The chatbot was asked
After creating an account, users can type a question for ChatGPT into the generator and receive a written response within seconds. In the image above the chatbot was asked, “What is ChatGPT?” and the AI's response is, “ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI, which is capable of generating human-like responses to natural language inputs.” Photo by Emily Diesing/NNS.

In November of 2022, an artificial intelligence company, OpenAI, launched a chatbot called ChatGPT, which gives users the ability to ask any question and receive a detailed and conversational response within seconds.

Since its release, students have explored the capabilities of ChatGPT and have used it as a form of cheating on school assignments, such as writing essays. According to a January 2023 study surveying more than 1,000 students about ChatGPT, more than 89% of student participants over 18 said they have used ChatGPT to help with a homework assignment.

Educators from both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Lincoln Public Schools are discussing if artificial intelligence has a place in the classroom. Some said they found that there are ways to use it responsibly.

Sara Danielson, secondary English language arts curriculum specialist for Lincoln Public Schools, first learned about ChatGPT in November of 2022.

“Initially, teachers were stunned by the capabilities,” she said.

ChatGPT Home Page 300x225 - Lincoln educators work to prevent, detect ChatGPT-generated writing in classrooms
The home page of the ChatGPT website offers suggestions of what to ask the chatbot along with descriptions of the AI’s capabilities and limitations. One of the limitations is that ChatGPT has limited knowledge of the world and events after 2021. Screengrab by Emily Diesing/NNS.

Since then, Danielson said the district has seen multiple examples of students using ChatGPT to write their essay assignments.

Because ChatGPT can provide accurate answers to most users’ questions, students are finding that it can generate well-written responses for their essays. Students simply sign in or create an account, type an essay prompt into the generator, and ChatGPT will provide a well-written response. However, some teachers around Lincoln are noticing inconsistencies in essay submissions from their students.

Takako Olsen, Lincoln Public Schools’ director of curriculum and instruction, said there was a case where a teacher assigned students to write an essay. Still, one submission didn’t quite flow well or demonstrate the content that was learned. The teacher later questioned the student and found they used ChatGPT to write the essay. Olsen said something teachers look for when reading essay submissions is that students can demonstrate the artifacts they were taught about in class, which the student’s essay failed to do.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Transformative Teaching, ChatGPT has been a hot topic of conversation. Nick Monk, center director, said it can be difficult to accurately detect writing that’s been produced by artificial intelligence.

“There’s a number of programs that you can get, including one from Stanford that will detect writing that’s been produced by artificial intelligence, but none of them are 100% effective,” Monk said.

He said teachers would need to use four or five programs to be confident that an AI, like ChatGPT, wrote the response. Monk said teachers need to explain to their students that using ChatGPT to do their homework is a form of cheating that falls under the academic dishonesty policy.

Lincoln Public Schools have discovered two methods of detecting ChatGPT-generated answers by using the online plagiarism detector Turnitin and output detectors. Turnitin has developed new technology that can detect AI-generated writing by training their model on “academic writing sourced from a comprehensive database.”

Teachers at Lincoln Public Schools have also met with education technology specialists and their computing services department to discuss using an output detector that gives reliability scores based on the written answer or essay.

After educating herself and other teachers on ChatGPT, Danielson said she thought, “How might we make this a positive?” She said some teachers within Lincoln Public Schools are now using ChatGPT as a learning opportunity for students in the classroom. Some teachers have given students an essay prompt, and while students composed their responses in class, the teacher asked ChatGPT to write a response to the same prompt. The teacher then asked students to compare their individual responses to the response that ChatGPT wrote and discussed key differences. This allowed teachers to show the students that ChatGPT can generate good answers but not always the answers teachers look for in assignments.

Monk has also adopted this method of teaching students about the differences in artificial intelligence writing.

“One of the best ways that you can use it in the classroom is to ask students to engage with it in the classroom,” he said.

Monk said showing students the differences in writing will help them see why ChatGPT-generated writing doesn’t always work for essay assignments.

“By making comparisons between what it produces and what the student produces, very often your students will see,” he said.

Danielson and Olsen have both noticed that the middle school and high school levels have the most knowledge of ChatGPT and have tried to use it more with their school work than the younger students. Olsen said even though the program is still very new to teachers, it’s important for them to learn about how they can detect answers generated by AI and prevent students from using it in academically dishonest ways.

At UNL, there is no university-wide policy regarding cheating with artificial intelligence because it is fairly new. Still, professors are advised to follow the same procedures as they would for any other type of academic integrity issue. Monk said it is important that teachers educate themselves on ChatGPT and its capabilities to better their understanding of how to prevent that kind of cheating. The Center for Transformative Teaching published a forum of information so that instructors within the university can learn about ChatGPT.

“We have to embrace these things rather than be terrified of them,” he said.

Emily Diesing is a senior journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.