ChatGPT ‘writes academic paper’ - so how can universities deal with AI?

The OpenAI logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays output from ChatGPT, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
ChatGPT will shake up the education sector, researchers have warned (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT can score 90% in many exams including the American bar exam - so it’s perhaps not a surprise it can write academic papers, too.

In a new study, researchers used prompts to create content of a sort normally seen in academic journals.

The researchers say that the paper shows the sophistication of ChatGPT - and the challenges it poses for the academic community.

Professor Debby Cotton, Director of Academic Practice and Professor of Higher Education at Plymouth Marjon University, is the study's lead author. She said: "This latest AI development obviously brings huge challenges for universities, not least in testing student knowledge and teaching writing skills.

“Looking positively it is an opportunity for us to rethink what we want students to learn and why.

“ I'd like to think that AI would enable us to automate some of the more administrative tasks academics do, allowing more time to be spent working with students.”

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Many school boards and universities have already banned ChatGPT - with New York’s Yeshiva University adapting its cheating policy to cover content written by AI.

New York schools have also blocked access to the technology.

Corresponding author Dr Peter Cotton, Associate Professor in Ecology at the University of Plymouth, added: "Banning ChatGPT, as was done within New York schools, can only be a short-term solution while we think how to address the issues.

“AI is already widely accessible to students outside their institutions, and companies like Microsoft and Google are rapidly incorporating it into search engines and Office suites. The chat (sic) is already out of the bag, and the challenge for universities will be to adapt to a paradigm where the use of AI is the expected norm."

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Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT is the latest chatbot and artificial intelligence (AI) platform touted as having the potential to revolutionise research and education.

For the majority of the paper, they used a series of prompts and questions to encourage ChatGPT to produce content in an academic style.

The prompts included -

Write an original academic paper, with references, describing the implications of GPT-3 for assessment in higher education;

How can academics prevent students plagiarising using GPT-3?

Are there any technologies which will check if work has been written by a chatbot?

Produce several witty and intelligent titles for an academic research paper on the challenges universities face in ChatGPT and plagiarism.

Once the text was generated, the researchers copied and pasted the output into the manuscript, ordered it broadly following the structure suggested by ChatGPT, and then inserted genuine references throughout.

This process was only revealed to readers in the paper's Discussion section, which was written directly by the researchers.

In that section, the study's authors highlight that the text produced by ChatGPT — while much more sophisticated than previous innovations in this area — can be relatively formulaic, and that a number of existing AI-detection tools would pick up on that.

However, they say their findings should serve as a wake-up call to university staff to think about how their assessments are designed.

Dr Reuben Shipway, Lecturer in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth, said: "With any new revolutionary technology — and this is a revolutionary technology — there will be winners and losers. The losers will be those that fail to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape. The winners will take a pragmatic approach and leverage this technology to their advantage."

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