Point-Counterpoint: ChatGPT in the classroom

Point: Revere, don’t fear, ChatGPT
by Anaya Bhatt

Our world is ever-changing, especially when it comes to technology, education and where they intersect. We type essays instead of writing them and look up information on the internet rather than in books. And with the arrival of AI programs like ChatGPT, we can take advantage of new and developing technologies to enhance our education and synthesize information.

Whether we like it or not, AI exists in various forms all around us from Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa to even more common forms like algorithms that generate personalized social media feeds. Just as we have adopted these popularized technological tools in our everyday lives, we can use ChatGPT to educate ourselves and advance our society.

While search engines like Google require you to look across different websites for answers, ChatGPT immediately produces a detailed, coherent answer to your question just like another human would. The way the program synthesizes information eliminates the need to scour the internet for answers, giving you access to information and advice from prestigious universities, professors and libraries that once only belonged to the elite.

I spoke with executives at a Silicon Valley startup last week about the implications of ChatGPT, and they said the new software can level the playing field in the workplace. Someone who has a great business idea but lacks the formal education and language skills to present them in a formal manner can turn to ChatGPT for an AI-generated business proposal. Now, you don’t need a graduate-level education to draft a report, develop academic syllabi or write a story – just give ChatGPT a prompt, and it can most likely spit back a response. ChatGPT can bridge the economic and educational divide that makes social mobility and success so difficult to achieve.

And ChatGPT’s potential to alter our lives goes beyond the workplace and into the classroom. Thanks to its advanced knowledge, the system can pass graduate-level master’s tests, compose essays and source information. This has led its biggest critics, especially academic instructors, to fear that students will turn to the software for essay writing purposes and exam answers instead of learning or understanding a topic. At GW, officials are trying to stop students from using ChatGPT for assignments through the Code of Academic Integrity.

But what these critics fail to realize is that the way we learn and what we learn is not stagnant. Fifty years ago, coding and computer science classes were not nearly as prevalent in schools as they are today. We’ve moved from teachers and textbooks to digital entities, taking advantage of the internet, and through it, Zoom and online courses and resources. And while having immediate and practically unlimited access to information may have been frightening at first, try imagining life without Google today – the status quo changed.

We should revere technological advancements like ChatGPT, not fear them. The only way to keep up with the fast pace of our world is to embrace new technology and learn how to use it to its fullest potential.

Counterpoint: ChatGPT may be quick, but it’s no author
by Terra Pilch-Bisson

What makes someone an author? The job typically involves creating essays, paintings, poems and other works that reflect our perspectives, identities and the stories only we can tell. There’s a sense of ownership and pride that comes with being an author, but artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT threaten to replace authorship with computer-generated imitation.

My first assignment of this semester for my Modern American Cultural History class, taught by associate professor of American studies Dara Orenstein, was to use ChatGPT to generate a poem in the style of an author I chose describing myself. I prompted the program to write a poem in the style of Sylvia Plath about a college student who moves from the Pacific Northwest to D.C. to study history, politics and philosophy.

Like an online horoscope, the resulting poem contained illusionary specifics that made me feel special for a moment before I realized the words could apply to countless other people – “Beyond the familiar, I sought something new/To fill the life I was living with meaning.”

The cold, inhuman style of ChatGPT failed to mimic Plath with any real attention to detail, except for a few gloomy words. None of the poems my peers and I generated had any real theme, moral or purpose. They were mechanical, impersonal and lacked figurative language and hidden meanings. They followed the prompts we provided and were more efficient than our own creative labors – the assignment took 10 minutes, tops – but none of us felt like the poems were really ours.

With the help of technology, I created something supposedly artistic but felt no more like an author than I would have scribbling down a grocery list on a Post-it note. ChatGPT excels at creating study guides and outlines, but the moment we treat computers like authors, we forget the importance and nuance of human perspective and end up with meaningless corporate art and Twitter spam bots.

Yet if ChatGPT takes away our sense of authorship, what about programs that check our grammar or help us find the right word? The difference is that neither directly infringes upon our expression of ideas. This technology can be extremely useful right up until the point where it consumes our efforts, erases our personalities and erodes our inspiration. It can help us expedite everyday activities like writing emails and typing up notes. But to quote “Dead Poets Society,” “Poetry, romance, love, beauty? These are what we stay alive for!”

We shouldn’t fear ChatGPT. It will, and should, inspire classroom conversations regarding the philosophical purpose of academic writing altogether. But there is a difference between writing purely to communicate information versus writing to articulate thoughts, feelings and emotions – and ChatGPT cannot perform the latter.

Faculty and students alike can utilize AI software in a way that supplements learning without stifling creativity. To do so, we must value authorship above expediency and not allow ChatGPT to infringe on our intellectual and creative abilities as students and authors.

Anaya Bhatt, a freshman majoring in political communications, is an opinions writer. Terra Pilch-Bisson, a freshman majoring in American studies, is an opinions writer.

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