Teachers across the country are trying to figure out how to handle a new technology that could transform how students perform or how they cheat.

An artificial intelligence (AI) program known as ChatGPT has some central North Carolina universities looking at how to develop rules for it in the classroom.

Three years ago, North Carolina State University English professor Paul Fyfe said he noticed artificial intelligence like ChatGPT starting to catch up to what students could do in class.

“It’s a sneaky way to get them engaged with questions that, I think, are on a lot of people’s minds about creativity, about authenticity, about plagiarism and about the capacities of this software,” Fyfe said.

ChatGPT uses a learning technique called “transformer architecture” to sift through data that contain billions of words to create answers to prompts or questions. Give it a prompt and the AI can generate lines of text, even a whole essay. However, it will require some editing.

For one of Fyfe’s courses, he asked his students to use the software to cheat on purpose for a final paper due.

“It feels a little bit like cheating,” freshman Colin Byerly said of the assignment. “It was pretty fun, honestly.”

Byerly had parts of the essay he wrote himself, but ChatGPT wrote significant portions of it.

“For lack of a better word, it felt robotic a little bit,” Byerly said.

The programs are advanced enough to pass business, law and medical exams, leaving teachers across the country scrambling.

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WRAL News reached out to 10 different colleges, universities and school districts in central North Carolina to see what they’re doing to prepare for the rise of programs like ChatGPT.

Most institutions, including Duke University and Wake County Public School System, said they’re waiting, and watching the technology.

Other schools, like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said they’re actively bringing professors together to try and develop a set of rules.

“I think it’s happening everywhere,” said UNC School of Information and Library Science associate professor Dr. Mohammad Jarrahi. “As we move forward, the best model is [a] partnership.”

Jarrahi said schools should adopt a two-pronged approach:

  1. Updating honor codes to say when AI can and can’t be used
  2. Tweaking writing assignments so students have to draw on personal experience.

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Fyfe said AI is already rewriting how students do their work. He listed several software features that his students use:

  • Smart compose: Personalized suggestions tailored to the way you normally write to maintain your writing style.
  • Grammarly: A writing assistant that helps clean writing with suggestions that go beyond grammar. It’s a bit like spellcheck.
  • Autocomplete: Google search and other smart devices like iPhones allow people to start typing a word, and the device generates predictions of what the word will be.

The challenge for professors is how to prepare students for a world where their co-author is a computer, both in and out of the classroom.

The maker of ChatGPT released a tool this week that helps teachers detect whether a piece of work comes from a student or a computer. ChatGPT’s “AI text classifier” is the result of discussions in academia.

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