AI-mpacting Academics: ChatGPT’s Influence on Academics at Severn

By Doug Schwartz and Sean Ward

By now, everyone has heard of Chat GPT, the AI chatbot designed to generate human-like responses to any question is it asked. The AI can also respond to any prompt entered by the user and is capable of generating an essay in a matter of seconds. It can even continue a conversation after being given multiple prompts. In fact, the title of this article was inspired by a conversation with Chat GPT! First, we asked it to generate a list of article titles about the AI itself and followed that up by asking for a catchy title that was a play on words. 

Of course, with this amazing technological advancement comes several obvious issues. Many are concerned about how AI is going to change high school writing and how schools will deal with those who use the chatbot to cheat. After all, it is not as easy to catch someone for plagiarism when Chat GPT never produces the same response to the same prompt twice. So what is Severn’s response to Chat GPT? How will the school deal with AI users, and what is the faculty response? To answer these questions, we sat down with faculty from both the administrative and educational branches of Severn to hear their thoughts on the issue.

The first faculty member we had the chance to talk with was Mr. Buckley. In a learning environment that is as centered and focused upon integrity as Severn, ChatGPT raises some obvious warning signals to the status quo. The realistic possibility of students abusing ChatGPT to get ahead or do their work for them is not only an issue of honesty but also a boundary that could, on a large scale, directly impede students’ abilities to learn for themselves. From an administrative response, Mr. Buckley expressed that he wasn’t extremely worried about the potentially pernicious effects that AIs like ChatGPT could have on Severn. In fact, his opinions were quite the contrary: “we will come to see [ChatGPT] as a tool, like a calculator.” This sentiment is not one that is unheard of: classrooms across the world are already adapting to curricula that encourage students to use AIs like ChatGPT as a form of enrichment in the classroom rather than a plague. Mr. Buckley spoke more to this adaptive changing of classrooms, namely mentioning how he believes that chatbots will make relationships between faculty and students “the key” and that they must “navigate it together.”

As far as disciplinary response goes, Mr. Buckley remained unalarmed. Instead of buying into the theory that accessibility as seamless as that of ChatGPT will cause a spike in academic dishonesty, he again stressed the fact that the effects of new technology similar to ChatGPT on schools will directly depend on how students and faculty choose to both perceive and utilize it. 

“Integrity is integrity,” Mr. Buckley further asserted. When prompted with the question of how the Honor Court and other Severn adjudicators will adjust to the new nature of potential abusers of chatbots, Mr. Buckley was encouraged that the reasons for academic dishonesty at Severn will retain their general lack of malicious intent and will continue to be a result of simple desperation and anxiety. 

Mr. Zmuda taped this piece of paper on his whiteboard to remind students of the different types of AI users.

After talking with Mr. Buckley, we turned to Mr. Zmuda for a look at AI from an educational rather than a disciplinary perspective. Mr. Zmuda categorizes AI users into two categories: the cut-and-pasters and the creators. Cut-and-pasters are the students that are just going to use Chat GPT to bypass any actual work. Then there are the creators. “The creators are the kids who are going to go into business,” Mr. Zmuda explained. “They think out-of-the-box, think creatively. Those are the people who are going to be successful in their lives going forward.” 

As head of the English department here at Severn, Mr. Zmuda confirmed that there have already been lots of discussions on how curricula and assignments are going to change in order to adapt to AI. “For the short term,” Mr. Zmuda said, “there’s going to be a lot more oral presentations. AI can’t help you with that. There’s going to be some classroom writing. AI can’t help you with that.” On top of those shifts, Mr. Zmuda believes that English teachers should craft more creative assignments so that students are able to use their imagination without the temptation of falling back on AI to do the work for them.

Even though the English department has a pretty good handle on AI right now, the long-term response is not fully fleshed out. While it is true that accurate AI detectors exist, companies like Microsoft are pumping over $1 billion into Chat GPT development, and with that, more advanced versions of AI are bound to arise. And while he can’t predict what the future is going to hold, Mr. Zmuda is cautiously optimistic regarding AI: “I think the world is going to be a far better place with this information at your disposal… it’s an awesome tool.”

Although the viral ChatGPT has raised widespread concern as a possible glimpse of how powerful AI could pose threats to the future of schooling amongst academic communities, faculty at Severn is convinced that the tangible danger that it currently presents to schools like Severn is not as severe as many may think. As it always has, learning will likely continue to adapt to increasingly prevalent AI tools and, in a few decades, we may see curricula that are unrecognizable (though not necessarily in a bad way) to those of today. Until then, Severn will continue to instill the values of integrity, passion, and curiosity in its community to guide students toward using AI in a responsible and productive way.

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