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Dawson Students and Teachers on the Use of ChatGPT

Mathew Anania


On a Friday afternoon in January, a reporter stood outside my Moral Issues in Law class. He stood there, waiting for the occasional student to drop by, glance at the camera equipment and ask: “what’s this for?” or “am I going to be on the news?” His goal was to collect the opinions of students on the new AI technology, ChatGPT.

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence program that can write texts relating to any prompt that it is fed. In the CTV report conducted at Dawson, the AI tool is seen writing a response to a prompt about Descartes’ Meditations. Within seconds, sentence upon sentence appeared on the screen until a full-blown paragraph was written. Despite its appeal, the use of ChatGPT has stirred debate amongst students and teachers on whether its use is ethical, fair, and conducive to learning environments.

Standing outside the classroom, I listened in disbelief as one student spoke confidently about how he used ChatGPT to list notable topics that occurred during a specific decade in Canadian politics. I chuckled along with another student who mentioned that those who used the platform were only shooting themselves in the foot and defeating the purpose of getting an education.

Chair of Senate and political science professor Marianne Pelton states that ChatGPT is a possible threat to academic integrity: “From what I know, it doesn't do much that can’t already be done, it just does it for you [...] Teachers will have to create assignments in ways that are impossible to generate responses from ChatGPT.” Political science professor Michel Fournier-Simard, whose dissertation focused on the use of AI in public policy, believes the primary focus should be on maintaining academic integrity: “In the short term, our priority has to be academic integrity.”

A common attitude emerges among students who believe the use of the platform is unfair to the rest of the student body. In an anonymous survey conducted by The Plant, one student mentioned: “I can understand why some people use it as a source of inspiration, but entering your essay question and copy-pasting the answer is, I think, plagiarism.” Another student expressed a similar point of view: “Not only is it incorrect to plagiarize using online devices, but it’s equally unfair for the others who work hard for their grades.” Another student mentioned that the fear of being caught using the AI has acted as a deterrent for its potential use: “It also just seems like as soon as you decide to use it, it would just backfire horribly. It's all fun and games until your teacher finds out.”

Like many other teachers, Prof. Fournier-Simard is not averse to exploring the possible uses of the tool: “It is probably too early to know how this would look, but I think it is worth exploring what we can do with the tool.” This common sentiment is echoed amongst multiple teachers, yet it may leave one to wonder: what are some ways it can be used positively?

English professor Jeffrey Gandell, who writes songs during his free time, recounts his own experience with the platform: “I asked ChatGPT to write a song in the style of John Prine and it was a terrible song, but there was one line that I took and used as a lyric of another song.” Prof. Gandell believes the platform can also be used to brainstorm, list and develop possible ideas, tasks he asks his students to engage in.

Prof. Robert Stephens of the Humanities and Philosophy department admits that the metaphor of the calculator is still relevant to ChatGPT: “Teachers did not ban calculators when it came to solving more complex equations [...] the AI should not be banned right away; we need to look into other ways of using it.” Prof. Stephens warns potential AI users of its inability to impart the logic it takes to understand and write about concepts: “There is a value in writing an essay; it helps you become a better thinker and allows you to deepen your understanding through writing about the topic.” This view was echoed by one student in the anonymous survey: “The whole reason we’re writing essays is to learn how to write and communicate more effectively. If I just dodge all the practice, I’ll just graduate not knowing anything about my degree.”

Political science professor and coordinator of the Law, Society and Justice profile Prof. Dónal Gill offered a unique perspective. He warned The Plant and other journalistic entities of the precariousness of their positions due to the increased presence of AI: “Firstly, the field of journalism is likely going to go out of business because AI can feed prompts into the program and generate an entire article.”

With the creation of the new Society and Technology profile of Social Science, it is clear that research and exploration into the effects of technology on society are undiscovered. Despite the opinions one may hold towards technology and artificial intelligence in education, its increased presence in society could signify increased use in classrooms.


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