ChatGPT’s impact on education and research

Despite the popularity and acceptance of this AI tool, many academics have reservations about the use of this AI tool, and some have accepted it as a usual norm.

By Sakul Kundra

OpenAI created an Artificial intelligence tool named ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer), which has revolutionized the academic community, as it is used by around 180.5 million users.

Technology is exerting a tremendous influence on society as a whole and fundamentally altering society and humanity (Hill-Yardin et al., 2023). About sixty per cent is used by people in the age bracket of 18-34 years, where over 55% are male users while 44% are females. It is suitable to be used in chatbots and conversational interfaces. After the launch of Chat GPT on 30 November 2022, it reached over one million users within a short time of only five days, which attracted global attention (Yu, 2023).

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This op-ed is an opinion-based essay that purports to understand the complexity and controversies revolving around this issue.

Despite the popularity and acceptance of this AI tool, many academics have reservations about the use of this AI tool, and some have accepted it as a usual norm. This invention has transformed learning and writing to such an extent that controversy surrounds the question of whether universities allow Chat GPT to be used by students in writing assignments and among the educators. 

Many consider it a form of cheating behaviour, and many students have been penalized for academic dishonesty and unethical practices of plagiarism. This is considered to undermine academic integrity. Other, AI experts believe that AI tools are here to stay forever; despite one’s choice, many students, as well as educators, use these tools.

Dr Ritesh Chugh, an Indian-Australian expert in this field, has given detailed YouTube videos on this issue for educators to understand the complexity of the issue.

Some even say the academic world is under the threat of Chat GPT, while others state the responsibility should be taken by the students and educators to use it under proper regulations and guidelines.

The concerns are also raised about the dependence on AI will reduce human cognitive skills, self based study, applying critical thinking, summarizing and evaluation capabilities; it may potentially displace several jobs and result in a rise in unemployment rates and an adverse impact on the overall economy (Yu, 2023). Another study shows that peer reviewers can recognize 63% of abstracts produced using Chat GPT, which suggests that academic fraud might lead to questioning the reputation in academia (Thorp, 2023). 

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New York City Department of Education issued a statement to prohibit students from using this tool for the purpose of plagiarism (Lund and Ting, 2023), similar measures were taken by other areas like New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia in different areas (Yu, 2023; Deshpande and Szefer, 2023). Other Universities like RV University in Bangalore, India and the University of Hong Kong have strong reservations about some aspects of using Chat GPT (Chan and Hu, 2023Yadava, 2023; Yu, 2023).

Huallpa et al. (2023) stated that research has shown that incorporating chatbots into the first year of college may enhance students’ academic involvement and facilitate the transition to college life for incoming students. The study findings demonstrated that engaging with chatbots had a positive impact on students’ study habits and social relationships. The chatbot facilitated students’ communication with their programme leader and enhanced their ability to seek help, resulting in increased comfort levels (Huallpa et al, 2023).  

Another research shows that 89% of college students of American college use Chat GPT to complete their homework tasks, a large percentage write papers, a significant percentage use the tool during exams and more than 20 per cent to generate paper outlines (McGee, 2023; Yu, 2023). Yu (2023) believed that instead of prohibiting students from using these AI technologies for efficiency and convenience, it is more advantageous to include these tools in the education system, enabling students to acquire knowledge and use them in a proper and accountable way.

In fact, Australian universities such as Flinders University, the University of Adelaide, and the University of South Australia “will allow students to use ChatGPT as a writing prompter for assignments if they disclose it.” Despite some universities having a positive approach towards it, it still lacks the critical approach which the examiner may expect from the student’s written assignment. It is believed that it only gives basic ideas about a concept or theme; they may also lack authenticity, need verification, lack read-world understanding, and absence of emotional and empathic understanding. There are copyright issues with the material generated by CHAT GPT; who owes the ownership of the content is the bigger issue. In order to curb these practices, many universities are opting for plagiarism detection tools such as Turnitin and Grammerly plagiarism check to check the percentage of plagiarism. 

Even the accuracy of facts and figures is another challenge with AI Tools. There are also incidences seen that this AI tool lacks interpretive abilities and is unable to comprehend the content it processes or produces. Issues of fabrication in the references and sources are also found. The limitation of verifying the source reliability is a concern in the academic world, especially when it is used for research and publication. Data privacy and security is a major challenge (Kavitha et al., 2023), especially as this tool depends largely on the volume of data to generate responses, and researchers emphasise the significant importance of strong privacy policies, data encryption, and informed consent processes (Huallpa et al., 2023).

Some have a positive approach towards AI Tools for brainstorming, student support service, and proofreading for grammar problems. The University of Queensland suggests “using the reference style you would use for personal correspondence.” Some even claim that the student using AI tools should give proper referencing so that the examiner becomes aware of the AI-generated material.

Representative image: University students (Source: CANVA)

Many researchers have highlighted the potential advantages of AI tools and predict the increase in the usage of CHAT GPT in the future. If this is in store for us in future, serious thought needs to be given to evaluate the ethical, technical, integrity and authenticity of the usage of ChatGPT and similar AI tools in teaching, research and learning.

The debate continues among educators to use AI tools in education institutions; both sides have their own pros and cons, where some emphasize the benefits while others are worried about the limitations. Overall, the ownership of AI-created text needs to be assigned to establish the fundamental responsibilities of the author, who is using them for academic purposes.

Contributing Author: Dr Sakul Kundra is an Associate Dean (Research) and Associate Professor at the College of Humanities, Education and Law at Fiji National University. The views expressed are his own and not of this newspaper or his employer.

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