Panel Discussion Explores the Impact of ChatGPT on Higher Education

On 21 February 2023, ACAO hosted a panel discussion on Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer (ChatGPT) and its potential uses (or abuses) in higher education. The goal of the panel was twofold: (1) to introduce provosts and other attendees to ChatGPT (developed by OpenAI) and similar AI language models and technologies; and (2) to discuss the opportunities and challenges of this new technology on our working, teaching, and learning environments.

Three speakers addressed attendees. First, Dr. Jing Peng from Montclair State University provided a high-level presentation on AI chatbot technology and its evolution over time. Dr. Peng’s presentation highlighted the fact that this technology is not “new,” per se, with roots that extend back decades – but its development is accelerating exponentially as it becomes “smarter” given the vast amount of data that are now available for its refinement and evolution.

Dr. Peng was followed by Dr. Lance Cummings from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), who discussed how he is using ChatGPT in his writing courses to help students with ideation, critical thinking, and brainstorming. Dr. Cummings also mentioned the ability for faculty and staff to use the technology to both generate new ideas for assignments and projects, while also “managing the mundane,” by which he meant standardized communications for which chatbots perform exceptionally well.

Lastly, Dr. Ron Yanosky from EAB spoke about his observations on the use of ChatGPT and similar technologies across the higher education landscape. Those observations include concerns about the ethical use of ChatGPT by students, as well as opportunities of ChatGPT to create efficiencies in university operations. Discussion ensued regarding new technologies aimed at detecting AI developed text, for which a whole new set of ethical and technological issues arise.

The session had 75 people, clearly demonstrating the interest in this topic, and a vibrant Q&A followed. Clearly, ChatGPT and related language models are on our minds. To us, there remain more questions than answers at this point, and we believe provosts might consider the following three immediate strategies: (1)   Clear your calendar and devote some time in the coming weeks to learn about this technology. This will provide you with a fundamental understanding of the technology. There are a number of online videos and tutorials that will provide a grounding in the technology in under an hour. (2)  Coordinate with your deans, your faculty senate, and your centers for teaching excellence (or other such units on campus) conversations regarding the use of ChatGPT. These can be high-level and are intended to start the conversation on your campus, and this can start with identifying several faculty, staff, and students who are engaged in using or exploring the technology, and who are willing to provide a campus update on its potential uses.  (3)   Explore with appropriate personnel on your campus whether you have any institutional policies that currently exist that may need to be updated due to ChatGPT. Student honor codes come to mind as an obvious start, but there may be other areas. Your campus’ general counsel might have some ideas on where to look.

Most importantly, we believe provosts should engage in these conversations with an open mind. It was clear from the presentations we heard at the workshop summarized above that this technology is here to stay and will only get more “intelligent” over time. The presentations also emphasized that ChatGPT’s future is not as dystopian as some have portrayed in the media; indeed, the technology has the power to change the way we work, learn, and conduct our research in highly positive ways, and the higher education sector needs to understand and take advantage of those potential benefits.

The session is available as a recording on the ACAO YouTube Channel HERE

James J. Winebrake, Ph.D. Provost & Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, University of North Carolina Wilmington



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