay. Universities have taken note of this as well, and they have tried to prepare. However, they’re unlikely to succeed.
The bots are good
In a small survey, over half of surveyed students said they believe using ChatGPT for school is cheating — which remarkably, leaves a large part of students who believe it isn’t. Presumably, even among those who believe it is cheating, there will be a significant proportion who still try to use it nonetheless.
Under these circumstances, with exam seam season upon us, student credit cards may soon find a new recurring expense. The (arguably) best text generative AI, GPT-4, costs $20 a month — and it’s significantly better than the free version of ChatGPT-3.5. It can output essays, answer complex questions — heck, it basically passed the US medical licensing exam.
But can it crack university exams? Some professors are not really convinced.
The BBC spoke to Academics at the University of Bath, and according to them, AIs have mixed results when it comes to passing the university’s exams.
“Our first question was, ‘Could this be used by students to answer our assessment questions?'” James Fern says of ChatGPT. “Multiple choice questions, for example, it will handle those very well. We definitely were not expecting it to do as well as it did… it was getting close to 100% correct.”
But when it came to more complex questions, it didn’t fare so well. Its responses were too simple, it offered no sources, it gave no evidence, and lacked the critical skills that you’d expect from a university student. The answers seemed to be very good on the surface, but there wasn’t much substance to them. Also, the AIs seem to make up a lot of things.
“They look perfect – they’ve got the right names of authors, they’ve got the right names of journals, the titles all sound very sensible – they just don’t exist,” James says. “If you’re not aware of how large language models work, you would be very easily fooled into thinking that these are genuine references.”
However, it seems to depend a lot on the type of exam you ask it to pass.
In a new study, researchers describe how the AI chatbot passed four law exams at the University of Minnesota and another exam at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business,
The powerful new AI chatbot tool recently passed law exams in four courses according to professors at the schools.
“Over 95 multiple choice questions and 12 essay questions, ChatGPT performed on average at the level of a C+ student, achieving a low but passing grade in all four courses.”
Cheating, exams, and skillsets
But it’s not all cheating. For students, AI is a major tool that’s bound to be an asset when they reach the job market. In fact, in the UK, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said in a recent speech that AI was “making a difference in schools and universities already”, and suggested it could help school teachers with lesson plans and marking. New advice from Quality Assurance Agency, which reviews standards at UK universities, urges universities to equip students with AI skillsets.
Some lecturers are already implementing this into their courses, instructing students to use AI for various tasks. But it’s important that students use AI as a tool that fits their own critical thinking — not the other way around.
“It’s important to stress that this is an assistive tool: its primary value is that it can transform the structure and form of text while maintaining and stabilizing meaning. Educators should be mindful of this and highlight its limitations as a source of knowledge,” says Steve Watson, a University of Cambridge academic and the co-convener of the Faculty’s Knowledge, Power and Politics research cluster.
But these are still somewhat isolated cases. Ultimately, universities as a whole are not ready to deal with both the threats and the opportunities that AIs like ChatGPT and GPT-4 are bringing. The fears of cheating on homework and exams are real, but the potential of these AIs as educational tools can outweigh the risks.
As it so often happens, it’s a case of technology outpacing society. Almost overnight, we’ve been handed these amazing tools and aren’t quite sure what to do with them. Hopefully, universities, students, and society will figure that out soon.