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  Home > Singapore

University professors in Singapore keen on ChatGPT, which they say can help students ask better questions and raise critical thinking

iStock | ChatGPT uses artificial intelligence to generate streams of human-like text from user prompts.


 February 8th, 2023  |  11:05 AM  |   635 views



Far from being banned, artificial intelligence (AI) bot ChatGPT is being embraced in the classroom of Mr Jonathan Sim, a lecturer from the department of philosophy at the National University of Singapore.


His students will soon be taught how to generate a report with ChatGPT and then asked to grade and evaluate the content.


"This will help them understand the features of good and poor academic writing," he said. "They will use their critique to improve on what the AI had made."


Mr Sim is among several university professors here who have begun thinking of ways to use the bot to help them in their work, instead of simply viewing it as a threat.


Since its launch, many critics around the world have raised worries about the dangers of ChatGPT, a chatbot that can generate human-like text based on user prompts.


Here in Singapore, several Members of Parliament have expressed concern that the bot could be abused by students who may use it to cheat.


In response to their questions about the Ministry of Education's stance towards ChatGPT, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament on Monday (Feb 6) that students must be taught how to work with artificial intelligence tools.


He added that ChatGPT could be useful in the learning process, though only when students have mastered basic concepts and thinking skills.





University professors who spoke to TODAY largely agreed, saying that while they, too, have concerns about ChatGPT being used by students to generate homework, they also see it as a learning tool.


Associate Professor Brian Lee, head of the communication programme at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), said that the use of ChatGPT could help lecturers obtain references and put together teaching materials more efficiently, saving much time.


He expects students will likely do the same and use ChatGPT to conduct research, but this is not necessarily a bad thing, since it means that teachers may then focus on helping them process and analyse the information.


"I believe this can facilitate the 'flipped classroom' approach, where students have to discuss the relevant topics in class instead of being spoonfed with learning materials," Assoc Prof Lee said.


In time, he added, this may even help move the education culture and move it away from memory-based regurgitation and towards critical thinking and collaborative learning.


Mr Sim the lecturer from NUS agreed, saying that educators who have been encouraging their students to learn alongside ChatGPT have found their students raising questions when they were confused by responses from the chatbot.


This indicates that students are asking the bot more basic questions that they may be too shy to ask in real life and then later turning to their human educators for more advanced help, he said.


“In many ways, this is improving how students learn because they can get more of their questions answered without fear of judgement or embarrassment.”


Mr Sim has also begun conceptualising general directions in which the university may set assessments around ChatGPT.

For instance, professors could get students to submit their work to an AI programme and critically evaluate the “feedback” provided by the AI. Or they could learn in collaboration with the AI as if it were a fellow "student".


Associate Professor Barrie Sherwood from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), who teaches creative writing, said that ChatGPT could possibly be useful to students if they were to use it to compare pieces of writing generated by humans versus bots, picking out the elements that make a text engaging — an experiment that he himself had conducted for TODAY.


“The ChatGPT texts model standard grammar, spelling and usage, but they are essentially lifeless, without any of the anomalies, the weirdness, the sideways leaps of intuition and association, the rebelliousness that makes for advances in science, technology and art," he said.





There is still the question of cheating. ChatGPT’s capability of producing plagiarism-free content means professors now have to come up with other ways to prevent cheating.


Assoc Prof Lee from SUSS said that the department’s current strategy is to make assessments more discursive and require analysis.


He added that most universities here are exploring the use of plagiarism-detection and AI-detection tools to check if student reports have been generated by ChatGPT.


Mr Sim from NUS said that he is not worried about students using the bot to cheat.


Instead, the pertinent question that educators should be focused on is why students are cheating in the first place.


“I asked many students about this and they converge on the same point: That they will resort to cheating on their assignments if they don't see value in what they are learning or doing,” Mr Sim said.


If an educator explains to a student why an assignment is designed the way it is, and what value they will gain from the exercise, students will take the exercise seriously, he added.


He reckoned that the best way forward is to encourage openness and transparency on the use of such tools.


Another possibility is to allow students to indicate portions of their assignments that are generated by ChatGPT and include the conversation transcript as an appendix, Mr Sim suggested.


This will help educators learn how students use ChatGPT and expand the “plagiarism-detection repository” with AI-generated outputs.


“There’s only a finite number of answers that an AI can produce. And if you have many students using similar prompts on the same topic, we will have a good number of permutations for catching people who cheat with ChatGPT.”


As for Assoc Prof Sherwood from NTU, he is not so concerned about his own students using ChatGPT to cheat on their assignments or take-home examinations.


"I’m in the delightful position of teaching almost exclusively creative writing. From what I’ve seen of the ChatGPT, it’s not a great composer of poems and short stories and lyric essays," he quipped.


"Literature has absolutely no practical function. It's hard to imagine the programmers for the ChatGPT adopting the non-utilitarian mindset that makes for a good poet or novelist."



courtesy of TODAY



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