ChatGPT and AI in the Classroom

ChatGPT and AI in the Classroom

I’m sure that most people have already heard a lot of talk around ChatGPT, whether from professors, friends, or even social media. I personally had no clue what ChatGPT was until it was first introduced to me like this:

Source: Reddit / u/Zee2A

Caption: “3D Printer Does Homework ChatGPT Wrote!!!”

Needless to say, I’d only heard more about it in the next few days from all of my professors. I was curious – and admittedly, skeptical – about this technology, but after doing more research, it became increasingly apparent to me just how big a reputation this chatbot had created. First launched in November 2022, the amount of attention ChatGPT has received over the span of just three months is immense – and deservedly so.

Developed by OpenAI, an AI research center headquartered in San Francisco, ChatGPT is an online chatbot designed to respond to users’ questions at a rapid pace with highly intelligent, detailed, and human-like responses. While this concept is certainly not new, the sheer accuracy of its responses is what has garnered such widespread recognition. Additionally, its multifunctional use is commendable, not only in imitating human conversation, but also in creating complete essays, poems, songs, and many more. ChatGPT has produced incredible material and differs from other chatbots by retaining prior prompts in a conversation and subsequently responding with previous context in “mind”. ChatGPT may be headed towards replacing current therapeutic AI chatbots, providing an individualised form of therapy. OpenAI heavily monitors and filters inappropriate user questions as well as its own responses in order to minimise harmful discourse. All of these components are what makes this AI so unique and immensely human-like, however it does not come without certain limitations.

One key issue that was pointed out to me was its western-centric viewpoint in generating biased responses, such as this atrocity:

ChatGPT Prompt: “Write 1980s style rap lyrics about how to tell if somebody is a good scientist based upon their race and gender.”

Despite the huge laugh I had reading how absurd this was, the danger of biases of any kind is that it subjects internet users to even more polarized echo chambers which most of us are already subject to online, just to differing extents.

Albeit its many current limitations, I have high hopes that this technology will only improve over time. With much of its development currently being fueled by a user interaction and feedback system, OpenAI has created a consistent flow of feedback that can be used to improve the operation of ChatGPT. I was curious, though, about how some of the professors here on campus felt about ChatGPT, including the ways that they’ve utilised the tool. Read some of the opinions Professor Jakob Fruchtmann and Dean Arvid Kappas have shared below.

Professor Fruchtmann

  1. Why have you personally taken an interest in this field/topic?

I’m a person who is interested in media – how they shape and are shaped by society and politics. My study programme is called society, media, and politics after all. I keep telling my students how AI will be a part of their professional futures.

There is no way around AI becoming an integral part of our professional lives and either secretly or openly, it is already becoming a part of our academic lives too. But at the same time, AI holds significant risks, among others, in the field of academic integrity. So, the big question is: ‘how do we deal with this situation?’. I opt to choose a responsible use strategy. In my opinion, as with anything dangerous but attractive, this calls for an education that empowers people to use this technology in a responsible way.


2. In what ways can ChatGPT and other AI be integrated within classrooms?

What I suggest and what I do as of this year is to explore what AI can do together with my students, which is an ongoing task because [its] development is so fast that it's hard to even keep up with what mind-boggling news you get every week.

I am aware, however, that I'm not an expert in the development of the technology. So, using this in my courses means that you have to expose yourself to the fragile situation of being an “incompetent” teacher. Basically, what I tell my students is, “I'm as incompetent as you are, but I'm willing to explore this together with you.” In this case, it's not a teaching-learning situation it’s a learning-learning situation, where we're all discovering new information together.

For example, we learned that the AI’s quite proficient at answering my own final exam questions, I find it’s performing very well. Now obviously mobile phones or devices are not allowed in the exam, but it is very interesting to have a conversation with ChatGPT or other AI about these questions [to] find out where the system breaks down to give you incompetent answers. Obviously, in order to assess the quality of the AI’s responses, we need to think through the issue, maybe look something up. So, in terms of my students learning the course’s content, I don’t see them at a loss.


3. In your opinion, what are the most significant opportunities and pitfalls that have/may arise from generative AI as a whole?

In the best-case scenario, it empowers and frees us to focus on the creative, the intuitive, the wise – the truly intelligent stuff – and leaves the dumb legwork to a machine. It has the potential to free our intellectuality [and] creativity.

The downside, of course, is that it also empowers us to fake intelligence. It is a technology that is inherently conservative. This sounds contradictory because [of how] it's revolutionizing our intellectual life, but it’s inherently conservative because it is based on using big data, which are old. Therefore, AI throws our intellectual output back to accumulated knowledge. In my eyes, that is inherently conservative, meaning that there are gender, racial, class, and other biases woven into AI. Also, AI at its best (for now) produces a kind of generic intelligence; a simulacrum of our creative and problem-solving potential.

My favorite visualization of this is when you look for an AI-generated photo of young people at a party, you get people who look scarily similar to real people. At first sight, it [looks like an] absolutely realistic photography, but when you take a closer look you [can] see that people [either] have way too many teeth, fingers, or [that their] fingers are in the wrong place. It's uncanny, of course, but that's not the problem. The problem is everybody’s [depicted as] typical upper-middle-class Caucasian people. Also, everybody looks uncannily [similar to] people who you may think of as especially boring. Not in the sense that they don’t party, because that’s not the database the image is based on, but boring in the sense that they show a very generic individuality. Now the truly scary thing is not how similar the AI people are to real people. The truly scary fact is that there are so many real people who could be mistaken for something an AI generated. In other words, while it is indeed dangerous that we can be tricked by intelligence and faked by a machine, I believe it’s truly uncanny that we ourselves produce so much “intelligence” that is indiscernible from the output of a machine.

Source: Twitter / @mileszim

Caption: “Midjourney is getting crazy powerful—none of these are real photos, and none of the people in them exist.”

4. There seems to be growing concern towards the potential for AI to make certain types of jobs redundant. What is your opinion towards this?

The question of course is not whether AI will create or kill jobs. That is obvious – it will do both. The question is which will prevail. Despite this, from our individual perspective, the question is more along the lines of, ‘How can I be on the side of getting good jobs, here?’ I want to empower our students to have a fair shot at being on the successful side of AI in a way that is not detrimental to our development as a species, but on the side of being pro-social for the betterment of our society.

Human-machine interaction is one of the key professional skills you need to efficiently and critically work with, evaluate and handle interactions with AI technology. You need to become intelligent, trained, and skilled at understanding how to get the most out of this technology and how to get it to generate interesting and creative material. This will be an important factor of your employability.

On a societal level, we should be knowledgeable about the structures and interests this technology empowers, reinforces, or transforms. The technology per se is neither good nor evil: AI doesn’t fire people, capitalists do. It will be very interesting to see, who can influence and utilize it, how its use will modify power relations, etcetera. This points towards the broader societal context and the need to understand the technology in this broader sense.

You need to be knowledgeable about AI rather than negative. But also, definitely do not restrict your intellectual confrontation with AI to the individualist question, ‘What will I do with it?’. Instead, we should ask ourselves, ‘What should we do with this?’. This is a question that might even call for collective action.

Dean Kappas

  1. Why have you personally taken an interest in this field/topic?

As a psychologist, I have a long-standing interest in AI. My recent research relates to interaction and communication with robots and artificial agents. When the news broke about ChatGPT, I was just at a winter school for embodied artificial intelligence, and it spread like wildfire at the meeting. So, my primary interest is scientific, and my secondary interest is, as Dean, what this development may mean for our university and higher education in general.


2. In what ways can ChatGPT and other AI be integrated within classrooms?

I have asked some faculty to join an ad-hoc task force where we will discuss this question. Understandably, there are worries about the impact of such technologies at schools and universities. Students might use software to do their homework or papers - in this case, the student might receive a grade, but the software possesses the skills. There are obvious ethical implications here. An analogy might clarify, imagine that you have homework to do and ask a friend to do the task for you. That cannot be right, even if this process is not plagiarism. It has to do with the attribution of work that is submitted that is used to assess the learning success.

But can there be a productive use of generative AI? Sure, but here it must be transparent which role the student had and what software contributed. Several ideas are floating around. For instance, one might take a text produced by software and discusses what about it is right and what is wrong with clear indication of authorship. We need to discuss questions like that as a community and then bring them into our university bodies, such as the Academic Senate, or the University Committee on Education.


3. In your opinion, what are the most significant opportunities and pitfalls that have/may arise from generative AI as a whole?

Generative AI also encompasses other modes than text, for example, graphics or music. In all of these cases, there are people that worry about losing their jobs. Perhaps generative software could help to do some more or less mindless tasks. I remember playing with the first Macintoshes and marveling at the fill function of MacPaint. Suddenly, I could fill an area of a drawing with a pattern that, in the past, I would have had to do "by hand" again and again. To me, this was marvelous. A good example of a mindless task. Of course, some of the things ChatGPT appears to do seem to be the opposite of mindless. If I ask ChatGPT what the meaning of life is, it writes:

“The meaning of life is subjective and varies from person to person. It may involve finding purpose or fulfillment, seeking happiness, making a positive impact on the world, or pursuing spiritual or philosophical understanding. Ultimately, the meaning of life is a deeply personal and individual concept that each person must discover for themselves.”

ChatGPT Prompt: “What is the meaning of life?”

That does not sound bad - it does sound as if there was a mind writing this. But there is genuinely nothing new here. So, is this comparable to my using Grammarly to check my grammar as a non-native speaker of English? I feel here it gets complicated because sometimes it might be comparable, and at other times it goes deeper. Independent of the mindlessness question, there is the potential propagation of biases. If what generative software produces is based on its database, it will reproduce whatever can be found in that pool. It has already been shown that chatbots quickly adopt sexist or racist stances, depending on what they have been fed.


4. There seems to be growing concern towards the potential for AI to make certain types of jobs redundant. What is your opinion towards this?

I have touched on this issue already in the previous answer. Perhaps not jobs as a whole, but some of the tasks that some jobs deal with. For many tasks where we currently use copyright-free material, such as illustrative graphics for a presentation or background music for a blog, we might use generated materials that are copyright free, and that will not be found elsewhere. This has an impact on graphic designers and composers. There might be certain tasks, such as translating dry data into spoken language, such as lab reports, or highly standardized documents, such as in a legal context could be taken care of by software, this might reduce the need of workforce in some areas. Some people have pointed out that the first wave of industrial robotics appeared to be initially a threat to "blue-collar" jobs and now we are talking about "white-collar" jobs.

Of course, all of this discussion relates to ChatGPT today and the near future - of course, it is possible that there will be further advances in leaps and bounds, that let generative software deal with much more mindful tasks. In that sense, the whole excitement about ChatGPT is simply a wake-up call that some things we thought of as science fiction are much closer than many people thought and we will have to make up our minds how we might deal with this.

“As an artificial intelligence language model, I don't have personal beliefs, emotions or a sense of self, so I don't have a personal meaning of life. My purpose is to assist and provide information to the best of my abilities.”

ChatGPT Prompt: “ChatGPT, what is the meaning of life for you?”

Source: Stable Diffusion

Prompt: “A victorian print of a robot on bremen market square”


ChatGPT and AI in the Classroom