University students

ChatGPT could transform higher education

How the new language tool is expected to shift the current learning landscape

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
University students

The arrival of the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT has university chiefs excited and panicked in almost equal parts about its potential impact on higher education.

ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) was made available to the general public late last year by the artificial intelligence research company OpenAI. It allows users to ask questions and almost instantly receive human-like, detailed written responses.

The technology can be prompted to produce essays, stories, songs and images and has the potential to transform not only education but our work and lives more generally.

The chatbot sorts through massive amounts of information to generate natural-sounding text based on queries or prompts.

Within days of its launch, more than one million people challenged ChatGPT to complete a range of simple to complex queries. Feedback reports were overwhelmingly positive.

The chatbot can inform you if it does not understand a query or needs further information. It also admits to mistakes.

University leaders do not need a vivid imagination to compile a list of ways the chatbot might lend a helping hand to those in higher education – both educators and students – particularly as ChatGPT becomes progressively more sophisticated.

Need to write a research paper? Provide ChatGPT with the topic and some key points and it will generate some well-constructed sentences to get that paper started.

Short of time to review 15 research articles? ChatGPT will save you hours by summarising those for you.

Keen to promote the outcomes of your latest research? ChatGPT can come up with blogs for social media to do just that.

Want to get up to speed with course content ahead of your forthcoming exam? Hand some practice questions over to ChatGPT and it will draft sample answers to help prepare you.

Like some feedback on that assignment before you hand it in? ChatGPT might be able to provide a first-class and personalised assessment of your efforts.

Need to produce a lecture for a group of first-year students that summarises the key points on a given topic? ChatGPT will be happy to help if you set it off in the right direction.

Concerns for the future

While many recognise that the chatbot has the potential to provide benefits to potentially make higher education more efficient and effective, there is concern its usage might also generate some disturbing outcomes.

Many educators are deeply concerned that the growing sophistication of ChatGPT will make it almost impossible to detect cheating among students – an issue that has plagued higher education for years.

The chatbot could enable students to produce plausible answers to essays within seconds. And although ChatGPT responses are never perfect, academics are quick to point out that neither is student writing – making detection of machine writing a challenge.

Possibly of more concern is that if students do not do the writing, they will unlikely do any thinking about a topic. After all, it is often reading, writing and speaking that get us thinking.

Others are worried that ChatGPT will reduce the quantity and quality of human interaction between teachers and students.

Machine learning, they believe, will restrict opportunities for teachers and students to engage in fresh and meaningful discussions. And like other AI, ChatGPT is incapable of thinking outside the box.

There is also some concern about the accuracy of information that the chatbot delivers.

ChatGPT is not perfect and can and does provide misleading information at times, depending on the complexity of the task.

Even its developers have warned that the chatbot can produce problematic answers and exhibit biased behaviour.

OpenAI has reportedly cautioned ChatGPT users that the chatbot sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers.

But if you believe that ChatGPT will not impact you or your work, you might need to rethink.

While the chatbot can perform many workplace tasks at a “C+” level, with further development it will eventually score an “A” on many tasks to improve personal productivity as well as potentially make some jobs obsolete.

The ultimate impact of ChatGPT will take time to become clear though it is unlikely to replace human writing altogether.

What is already obvious, however, is the chatbot’s potential to dramatically change how tasks are carried out in higher education.