“It is only a chatbox, people. Keep breathing!”

Paint a student reading a university newspaper according to Van Gogh, Keith Haring, Monet, Frans Hals and so on, was the assignment to ChatGPT's 'little sister', DALL.E . This is the result

“It is only a chatbox, people. Keep breathing!”

FASoS and Edlab debate about ChatGPT

01-02-2023 · Background

Some universities have banned take-home exams, others have adapted the Education and Exams regulations. What does the much talked-about chatbot ChatGPT mean for higher education? The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS) organised a debate.

"Many lecturers are worried about the impact of this technology on work," says Johan Adriaensen when he starts with his opening talk; he is a lecturer for the department of Politics and today’s moderator. “But with more understanding of the power and limitations of ChatGPT, we can prepare ourselves better for the education of the future. Also, maybe we can integrate the technology in education. The debate is an opportunity to learn more about this cutting-edge technology.”

A remarkably praising introduction. But then again, it appears to have been written by ChatGPT, as Adriaensen lets the cat out of the bag.

The latest chatbot by American company OpenAI has caused a shock wave in education. Using artificial intelligence, the chatbot produces opinion pieces, essays and even novels or poems on the screen within minutes. 


But also assignments and essays. More than other faculties, FASoS tests the knowledge of students with writing assignments. Is there any point now? If you ask the chatbot to write an essay on the influence of the Second World War on Harry Mulisch’s work, just to mention an instruction, you may expect a fluent answer within minutes. Plagiarism checkers fail, partly because there is no plagiarism; ChatGPT produces a new text.

Utrecht University is going to adapt its Education and Exams regulations, in particular the passage about plagiarism. “These will be expanded with a sentence about the use of texts that have not been produced by the person themselves but formulated by chatbots,” university newspaper DUB writes. 

At UM, Academic Affairs is making an ‘impact analysis’, which will be published in February.

What else can universities do? That is the topic of the debate at FASoS, set up half way through January in its building on the Grote Gracht. There is a panel at the front with three researchers and two students. Almost a hundred visitors in the hall.


Some Australian universities have turned the clock back by a dozen or so years, and have reintroduced tests with pen and paper, others have already banned take-home exams, says Adriaensen. Should we do that too? He hands the floor over to panel member and historian Jo Wachelder.

"We must certainly think about our exam policies, but let’s not create a chaos," he says. "Banning ChatGPT from the university, at any rate, doesn’t seem wise to me. Allow the students to experiment with it."

According to panel member and philosopher Massimiliano Simons, lecturers must learn to look at essay assignments differently. See it as a point of departure instead of a final piece, he says. "Let students present and discuss their essays. Then it will become clear whether they really understand the material."

Artificial intelligence that can create presentations also exists, someone in the hall says. "So that is not the solution. I think there is software that can differentiate between texts that have been written by humans and by AI."

Alarm sounds come from the hall, emitted by a mobile telephone. Visitors laugh. The alarm translates expresses how some visitors view the new language software.


How important is it that FASoS students train their writing skills, Adriaensen asks. “Very important,” says panel member Sjoerd Stoffels, a specialist in education technology. “Academic writing is more than just writing, it is also critical thinking, making analyses, presenting arguments to support your case. ChatGPT can’t do that."

Compare it to the introduction of the calculator, says Simons. “In those days, there was the same debate about calculation skills. Were they still necessary? We can still do maths and we do that without a calculator. So we won’t stop writing. I wonder if this chatbot will bring about much change.”

As far as he is concerned “they will pop up out of the corner of our eyes” in the form of extra features or add-ons, for example, to extract quotes from websites. “There may even be a button that appears in word processors. It won’t get all that bad. It is only a chatbox, people. Keep breathing!”

Moreover, its shortcomings have already been dealt with elaborately in the newspapers, including the lack of acknowledgement of one’s sources and a sexist and racist bias.


What penalty should be given to students who use ChatGPT for an essay, Adriaensen asks? “No matter what, it is fraud, unless otherwise agreed upon with the lecturer,” says Wachelder. “The Examination Board will talk with the students. They will certainly use this, even if it is just to produce a line of reasoning or some part of the text. This chatbot has been fed with knowledge from a few years ago, so what does that give you? No new, original arguments, but middle-of-the-road knowledge. Also, if it can produce texts, can it also give feedback. And will students receive middle-of-the-road advice and comments. What a nightmare!”


Edlab debate: FASoS student writes thesis using ChatGPT, and gets caught out

Chatbot ChatGPT is subject of discussion in many places within UM. In the Examination Boards, the education platforms but also in the administration building on the Minderbroedersberg. That is where they are wondering about the question whether the Education and Exams regulations need to be adapted? At the moment, Academic Affairs is creating an analysis of the impact’ of the language software on Maastricht education and especially testing. These particulars will be published in the second half of February. 

This week, UM will send an e-mail to all students containing all the rules that apply as to what is and what is not allowed, and what constitutes fraud. 

During an Edlab meeting last Monday, it became clear that a FASoS student took a chance and wrote a thesis with the aid of ChatGPT. This turned out to be anything but a smart move, because the lecturer was soon on to the student. Two other lecturers who were present at the Edlab session, of the thirty in total, appear to be impressed by chatbot. A lecturer of Law saw a convincing legal advice appear on the screen, that a lawyer could give to his client without any changes. 

Then Edlab co-ordinator Walter Jansen, who is presiding over the meeting, asks the question how many students will consciously cross the line. “How many UM students are guilty of plagiarism? No more than 3 per cent, right.”

“We only know the cheaters who get caught,” says another lecturer. “We don’t know how many there are in total. There are many handy ways to commit plagiarism.” The lecturer may be referring to the FASoS student who used multiple alphabets in the same thesis a few years ago, causing the plagiarism checker to crash. 

This software appears to be not suitable to unmask ChatGPT either. Maarten van Wesel, data analyst at the University Library, recommends GPTZero. “That is a programme that takes a closer look at the statistical characteristics of a text, such as the length of the sentences. Where people tend to vary, ChatGPT sentences often have the same length.”

GPTZero was designed by an American AI expert from Princeton University. The pilot version can be downloaded by all lecturers for free. The claim: 98 per cent of the AI texts are discovered.

Anyone who doubts the result can also go to OpenAI-detectorGPT3 Content Detector or AI Content Detector.

Random survey among FASoS students

Many lecturers will unquestioningly assume that many students have already tried out ChatGPT and may even have used it. But this assumption appears misplaced. In the run-up to the debate, two students from FASoS – Maaike van Uum and Pascalle Paumen – held a small random survey among 33 students, spread across the various bachelor’s and master’s studies. 

Only 14 had heard of ChatGPT, mainly students who studied Digital Culture, whom you would expect to know. Only four of them had registered and experimented with it. 

What would you use the chatbot for? Most answered the question by saying: to put literature references in order or to gain inspiration. So not to have it write essays. Why not? Because they don’t trust the AI application; some are afraid that the lecturers will discover the fraud, others want to learn something for the tuition fees they pay.

Photo: Simone Golob, using OpenAI software

Tags: chatgpt,fasos,edlab,instagram,fraud,innovation,essays,testing,teaching

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