AI in the classroom: How ChatGPT is being used at SUU and what its future holds

Education changes every year, and with these changes, new technological advancements are made to help assist teachers and students.

ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence used to write conversational dialogue, is one of the newest innovations in classrooms across the country.

The AI was released to the public by its parent company, OpenAI, on Nov. 30, 2022. It was built on the third model of OpenAI’s Generative Pre-training Transformer model, or GPT-3.

This was not the first time the company created an AI through its GPT models. In 2021, OpenAI released DALL-E, which used the GPT-2 model to create realistic images using text prompts.

Due to the AI’s ability to create human-like conversational dialogue, one of its primary purposes was to be used by companies for customer service.

Aside from its original purpose, students have discovered that they can use AI to complete essays and, in doing so, have accomplished some exciting feats.

ChatGPT passed law exams at the University of Minnesota and the University of Pennsylvania at a C+ level. A survey at the University of Stanford showed that a large number of students had used ChatGPT or a similar AI to help them complete their essays.

For these reasons, many educators are beginning to worry about the theoretical implications the newfound technology might bring.

However, two professors at Southern Utah University say not to worry about the adverse effects of AI and to embrace the new technology. John Belk and Julie McCown, who are associate and assistant professors of English, respectively, believe that ChatGPT should be used in classrooms around campus.

Among the many reasons they believe in AI’s academic potential, one of the key facts is that AI detection software such as GPTZero, which is supposed to detect usage of ChatGPT, is still relatively unreliable.

Julie McCown introduces the topic of ChatGPT to the audience of the day’s “Lunch and Learn” event. McCown and Belk’s presentation was the featured topic of the event.

“I ran my AI essay that I spent five minutes on, ran it through GPTZero, and it said, ‘Oh, it was written by a human,’” McCown said.

Another reason McCown listed is that the AI is limited by the intelligence of the person using it.

“ChatGPT is not true intelligence,” McCown said. “The student would have to know how to write, they would have to know what good writing looks like, they would have to know about the content, and feed that into ChatGPT to get a passable essay.”

Because of the infancy of the software itself, as well as the poor state of detection software, it would be counterintuitive to ban the AI. Therefore, looking ahead to what positive things the AI could do is necessary for educators.

One practical use McCown and Belk discussed would be installing the AI in classrooms to help those with disabilities.

Belk discusses how the AI could be used as a tool to help those with disabilities. Similar AI models have been used to help those with reading and writing disabilities, such as dyslexia, in the past.

“I can also see just a whole world of disability accommodations that might be brought up with it,” Belk said. “Just all kinds of language processing disorders that it would bypass large chunks of time that students struggle with so that we could get to some of those higher order concerns.”

Currently, there is an ongoing battle between students with disabilities and the faculty and staff of the University of Melbourne in Australia. It began after the university’s officials elected to move to a more pen-and-paper-focused format after concerns that AI usage would soon take over the university’s writing classes.

Those opposing the officials claim that the university should not overlook all of the positive developments to tackle a single issue involving the new technology.

Another positive that arose with the emergence of this new technology was that educators could step back and rethink their assignment plans.

“I know that, at least for me as an English professor, I often fall back on ‘Well, we write essays. That’s how we’re going to assess things,’” McCown said. “This is kind of a chance for me to step back and say, ‘Is writing the best assessment for this particular task or this particular knowledge?’”

McCown also mentioned how a similar shift happened in the case of Wikipedia.

“I think I’ve seen, in my career of teaching, kind of a shift in how people use Wikipedia in research,” McCown said. “Because it used to be ‘Don’t use Wikipedia ever, and don’t even read it,’ and now it’s more like, ‘You can use it as a starting point.’”

Along with Wikipedia, there have been numerous instances where a tool was either created for educational purposes or was found to be helpful in the classroom but received backlash from the teaching community. One such innovation was that of the calculator, which was outlawed in the early 1970s but is now commonplace in math courses.

McCown predicted that, similar to how the previously mentioned inventions had found their footing within education, ChatGPT and all other AI writing software will become standard in education.

“I think AI writing tools are going to become more commonplace and more accepted within writing practices,” McCown said.

Story and Photos by: Luke McKenzie