Is AI a threat to college writing? UD faculty aren’t convinced

Photo of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at the University of Dayton. Photo by Flyer News.

Lucy Waskiewicz | Contributing Writer

Artificial intelligence has come a long way in recent years, and one of its most promising applications is in the field of writing essays. With the ability to analyze and understand large amounts of data, AI-powered writing systems can generate high-quality essays on a wide range of topics.

Look legitimate? 

Those sentences were composed by ChatGPT, a computer program launched on Nov. 30, by artificial intelligence research company OpenAI. 

ChatGPT amassed recent publicity for its ability to quickly generate prompt-based texts like scripts and articles. It’s the program’s essay-writing capabilities, however, which have sparked a wave of apprehension among educators. Colleges and universities in particular have made headlines as faculty consider the risks of students using AI programs like ChatGPT to complete writing assignments. 

But does AI-generated writing actually pose a threat to academic integrity? 

University of Dayton Provost Paul Benson said while ChatGPT is able to efficiently produce functional text, it cannot replicate the originality of human authors.

“If valuable writing were only a matter of basic mechanics, then there would be a much better argument to let ChatGPT take care of that for us,” Benson said. “But much of the academic writing we do aims to express insights, feelings, perceptions, imaginings or lines of reasoning that are our own. What ChatGPT generates might be serviceable prose, but it won’t be writing that speaks to who we are or what we really think.”

Many remain similarly undaunted by the program’s capabilities. Christopher Burnside, principal lecturer in the Department of English, said the “creative” content he’s seen produced by AI ranges from shallow and clichéd to incomprehensible.

“What’s happening is that these AI’s have been programmed with databases of many classic story ‘beats,’ so they can generate things with a little bit of prompting that are essentially stories,” Burnside said. “But what we’re missing here is any sort of innovation, because it can only draw from those basics. We’re not getting any kind of advancement, nor are we getting anything that resembles professional quality.”

Multiple schools across the country are implementing policies to try and prevent the use of ChatGPT in classrooms, like handwriting first drafts of essays in-class and banning the use of the website on school Wi-Fi. 

However, Provost Benson said the main reason behind these policies is a focus on the negative consequences of AI, and until there’s greater knowledge on the pros and cons of AI’s effect on student learning, UD shouldn’t rush into policy making just yet.

“This is a fast-developing area of AI, and its implications are so broad that it would be unwise, in my judgment, to begin formulating new academic policies too quickly,” Benson said.

Regardless of AI’s capabilities, there’s hope that students will continue to respect honor codes and produce original written work. Masha Kisel, a senior lecturer in the Department of English, said she hopes students’ experiences in writing classes allow them not only to become better writers, but to develop a personal style and determine what they value in life.

“I don’t think that using an AI program would be appropriate for the classes I teach, especially because I work so hard to select texts that will connect with students emotionally,” Kisel said. “I believe that writing and reading are paths toward self-knowledge. An AI intermediary used to write a paper would stand in the way of that development.”

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