Will ChatGPT be the disruptor the academic world needs?


Almost a week after Open AI launched ChatGPT, CEO Sam Altman announced that the chatbot had already surpassed one million users . By January 13, 2023, the global Google search for the word “ChatGPT” reached a popularity score of 92 , and Microsoft has since invested $10 billion in OpenAI .

The chatbot reached its maximum capacity and for a few days it was even unavailable to new users due to server saturation. OpenAI has recently announced a $20 per month (19 Euro) subscription service .

As most of us already know, ChatGPT is a text-based artificial intelligence tool capable of generating natural language and human-like responses with a certain level of accuracy.

This new tool, and more importantly the conversations about the new tool, is taking the world by storm. Opinions abound.

Efficacy vs. Originality

Some are delighted to use it , citing its high efficiency in creating texts like emails or press releases in terms of time, money, and resources.

Using ChatGPT to generate an acceptance (or rejection) letter, for example, can reduce the time this job typically takes from 30 minutes to five. That’s pretty spectacular, particularly for those of us who find such tasks time consuming and tedious.

However, others see the beginning of the end of human uniqueness and originality in the way the tool uses massive amounts of commonly existing data.

Disinformation is another shortcoming of ChatGPT, because it pulls information from trusted and unreliable data sources alike. On top of that, ChatGPT is unable to cite the references it uses to execute requested tasks, and sometimes (many times) even makes up a full answer, albeit eloquently.

Enthusiasts and alarmists

This new technology has a direct impact on higher education, and it has certainly created controversy in the classroom. Opinions on the use of this tool in academia are clearly divided between enthusiasts (particularly students) and alarmists (ie teachers).

Teachers fear (rightly) that using this tool will open the door to cheating and plagiarism , while students see it as the long-awaited technology that will help them write overdue assignments, run complex coding exercises, and maybe even pass exams.

The entire academic body is uncomfortable, including some students .

New technology, same debate

All this activity and debate around the entry (or not) of ChatGPT in the university shows that this tool can lead to a shake-up that the industry has long needed, and perhaps even longed for. New technology, old problem, same debate.

Historically speaking, technology has always affected education significantly and always with a mix of supporters and opponents. In his book, Teaching in a Digital Age , AW Bates writes :
“Arguments about the role of technology in education go back at least 2,500 years.”

Writing and printing

Written communication is one of the tools that made knowledge more accessible and allowed the global expansion of education. In Europe specifically, this multiplied with the invention of the printing press in the 15th century.

Ironically, Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, was not a big fan of written documents and did not believe that writing was an effective means of communicating knowledge.

In the mid-1990s, Internet-based learning was made possible by the development of web-based learning management systems, another technological breakthrough that made MOOCs possible, challenging the traditional educational model and sparking debates that still exist . currently.

Will ChatGPT be the technological tool that will finally radically change higher education?

Challenges in higher education

Along with student well-being and campus sustainability, digital transformation is one of the biggest challenges facing higher education , and with ChatGPT the challenges are even greater.

There will undoubtedly be many who resist ChatGPT and methods will be investigated, not only to detect its use, but also to prevent it. As if prevention in its entirety was possible.

Whether we embrace or resist ChatGPT, it cannot be denied that this new tool has once again exposed the fragility and vulnerability of our higher education systems. Mack Institute co-director Christian Terwiesch tested ChatGPT’s capabilities in a Wharton MBA Program Operations Management course and found that the technology tool would have received a B (good) grade on the exam. A rather disturbing result.

According to Terwiesch, this result has numerous implications for business school education, including the need to improve teaching creativity and productivity, and to change current exam policies and curricula.

Mentality change

Anyway, isn’t it time we reviewed our curricula, assessment criteria, and learning and teaching tools? Making room for this new technology could well be the excuse we need, as Christian Terwiesch points out.

If our assessment systems were reconsidered so that they weren’t based on endless assignments, multiple tests, and countless submissions, this would certainly open up space within the curriculum and create time in the classroom (and outside) for something new.

But the question is: place and time for what? This next step must be carefully considered, because what we have here is a golden opportunity if used wisely.

So, we must not only ask what will happen to our coding and programming classes if we rethink our testing systems thanks to ChatGPT input (in whatever form it takes), but also: what do we want to happen? And what about courses focused on writing and communication skills? Should they be removed from our educational programs entirely? Just thinking about such a change makes one feel uncomfortable.

This is the kind of conversation that has started thanks to ChatGPT. We are finally asking the big questions about higher education.

As Mollick points out , ChatGPT may well herald a new era, one of human-machine integration. If that is the case, education is the logical and inevitable starting point.

So what if, instead of banning the use of ChatGPT in essays, assignments and exams, students were allowed (or rather required) to use the digital tool and then spend their time critically analyzing their result? , describing the thought process and pointing out its strengths and weaknesses? What if the real task is no longer to provide an answer to a question or a solution to a problem but to analyze how that answer is generated?

This shift in mindset around homework could help students develop critical and analytical thinking .

We can see ChatGPT as the last blow to our education systems or as the spark that will change education for the better. I think both humans and technology would give the same answer to this question.

Author Bio: Rafif Srour Daher is Vice Dean, Professor at IE University