Artificial Intelligence at University: A guide to using ChatGPT for work

By Will Brown

Artificial Intelligence is everywhere at the moment.

At first it was a novelty, something to have funny conversations with and send them to your group chat. Now, we’re beginning to grapple with the real-world consequences of artificial intelligence. Unsurprisingly, a lot of university students are now starting to wonder how the sudden boom in AI can help them with their work.

Firstly, don’t get it to write your essays. That’s just dumb.

Granted, it has been done. ChatGPT will write you an essay if you ask it to. It won’t be a very good one, it won’t be referenced, and it may well have just copied text from the internet – which will send your plagiarism score soaring.

Don’t get it to write your essays. That’s just dumb

Universities are unsurprisingly scrambling to find a way to reliably detect whether or not essays are written by artificial intelligence. There are some rudimentary detectors available, including one offered by ChatGPT’s creators OpenAI. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But it won’t be long before these detectors get better. I don’t think it’s worth risking the academic misconduct charge.

So, how can you use AI to your benefit? I’ll tell you how. But firstly, I’m going to go into this with a massive caveat. AI is not perfect, far from it. Don’t take it’s word as gospel, and check over anything it’s helped you with before using it in your summatives.

With that caveat out the way, I genuinely believe that artificial intelligence has the potential to be an immensely positive, transformation experience for our education. It might be in its early days, but here’s all the ways I’ve found it can be of use so far.

A Personal Tutor

Wouldn’t it be great if you had someone that you could talk through a topic with?

You could go to your lecturer’s office hours, of course. But not everyone has the confidence for that, and sometimes it’s such a quick question that you don’t feel it’s worth troubling them. ChatGPT, on the other hand, is merely a click away.

Struggling to grasp the specificities of dialectical materialism? Not quite getting the hang of quantum entanglement? Can’t distinguish cadere from caedere? For everything from answering a quick question to generating lesson plans with follow-up questions that it will mark for you, ChatGPT is here to help.

Alternatively, Bing AI is perfect for this task. Whereas ChatGPT cannot connect to the internet and is only trained on data up until 2021, Bing is an AI-powered search engine that can have a conversation with you. It can’t talk for as long as ChatGPT can, and cannot come up with lesson plans. But if you’ve got a quick question that needs a quick discussion, then Bing is perfect.

Want to give it a try? Try asking ChatGPT: “Explain [a topic] to me with the necessary complexity required of a university course”.

A Writing Assistant

University requires a lot of writing. Whilst I’ve already cautioned against using it to write your essays, I’d happily recommend using it to help you with other aspects of writing.

Want someone to summarise your lecture notes in a simple paragraph? Ask ChatGPT to do just that. Need to cut fifty words out your final paragraph in order to squeeze under the word count? Ask ChatGPT to find what’s irrelevant.

It can also restructure your sentences for you. If you’ve got a clunky sentence in one of your lab reports that could do with re-wording, then just ask ChatGPT to make it clearer for you. You’re also likely to see this sort of technology appearing elsewhere. Notion already has an artificial intelligence function as part of its premium plans, and thanks to Microsoft’s partnership with OpenAI it likely won’t be long before you’ll be able to do this directly inside Word or OneNote.

A Reading Assistant

As it says in the DCAD posters, Academic English is nobody’s first language. I’m sure we’ve all stared at a paragraph from a random article that apparently revolutionised the discipline, and yet is so deeply couched in jargon that it’s more or less unreadable. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could read it for you and then explain it back to you in easier terms?

Thankfully, ChatGPT can do just that. It’s able to read lengthy chunks of academic jargon and send it back to you in a fashion that’s actually legible. I’ve often found it useful to get complex paragraphs ‘translated’, and then go back and read the original with an understanding of what it is trying to convey.

Try the following prompt: “I’m reading an academic article for my course, but I can’t understand it. Can you read it for me and then summarise in simpler terms?”

A Proof-Reader

No matter how many times I read through my essays, it always seems like there’s another mistake that needs fixing. Microsoft Word doesn’t catch everything, Grammarly is quite pricy. But ChatGPT? That’s free.

Ask ChatGPT if it will proofread your work for you, and it’ll happily oblige – returning your text for you, with any errors fixed up nicely.

However, exercise caution with this one. I’ve heard reports it ChatGPT adding in a few extra sentences out of nowhere when it does this. Perhaps better used on shorter texts.

A Reference Compiler

Referencing is complicated. It’s no wonder that so many options exist to automate it, ranging from to Microsoft Word’s built-in referencing system. If you’re looking for another way to compile your references, feel free to ask ChatGPT for help. It’ll ask you for all the necessary information (author, year, title, etc.) and generate a reference in whatever style you’ve asked for.

This is particularly helpful for more complex references. We’ve all gotten used to directly citing papers, but more complex tasks – secondary referencing, for example – can be made easier with a bit of AI assistance.

You can’t put the AI-genie back in the bottle. Artificial Intelligence is undoubtedly going to change the way we approach education. We’ve been warned not to use it for our essays, which I’d agree is sensible. But it’d be foolish not to make use of this technology to help improve our own learning process. There are a variety of applications for ChatGPT in education, and it’s important to remember that AI language bots are really still in their infancy. OpenAI’s ChatGPT is currently running on version 3.5 of their language software, with version 4 rumoured both to be coming this year and to be a significant upgrade on the current version. Universities are going to need to reckon with how this changes education, and they’re going to need to reckon with it fast. Otherwise, there may soon be an epidemic of perfectly-written AI essays that nobody can tell the difference between.

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