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Faculty Members Still Aren’t Sure What to Make of ChatGPT

As anxiety about ChatGPT continues to pervade higher ed, a recent survey suggests that most colleges, departments, and individual faculty members have yet to develop guidelines on how artificial intelligence should — or shouldn’t — be used in the classroom.

Most professors surveyed were also not sure whether educators should encourage students to use ChatGPT, and not sure how they felt about their colleges’ efforts to deal with the consequences of the new technology. That’s a sign of the tool’s novelty: It debuted in November 2022, in the middle of the academic year.

Emily Isaacs, executive director of the Office of Faculty Excellence at Montclair State University, said it’s likely that faculty members have found it difficult to consider — let alone adapt to — the quick-moving and dynamic landscape, and predicted that ChatGPT would dominate conversations throughout the summer in anticipation of the fall semester.

“It’s that ball rolling down the hill, and it’s really hard to run faster than it,” Isaacs said. “It’s hard to redesign on the fly.”

Though a majority of the survey respondents were undecided, 22 percent said they were dissatisfied with their college’s response so far to ChatGPT’s potential influence. Ten percent said they were satisfied.

The survey — of 954 faculty members at almost 500 institutions — was conducted by Primary Research, a company that surveys higher ed and other industries. Of the respondents, 595 work at public colleges and 359 at private colleges; 101 are at community colleges and 442 are at B.A.-, M.A.-, or Ph.D.-granting institutions. Specifics about the survey’s methodology were not immediately available.

Younger faculty members were more likely than older ones to have developed ChatGPT guidelines. Eighteen percent of those under 30 indicated that they had already done so, while 6 percent of those over 60 said the same. Professors in communications, English, journalism, language, and literature departments were most likely to have developed guidelines.

While most faculty members said they were not sure whether to integrate the tool into their educational approach, 18 percent agreed that the technology should appear in the classroom and 17 percent disagreed.

For faculty members who do opt to use ChatGPT in class, Mike Reese, an associate professor of sociology at the Johns Hopkins University, said it is important for them to talk with students about what is acceptable. They should ensure, Reese said, that the technology does not replace any activities or assessments in which students practice what they are expected to learn.

“Faculty should interrogate chatbots and other generative AI technologies,” Reese said. “By better understanding what generative AI technologies can and can’t do, you will be able to develop more-informed guidelines.”

When it comes to evaluating writing, academic-integrity experts have already emphasized that professors will need to find new methods of assessment.

According to the survey, faculty members were divided over whether papers and other written assignments should be prepared in class or in other supervised areas, where students would not have access to ChatGPT or similar applications. Professors teaching at community colleges were the most likely to agree that those activities should be supervised.

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