How Will Chatbots Change Education?

To the Editor:

Re “A.I. Is Doing Homework. Can It Be Outsmarted?” (front page, Jan. 17):

This technology could become a boon to learning. It makes cheating easier, too.

I teach philosophy and religious studies at a liberal arts college. This is what I tell students:

I’m here for you after nine years of graduate study and 35 years of teaching. All my learning is available to you, along with my personal attention and help. But I have zero training — and less interest — in hunting down or trying to defeat academic dishonesty.

I will help you encounter interesting, challenging, sometimes difficult ideas, and I will help you ponder them rigorously with your classmates. It will expand and strengthen your mind, and thereby enlarge your potential as a human being. In the process you will earn my respect and — what is more important — you will respect yourself.

Or, you can choose to cheat to get a grade you did not earn. That door is open for you, if that’s the person you want to be. It’s your education, paid for with your, or someone else’s, money. Ultimately, the person you will have cheated is yourself.

Robert J. Miller
Huntingdon, Pa.
The writer is a professor at Juniata College.

To the Editor:

Writing is a skill: It takes years to become an effective writer and many more to develop deep thought and personal style. In high school, I took a number of English and history exams, but none taught me more than the traditional essay assignment. With the time to probe deeply into my thinking and carefully unearth evidence, I discovered all sorts of worlds beyond the explicit nature of texts, and I had the opportunity to explain them fully while finding my voice.

Reforming courses by removing writing from the curriculum altogether (or forcing very quick writing), as described in this article, cheats me and so many students of the opportunity to invest in ourselves and our ability to think.

So, as a high school senior who’s staring down the prospect of a college education, I’m desperately hoping we can find a more nuanced solution for avoiding ChatGPT plagiarism.

Elizabeth Gallori
Brookline, Mass.

To the Editor:

A.I. can be detected without elaborate technology by the use of a pretest. Before instruction begins, teachers ask students to write a short essay in class. Using the results as a baseline, they can compare subsequent essays.

Even the best teachers cannot transform barely literate students into star writers. Essays that suddenly shine are almost always the product of A.I.

Walt Gardner
Los Angeles
The writer taught English for 28 years.

To the Editor:

The brouhaha over students turning to artificial intelligence chatbots to craft papers seems premature. I suggest there are “tells” that help spot what I’d call the “machine provenance” of papers turned out by chatbots.

One tell is the often thin gruel of an essay’s content, lacking nuance, sophistication, depth, imagination and fine granularity of detail and expression of thought.

Another tell is that the language seems formulaic. That is, stilted, dryly stylized and without flair — almost roboticized in its tone, syntax, cadence and coherence.

Even worse is that chatbot essays sometimes include factual inaccuracies.

Educators ought, therefore, to vigilantly track the development of increasingly robust detection apps. A.I. chatbot text generation, arguably still in its toddlerhood, presages immense gains in capabilities in the very short term, when tells may disarmingly fade.

Keith Tidman
Bethesda, Md.

To the Editor:

After reading about the uncanny ability of ChatGPT to generate papers indisguishable from those written by students, one question remains. If multiple students from the same class submit the same question, will each receive a unique A.I. response paper of sufficiently differentiated content?

P.S.: This letter was written by the author using whatever language/vocabulary skills he has acquired over the years.

Richard M. Frauenglass
Huntington, N.Y.
The writer is a former adjunct assistant professor of mathematics at Nassau Community College.

To the Editor:

Chatbots and artificial intelligence will be able to perform only as well as the humans who create these technologies. If teachers are giving A’s to essays that a chatbot can easily replicate, with eloquent but analysis-free writing that relies on generalizations and memorization but lacks nuance and attention to evidence, they are not really asking students to think.

If new A.I. technologies force educators to “up their game,” as one says, to encourage careful and specific analysis,their students will surely benefit.

This article suggests a need for an even more critical revolution in education to emphasize the deep thinking that A.I. cannot (and might never be able to) replicate.

Betty Luther Hillman
Portsmouth, N.H.
The writer teaches at Phillips Exeter Academy.

To the Editor:

If ChatGPT is so effective at creating college-level content, I wonder if professorial hand-wringing about student plagiarism is to deflect us from focusing on instructors’ potential use of it to create lectures or exams!

Bryan Stone
Cham, Switzerland

To the Editor:

Re “A.I., Once the Future, Has Become the Present. What Do We Do Now?,” by Kevin Roose (“The Shift,” Business, Jan. 13):

One problem with the ChatGPT program is that it could be used by students to write assignments. But Mr. Roose points out that it could also be put to good use. For example, it could write personalized lesson plans for each student, or serve as an after-hours tutor.

However, such programs could do much more: They could completely replace teachers and the traditional classroom.

Consider a patent I received a few years ago for a learning method in which a student is presented with a question. If the answer is accurate, that question will be presented less often in the future, and vice versa. Over time, most time will be spent working on questions that are poorly answered.

No teacher can keep track of where every student stands with respect to every subject, but a computer program could do just that. With the right kind of A.I.-based tutor, practically any subject could be taught efficiently and at low cost.

ChatGPT does not perform that function, but some successor could well do so.

William Vaughan Jr.
Chebeague Island, Maine

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