By SAMUEL BLATCHFORD
Capital News Service
LANSING – ChatGPT has been around since November 2022 and has taken the internet by storm but is raising questions in Michigan classrooms.
The free Artificial Intelligence software can answer any prompt you can think of – from solving math equations to writing essays.
And that’s led some school districts, most prominently the New York City school system, to ban use of ChatGPT on its networks and school equipment.
Some Michigan education experts say they’re worried, too, about students’ possible misuse of the software to cheat.
Wendy Zdeb, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, said using ChatGPT would go against districts’ academic dishonesty policies.
“Many school districts have used firewalls and active means of blocking access to the software on school devices,” Zdeb said.
She said that such measures would not require a new policy, just an adaptation of the protocols in place.
Teachers are also aware of the software and its potential for use and misuse.
Crystal VanWalsum, an English teacher at Waverly High School, has used in-class essays to avoid the use of ChatGPT and similar AI software.
“One way to avoid a problem like plagiarizing from the internet is to have students write essays in class,” said VanWalsum.
For example, she assigned an in-class essay on King Arthur and put the essay prompt into ChatGPT ahead of time to see what the software would come up with.
“The response included details that were not part of the story that we read in class. If it had been an outside-of-class essay, then somebody may have turned in something that included details that would not have been relevant to what we had read in class. It wouldn’t have worked anyways,” she said.
She said she can tell if a student has used software like ChatGPT.
“Things that have been AI-generated completely lack any kind of original voice. They’re very flat.
“A lot of the sentence structure is the same throughout the entire thing. There’s not much variation in sentence structure at all. As you read, it doesn’t sound like the student who turned it in,” she said.
Blake Mazurek, an eighth-grade U.S. history teacher at Grandville Middle School west of Grand Rapids, said his son introduced him to ChatGPT over the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Somehow we got on the topic of technology and he mentioned (ChatGPT) and was telling me what he knew at the time,” Mazurek said.
That conversation led him to do some research about ChatGPT, and it piqued his interest.
When asked if they knew anything about it, his eighth-grade current events students were silent.
“I talked to my current event kids and nobody knew about it,” he said.
He said that few of his colleagues have heard about the new software.
John VanWagoner, the superintendent of Traverse City Area Public Schools, was introduced to the software a few months ago during a meeting of the Future of Learning Council, an organization of 40 Michigan school districts and learning organizations.
He said that the council brought up ChatGPT and showed what it could do.
“It was mind-blowing. It’s a game changer as far as the ability to process data and knowledge into writing,” said VanWagoner.
After the initial introduction, VanWagoner showed ChatGPT to his staff, and they came up with various tasks and prompts for the AI software to solve.
“It’s pretty amazing what the AI capability has to be to do that work,” he said.
School officials in Michigan have been aware of ChatGPT and say its use in the classroom has a positive effect.
Phil Jankowski, the superintendent of Anchor Bay Schools in St. Clair County, said he is not concerned about students’ use of the software to plagiarize.
He said that anti-plagiarism software the district uses can detect if ChatGPT was used to create an essay.
“Between work in the classroom and the use of those applications, we believe we can counter much of it,” he said.
He said he tried out the software and found that it’s not that great at writing essays.
ChatGPT “is not especially good yet, but it does open a window into what the future will look like,” Jankowski said.
He said he is optimistic about the future of AI in the classroom.
“Artificial intelligence such as ChatGPT are things students will have to use and will be faced with in the future. There is a strong argument that we need to teach students how best to use the technology as it is on the forefront of the AI horizon,” he said.