ChatGPT boon or bane for students? Opinions dividedWhile the use of technology in learning may be good, learners are advised to be aware of its downsides.
When the American firm Open AI launched ChatGPT (generative pre-trained transformer) in late November, it took the tech world by storm and became a talking point the world over. More than a million people used it within a week of its launch.
Latest available data shows that ChatGPT has over 100 million users, and the website generated 1.6 billion visitors in June.
Since the chatbot’s launch, people have been using it (and similar platforms) for different purposes—some to write stories, others to generate poetry in different forms and genres, while still others to write computer code languages and for creative inspiration. But its greatest impact has perhaps been in the field of education.
The launch of the chatbot worried educators and students alike as it instantly became a platform for plagiarism.
Some universities in the developed world initially banned the use of ChatGPT but later reversed their decisions. The New York City’s Department of Education had banned the chatbot from its public school devices in January, but three months later in May, it suspended the ban.
David Banks, chancellor of the New York City Public School, said the ban was put in place “due to potential misuse and concerns raised by education in his schools.” He, however, wrote, "The knee-jerk fear and risk overlooked the potential of generative AI to support students and teachers, as well as the reality that our students are participating in and will work in a world where understanding generative AI is crucial."
According to a survey conducted by Study.com covering over 100 educators and over 1,000 students, about one-third (34 percent) of the educators said they believe ChatGPT should be banned in schools and universities, while the rest said students should have access to it. Incidentally, more than 89 percent of the students said they had sought ChatGPT’s help to complete their homework assignments.
But for developing countries like Nepal, there is no such data.
Although academicians and teachers in the developed world are concerned by the new feature and the ethical questions raised due to the pervasive access of ChatGPT, its impact is now being seen in developing countries like Nepal too.
In Nepal, the use of chatbot became common mostly in city areas where the messages poured through TikTok and other social media platforms about the use of chatbot to write essays and do other assignments. Students are widely using the chatbot where there is easy access to the internet.
Easy access to the internet has made this more common. There are 38.38 million internet subscribers in Nepal as of mid-October 2022, according to a management and information system report by the Nepal Telecommunications Authority.
When inquired, lecturers and educationalists who have long been teaching, and mainly those who teach in government institutions and universities, said the use of ChatGPT has become all-pervasive among students.
“While writing their term papers, even mediocre students write excellently, and we find that they basically lifted the content from ChatGPT,” said Komal Phuyel, who teaches MA in English and MPhil students at the Central Department of English at Tribhuvan University.
He said he is worried about the intellectual growth of students and feels helpless as he thinks of ways to address the problem.
“This has become a huge problem. We need more discussions about this urgent issue,” said Phuyel.
He said while he needs to teach 24 students for MA English, and 34 students pursuing M.Phil, many use the chatbot for their assignments and while writing their paper.
“If only they used their conscience or were cautious, that would have been okay, but they just make the chatbot write and then submit it to us,” said Phuyel.
Many academicians are not surprised by this as Tribhuvan University professors are known to often approve ready-made dissertations and plagiarised research.
Meanwhile, those who teach at the private institutions with fewer students and get updated with the technology and recent developments are able to control plagiarism to some extent.
Ujjwal Prasai, Humanities faculty head at Institute of Advanced Communication, Education, and Research (IACER), said he had found a few students doing their assessment with the help of ChatGPT but after he made them aware of the chatbot’s drawbacks, many have stopped using it.
“Most of the writing work they do is in the classroom,” he said. “They can even ask ChatGPT or read materials there but they need to write themselves. And I exchange their written copy among students with certain guidelines to look at grammar, coherences, syntax, arguments, political issues and other forms.”
As a precaution, he has in his classes highlighted the use and impact of ChatGPT, AI and the internet in academia.
“Teachers can’t run away from ChatGPT because students will surely use it. Yet it is certainly up to them to make their students aware of both its costs and benefits.”
Meanwhile, Bhawana Pokhrel, Assistant Professor at the Department of English in Prithvi Narayan Campus, Pokhara, said it all depends on the teachers’ orientation and the quality of their interaction with students.
She appeared to be not against ChatGPT and such tools per se. “If the students go through it, they can at least learn something. Our students don’t do their assignments,” she said. “If the tool helps students do their assignments, that is great help.”
Pokhrel added, “It all depends on how much you can relate with your students. You can always talk things out.”