ChatGPT enters its freshman year

It’s back to school for students across Canada, and teachers are preparing to contend with a new presence in the classroom that’s shaping up to be more disruptive than the class clown: Artificial intelligence.

Why it matters: This is the first full school year in which students will have ready access to AI-powered tools like ChatGPT and Bard that make it possible to generate essays and assignment responses with the click of a button.

  • A survey of educators published by last year found that one in four had caught at least one student using ChatGPT to cheat on written assignments.

Driving the news: Some Canadian schools have banned students from using generative AI to complete assignments, while others are adopting a wait-and-see approach. 

Yes, but: Enforcing bans on generative AI may be easier said than done since there is often no reliable way to detect with certainty AI-generated writing. 

  • Turnitin, a widely-used plagiarism-detection software, initially claimed its AI detector returned false positives—cases where it wrongly marked writing as AI-generated—only 1% of the time, but later said that estimate was low (and now does not publicize a specific incidence rate at all).

Rather than banning generative AI, some educators are looking at ways to incorporate the tools into their curriculum. 

  • Some teachers are asking students to use ChatGPT to create essay outlines before writing the complete assignments in class the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper.

  • Others have generated essays with ChatGPT and then asked students to evaluate them, much as a teacher would review a student’s assignment.

Bottom line: This year will be a major test for the education system, and a failing grade could force a rethink of how we teach kids.—TS