ChatGPT: PACE gets the conversation going

The higher-education community is reacting to ChatGPT with a mixture of consternation, trepidation, excitement, and a lot of anxiety. Inasmuch as it is the wave of the future, however, higher education needs to react, which is why the Professional and Academic Center for Excellence (PACE), led by the capable hands of Dr. Kevin Randall and Tiffany Terry, hosted a panel on the topic.

The panel kicked off (through Zoom) with a discussion by Dr. Xing Liu, who discussed the nuts and bolts of ChatGPT–focusing on how the software works. Dr. Mitchell-Yellin discussed the recent change in the University’s policy on plagiarism, highlighting the fact that while the policy used to prohibit using “another’s work;” it now prohibits using “work other than your own.”

(Ed. note: Mitchell-Yellin wasn’t sure if the policy change had officially occurred yet, but it is in process of occurring).

Dr. Nardone and Dr. Primm, from English and Biological Sciences, respectively, discussed the dos and don’ts of writing assignments “in the age of AI.” One factor the professors stressed is that ChatGPT has limitations, specifically: the inability to speak in a distinct “voice” and limited abilities to distinguish facts from anti-factual claims.

Apart from these limitations, of course, there is also the concern that students may become overly dependent on these technologies and become even weaker writers.

Accordingly, Nardone encouraged professors to consider: (1) using required sources; (2) pushing students to develop “point of view;” (3) asking students to explain other process; (4) having students reflect on their unique course experiences; and (5) developing a “reverse research process” approach, where students begin with a conclusion and have to reverse engineer the support and references for the conclusion.

Dr. Randall then highlighted some services and support (courtesy of Erin Owens) offered by the Library…

…before turning it over to Dr. Strubberg and Dr. Bennett, who discussed preliminary research they have completed regarding student use of ChatGPT and their (the students’) views of the ethics of ChatGPT use.

Dr. Ryan Zapalac anchored the panel, with a strong final presentation on the University structures and processes in place to consider the software and other matters of academic integrity.

The University, Zapalac noted, has recognized that academic integrity is an issue, and a committee has been in place since 2019 exploring these issues. Moreover, this committee is now a “standing committee,” and it is aware of ChatGPT and some of the challenges it will pose.

Because ChatGPT software is fluid and advancing rapidly, some proposed solutions to detecting or incorporating the software may be temporary. Accordingly, Zapalac encourages faculty to focus on the “motivation and writing process itself” and to refer to “Writing in the Disciplines.”

As noted by Zapalac, ChatGPT is less than a year old, and our speculations and current understandings may not hold up for long. Accordingly, Conversations with Administrators is currently planning a fall session that will continue this very conversation.

Many thanks to the PACE Center for bringing together talented people to start this conversation.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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