ChatGPT threatens academic status quo

Wake Forest students, professors and administrators share thoughts on the AI chatbot


Courtesy of OpenAI

Across the country, ChatGPT sparks discussion about the role of AI in education.

James Li, Contributing Writer

Artificial Intelligence — and the power it might hold — has fascinated the public imagination for a long time. But what was once confined to fanciful dystopian movies might have just arrived last year. 

​​The Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, commonly known as ChatGPT, has been in the news cycle since it was released by the nonprofit OpenAI to the public in November 2022. The program is an advanced AI chatbot, pulling its information from data available on the Internet through 2021. Currently, it is free for the public to use and many tech insiders have been astounded by its breadth of knowledge.

In the academic world, though, it is raising concerns. Wake Forest faculty and staff are starting to take note of the technology, and the school has even hosted a workshop on it.

This workshop, organized by the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, allowed faculty to “share resources, give [participants] an opportunity to experiment with the tool and discuss its implications for student learning and academic integrity,” according to a blog post written by Betsy Barre, the Executive Director of the Center. 

The goal of the program was to “turn our attention from what ChatGPT can do for students to thinking about what it might do for their teachers” in terms of course design and making content accessible and engaging to students. Though Barre is clear to specify that Chat GPT is no substitute for human intellect and expertise, she sees its potential for helping educators better connect with their students, according to her blog post.  

Provost Michele Gillespie attended the workshop and says that Wake Forest faculty will continue to learn about the technology and envision how it will be incorporated into the classroom, if at all. 

“It is no surprise that ChatGPT is a hot topic among academics across the country right now,” Gillespie said. “At Wake Forest, we are confident that excellent writing, which is one of the hallmarks of a Wake Forest education, is not ChatGPT generated. Meanwhile, faculty and staff in all our schools, with the help of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, are exploring ChatGPT as a learning tool and discussing when and how students could use ChatGPT ethically.”

At Wake Forest, we are confident that excellent writing, which is one of the hallmarks of a Wake Forest education, is not ChatGPT generated.

— Provost Michele Gillespie

So, how does ChatGPT work exactly? Essentially, the chatbot was trained on a massive dataset of conversations between humans and previous iterations of ChatGPT. Based on all of this data, the program can hold a conversation like a normal person. 

I wanted to see what this technology could do so I began by asking for birthday gift ideas, and this is how it responded:

Here are a few cool birthday gift ideas:

  • A subscription box: There are many different types of subscription boxes available, such as beauty boxes, snack boxes or book boxes.
  • An experience: Give the gift of an experience, such as a cooking class, a hot air balloon ride or a spa day.
  • A custom piece of art: Commission a painting, photograph or sculpture that is tailored to the person’s interests.

Keep in mind the person’s interests and preferences when choosing a gift, and try to make it something that they will enjoy and appreciate.

Not bad, what about some rom-com recommendations?

Here are some popular romantic comedies that are well-liked by many:

“When Harry Met Sally” (1989)

“Notting Hill” (1999)

“The Apartment” (1960)

These are just a few examples, there are many more romantic comedies out there, it depends on your taste and preference.

Beyond birthday gifts and movie suggestions, ChatGPT is especially useful for assisting with schoolwork. The program can be helpful in sparking ideas for essays, according to Sehyun Kim, a junior majoring in mathematical statistics.

“It helps me generate ideas in 10 seconds,” Kim said. “That’s just for reference. I think that [using ChatGPT in assignments] is a bit plagiarizing.” 

As Kim alluded to, students could easily misuse ChatGPT and similar technologies to gain an unfair academic advantage. I tested ChatGPT on a few assignments from some of my past courses. 

The final coding project from a computer science class? Neatly written with helpful comments. A three-page paper for my writing seminar describing the Pit using the five senses? Took some coaching, but the result was not bad. A confusing mathematical proof that stumped half of my discrete math class? Elegantly written in seconds. 

I reached out to Dr. Samuel Cho, who is an associate professor in physics and computer science, for his opinion. 

“I did wonder how [ChatGPT] would do in some of the assignments and tests I gave,” he said, explaining how he had tested the chatbot on past course materials. “I imagine that ChatGPT would probably pass my course based on those assessments but definitely not ace it.”

It might seem like ChatGPT could be the atom bomb of academic dishonesty, since it is open to misuse by anyone who can make a free account with OpenAI. How might an institution like Wake Forest possibly deal with such disruptive technology? 

I brought this issue to Dr. Miaohua Jiang, a professor of mathematics at Wake Forest who also sits on the Wake Forest Judicial Council. His response dealt more with the sentiment behind such behavior. 

“Like Chegg and other similar apps, students need to be very cautious when they use these apps in their education,” he said. “Students need to always remember their purpose in coming to Wake Forest is to grow intellectually and personally, not to complete homework or projects with a shortcut in order to get a good grade.”

He continued: “In mathematical education, the value is never about getting the right answer. It is always about the process of inquiry, the struggle and the wrestling in solving a hard problem.”

Cho also offered some respite from the “doomsday” effects that ChatGPT might have on learning. 

“I can see why educators might be concerned,” he said. “A large part of that anxiety has to do with not knowing exactly what ChatGPT is capable of doing and what it cannot.”

Cho noted that past technological advances also made educators wary, but he has adopted an optimistic outlook about the chatbot.

“Educators have faced similar situations when digital calculators, then graphing calculators became commonplace,” he said.  “I look forward to using it as a learning tool that can help students tackle even more complex problems that were impractical to give my students before.”

Beyond schoolwork at Wake Forest, this technology could easily be used to help students trying to get into the university. I imagined a hypothetical high school student trying every underhanded way to get into Wake Forest. Suppose they asked the chatbot to answer one of the admissions questions asking about a book they have read:

 As a high school student interested in majoring in philosophy and studying medicine, one text that has helped me understand the complexity of the world is “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. The book explores the ethical dilemmas surrounding the use of human tissue in medical research, and how it is affected by race and socioeconomic factors. The story of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge in 1951 and used for scientific research, illustrates the complexity of informed consent, privacy and the intersection of medicine and society. This book has helped me understand the importance of considering the ethical implications of medical advancements and how it relates to larger societal issues such as race and class. It has further reinforced my interest in studying philosophy and medicine, and how the two intersect.

I have never read “the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” nor am I very knowledgeable about philosophy, but I managed to use ChatGPT to write this fairly impressive response. Imagine if the hypothetical student were to gain admission or even win a scholarship. Imagine if you were a student who wasn’t admitted because of them.

The Old Gold & Black reached out to Wake Forest’s Office of Admissions to hear if they had concerns about ChatGPT being used to write admissions essays, but it did not return a request for comment. 

As the technology matures, university educators and administrators will have to look into both the positive and negative consequences that it may have on our school’s academics. Only time will tell how the technology will embed itself into education.  

I’ll end with a poem written by ChatGPT:

ChatGPT, a tool to enhance

Assists students, a learning chance

Helps professors, with their work too

But misuse can lead to academic skew

Let us use it with care and thought

Benefits to education, it has brought

Guiding students to success, our aim

With ChatGPT, education will claim a new fame