The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Professors weigh pros and cons of ChatGPT

4 min read
A computer screen shows a green and purple image that reads "ChatGPT: Optimizing Language Models for Dialogue"

While some professors are still hesitant to use ChatGPT in the classroom, others have begun incorporating it into their assignments along with further investigation of its more ethical uses. | Rolf Van Root, Unsplash


Staff Writer

With increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT becoming available for the public, students and faculty at UMW have been discussing the technology’s impacts on education. 

“This technology has been developed and we can’t pretend that it’s going to go away,” said Anand Rao, chair of the communication and digital studies department. “It’s our duty and obligation to make sure that we are helping prepare our students for the world that they are going to be graduating into and this world now includes generative AI tools.”

On Feb. 8, UMW’s Digital Learning Support and Center for Teaching co-hosted a faculty discussion focused on the use of ChatGPT.

“While there were people at the meeting very concerned and worried, most of the people involved in the discussion were looking at the opportunities associated with ChatGPT,” said Rao. 

ChatGPT is a chatbot developed by OpenAI that was made available for public usage starting in November 2022. When given the prompt, “What is ChatGPT?,” the chatbot responded, “Hello! I am ChatGPT, a large language model trained by OpenAI. I am designed to generate human-like responses to natural language input and can be used for a variety of tasks, such as answering questions, generating text, and carrying on conversations. I have been trained on a vast amount of text data and have the ability to understand and generate text in many different languages.”

While some professors are still hesitant to use ChatGPT in the classroom, others have begun incorporating it into their assignments along with further investigation of its more ethical uses.

“In my 101 class, I’m asking my students to investigate the more philosophical questions being brought up by chatbots and how it impacts search engines now and in the future,” said Zach Whalen, associate professor of communication and digital studies. “The idea that we’ll start seeing these being rolled out in replacing search engines, it’s interesting and scary. We rely on search engines sometimes to answer questions.”

Artificial intelligence is being integrated into search engines like Bing.

“The idea that we’ll start seeing these AI being rolled out into and eventually replacing search engines, is very interesting and scary in the sense that we rely on search engines to answer basic questions,” said Whalen.

Whalen then gave an example of finding a cooking recipe. When searched on Google or another search engine, it usually brings up a list of web pages created by other people. Meanwhile, ChatGPT will generate its own recipe.

“While it seems to be a more efficient exchange of information, you lose that human interaction with someone else,” said Whalen.

Brandon Howar, a junior computer science major, said that ChatGPT has both benefits and drawbacks.

“Like everything, it has noticeable flaws,” he said. “For example, the data used in ChatGPT only goes back a year or a little more. It can help with someone struggling to start a paper, starting a program, or even just forming a strong foundation around a project. It excels in giving examples or taking prompts on what you must do and filling them out. Though not everything is perfect, it will return flaws and I highly doubt it will reach that sense of perfection anytime soon.”

While these tools are not yet perfect, Rao said, more advanced versions are being developed.

“You can ask a question to generative AI and it’s not reliable yet, so we need to take a lot of it with a grain of salt,” he said. “But the potential is there that it can give us that dialectic response. It can have a dialogue with us on some level and the hope is that it’ll get to the point where we can really use it to generate new ideas, not just organize the ideas we already have.” 

Rao compared generative artificial intelligence tools to technologies when they first became popular in the past. 

“Writing on a typewriter in middle school was cumbersome and slow,” he said. “I also remember going from using a card catalog to using a keyboard search in the library. In some ways, generative AI is like that transformation. Academically, it’ll be transformative in a more efficient and time-saving way.”

While the full impact of ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence tools has yet to be seen, many believe they should be utilized, not ignored.

“We have new tools—we should learn how to use them effectively,” said Rao. “Any time that we can be more efficient in the way we are accessing information, new perspectives, new ideas, I think that it makes us better academics and better scholars.”