Can I use ChatGPT to write my dissertation? Asking for a friend.
We’ve all been there. The last-minute rush to finish your essay, the writer’s block for your dissertation, the never-ending amount of coursework you need to do. Is it even really uni if you haven’t said ‘I think I’ll drop out’ at least once a day?
If only there was a Fairy Godmother to help guide us onto the right path for a 1st (or 2:1, let’s be realistic). Well, you might be in luck. Thanks to the rise in AI (artificial intelligence) tools, chatbots like ChatGPT can unplug that writer’s block you have, or even give you inspiration on how to structure an academic essay.
And now as exam season is underway, could you actually pass your degree using ChatGPT?
Universities are trying to fully understand AI tools and how to best use and integrate them into education. One university has been looking into the challenges and opportunities ChatGPT can offer.
An academic at the University of Bath, James Fern, wondered if the tool could be used by students to answer assessment questions. He found that ChatGPT had strengths in multiple choice questions, getting close to 100% correct. However, with more complex questions that require students to think critically, the AI tool starts to show its weaknesses.
He found that the tell-tale signs of an answer given by ChatGPT and not written by a student included:
- Repeating parts of the question in the answer, word for word
- Too simple of an explanation
- No evidence given
While he states that ‘at first glance, the answers look very good — it looks very clearly written, it looks quite professional in its language’, some of the statements in the answer were closer to GSCE level rather than university level.
He also found that the tool would make up sources when citing information. It will use names of real authors and real journals, but the titles and page numbers are made up. Although he thinks you’d be ‘easily fooled’ at first glance, believing they were genuine references.
What students say
With ChatGPT being released to the public about six months ago, students have been unsure about its applications within their studies.
Here’s what some students say about it:
‘I might be tempted to use ChatGPT…but currently, I’m too scared to because you can get caught.’
‘It’s not clear yet what is considered cheating with ChatGPT. If you copied your whole assignment from ChatGPT that’s cheating – but it can be really helpful to guide.’
Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, believes that AI is ‘making a difference in schools and universities today’. She also expressed that it could help teachers with creating lesson plans and marking work.
New advice from the Quality Assurance Agency, which reviews standards at UK universities, urges them to equip students with AI skills they can take into the world of work.
Kim Watts, marketing lecturer, calls ChatGPT ‘another tool in the toolbox’. She urges her students to use the tool to help give them ideas, rather than answers. Especially if you’re stuck at the first stage of a plan or project.
Kim demonstrates by asking ChatGPT to produce a marketing plan. However, Kim deems that the work it produced is ‘not detailed enough’ and ‘will not pass’ as it doesn’t show any critical thinking. But she does believe that AI tools will be a great benefit to neurodivergent students and those whom English is not their first language.
Any students choosing to use the tool will have to submit their ChatGPT prompts and answers, to ensure they’re clear with ‘how far they have come’ from the bot’s answers.
Many universities, including Bath, have policies on ChatGPT and other AI tools in the works. These are due to be in place from September. Then throughout the year, a team will meet to ensure it keeps up with the rapidly changing technology.
However, Dr Chris Bonfield, head of the team that helps design assessments at Bath University, says that students should not be using ChatGPT this year, but if staff allow it, they should ensure their expectations are set out clearly for the students.
He believes that the tool ‘is not going away’. He also raises the importance of ensuring that degrees remain current so will have to ‘engage’ with these tools and equip students with the skills they need for the future workplace.
So, could you actually pass your degree using ChatGPT? Probably not right now. But it’s definitely a tool that, if utilised correctly, can help inform and structure assignments and give students inspiration.
Looks like you’ll have to keep your head in the books — back to revising!
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