In the few months since its November 2022 debut, the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT has made headlines for its potential to disrupt higher education, journalism and other fields.
CTLM spoke with John Zumbrunnen, the vice provost for teaching and learning, about how AI has made him think about changes to his own teaching, as well as the resources available to UW instructors.
Q – Because ChatGPT can produce relatively sophisticated writing, it’s easy to see why it’s caused worries about academic integrity. As someone who both teaches and supports teaching, are you concerned or do you see positive potential?
New technology can be a little disorienting at first, so I understand that feeling. I’m also genuinely intrigued by the potential of chatbots to engage students more deeply. My courses involve a lot of reading and writing, and I am always looking for new tools to help students learn to critically analyze pieces of writing (whether their own or someone else’s) and identify how they might strengthen their written arguments.
Q – As this semester was starting, you mentioned in a message to instructors that ChatGPT was causing you to think about tweaks to the Political Science course you teach. What are you thinking about changing?
Well, of course, like everyone, I’m thinking about the implications for academic integrity. Right now, given ChatGPT’s capabilities, I’m not all that concerned. I asked it to write an essay in response to an actual prompt I’ve used in class. It produced a really well-organized, clearly written essay. But it wouldn’t have gotten a very good grade, since it didn’t draw on the primary texts we use in class, and it didn’t engage in the kind of complex conceptual analysis I’m hoping for from students. That points to how I’ll adapt and adjust – or rather, I’ll go back to the basics of trying to write assignments that are linked to course learning outcomes and draw on course materials in ways that require students to do the work themselves.
That said, I also know that the technology will continue to develop, and so I’ll need to continue to adjust.
Check out this campus resource page for more on AI/ChatGPT
Q – So that speaks to avoiding academic misconduct. What about positive pedagogical uses of chat GPT? Are you thinking of any for your courses?
Sure. I like the idea of having ChatGPT write an essay and then having students critique the results. Given how quickly the tool works, this is something you could do in group work or think-pair-share activities during class. I can see students really getting into that sort of activity. And we should all be interested in helping students hone their skills in detecting errors of fact or logic in text produced by chatbots. That’s a skill we all need and are going to need even more in the future – maybe particularly when it comes to the kind of stuff I teach: political thinking and rhetoric.
Q – How might this technology change the ways instructors and students talk about academic integrity – what it is, why it matters?
I was part of a great conversation about this at a recent UW System Board of Regents meeting. Hanna Noughani, a neurobiology and music major, talked about how when students graduate, it is important for them to feel that they are celebrating their own hard work and achievements. To me, that’s a great definition of academic integrity, whether you’re talking about one assignment or the entirety of your time at UW. There have always been ways around doing the work, and there is always something important that gets lost when that happens. I hope instructors and students can talk about this openly. And I really like the positive focus on academic integrity rather than a more negative focus on academic misconduct.
Q – In your vice provost role, what conversations do you foresee happening at an institutional level about these topics in the coming months?
In addition to the conversation with the Regents, I’ve had the chance to gather input and insight from a newly created instructor advisory group. Going forward, I expect there to be broader conversations around academic integrity as well as about specific technologies, such as chatbots and online proctoring platforms. In the Division for Teaching and Learning, we are especially interested in hearing from instructors if there are additional resources you’d like to see – please reach out via email to email@example.com.
Q – This is a rapidly changing area and no one (except perhaps ChatGPT itself) has all the answers. Any advice to instructors about how to move forward?
The best thing we as instructors can do is talk to others – don’t try to figure this all out on your own because you don’t have to. As an instructor, I’m glad that I’m not alone and that a number of campus units are already providing resources and convening conversations about AI – check out this resource page to learn more.