Students and Professors Embrace AI Writing Tools

By Ali­cia Gomez | UConn Journalism

Alexa Udell, a third-year psy­chol­o­gy stu­dent, was hav­ing trou­ble in her sta­tis­tics class. She was used to using tools like flash­cards and notes to study for her psy­chol­o­gy exams, but she found her­self stumped on how to study for sta­tis­tics. Try­ing to fig­ure out the prac­tice prob­lems in her text­book felt like an impos­si­ble task. 

Des­per­ate, Udell turned to anoth­er solu­tion: Chat­G­PT, an arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence nat­ur­al lan­guage mod­el. Final­ly, a weight lift­ed off her shoul­ders. She could study with­out feel­ing lost or pan­icked if the lec­ture went too fast for her to understand. 

I look at my text­book for prac­tice prob­lems and ask it to do that for me. It’s real­ly nice because it does it step-by-step,” Udell said. “Like for a math­e­mat­i­cal proof it’ll say stuff like: ‘Because of this, we do this. Accord­ing to this rule, we do this. Here is the formula.’ ” 

Chat­G­PT, an Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence chat­bot trained to pro­duce human-like text based on input, can spit out essays in sec­onds based on a prompt or code. It can even give advice. Although there has been a lot of con­cern about stu­dents using the new tech­nol­o­gy to cheat, there is also a grow­ing trend of stu­dents and uni­ver­si­ty writ­ing cen­ters using Chat­G­PT as a valu­able tool in edu­ca­tion settings.

Tom Deans, direc­tor of the UConn Writ­ing Cen­ter, said that about 70% of UConn stu­dents sur­veyed were inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about using AI writ­ing tools in their course­work, accord­ing to data he pre­sent­ed at the North­east Writ­ing Cen­ters Asso­ci­a­tion conference. 

I think every­body’s gonna be using it, It’s gonna be inside Word, it’s gonna be every­where,” Deans said. 

For exam­ple, Deans said Chat­G­PT has gained pop­u­lar­i­ty at the UConn Writ­ing Cen­ter, where tutors are exper­i­ment­ing with using it to help stu­dents with their writ­ing assignments. 

Deans said in his class­room that he allows stu­dents to use Chat­G­PT as a tool with cred­it. How­ev­er, he believes pro­fes­sors should be clear in their course poli­cies about what they define as pla­gia­rism regard­ing Chat­G­PT. He said that if stu­dents use Chat­G­PT to write their full essay, it is already cov­ered by UCon­n’s aca­d­e­m­ic dis­hon­esty pol­i­cy. How­ev­er, pro­fes­sors at UConn vary in their poli­cies on using Chat­G­PT, Deans said. 

In my own class­room, I said, ‘You can use it for what­ev­er you want, except for when I say you can’t,’ ” Deans said. “But you have to write an acknowl­edg­ment state­ment that says what and how you used it.”

Deans said he has seen pro­fes­sors pre­vent stu­dents from using Chat­G­PT pri­mar­i­ly by chang­ing their assign­ments. For exam­ple, they may write ques­tions that rely on spe­cif­ic infor­ma­tion stu­dents may learn in class or account for more recent read­ings, as Chat­G­PT is only trained on infor­ma­tion up to 2021. 

Even though Chat­G­PT has been an invalu­able tool, Deans said it could not replace face-to-face tutor­ing offered in writ­ing cen­ters. Human tutors offer spe­cif­ic advan­tages Chat­G­PT won’t be able to replicate. 

It does­n’t under­stand con­text all that well, so it’s not going to under­stand your par­tic­u­lar class and where you are in your writ­ing process and what you are try­ing to do,” Deans said. “So that can only hap­pen in a conversation.” 

Chat­G­PT also tends to make up false infor­ma­tion that sounds cor­rect when it is unsure of the answer, said Alexan­der Solod, the Pres­i­dent of the AI club at UConn, who has been work­ing with Deans.  Solod said this phe­nom­e­non is called “AI hal­lu­ci­na­tion.” Because of AI hal­lu­ci­na­tions, stu­dents may have to be care­ful about using Chat­G­PT on their assign­ments. For exam­ple, if a stu­dent plugs in their essay ques­tion and Chat­G­PT spits out a response, it may sound like a plau­si­ble answer to the untrained eye, but a pro­fes­sor may eas­i­ly be able to see that it is rid­dled with fac­tu­al errors.

How­ev­er, despite the dis­ad­van­tages, there is still use­ful­ness to be gained with Chat­G­PT, like its avail­abil­i­ty, Solod said.

This right here is like a 24/7 tutor that is skilled in almost every sin­gle at least under­grad­u­ate uni­ver­si­ty task,” Solod said. 

Solod and Noah Praver, a UConn Writ­ing Cen­ter tutor, found that Chat­G­PT can expand para­graphs, give tips, write a the­sis, think of a title, rewrite sen­tences, and more. How­ev­er, it is impor­tant to make spe­cif­ic prompts, or “prompt engi­neer.” They believe that pro­fes­sors and tutors should train stu­dents to do that. 

For exam­ple, when Solod strug­gled with under­stand­ing the lec­tures and text­book for his bio­chem­istry class, he told Chat­G­PT to take on the role of a bio­chem­istry tutor to explain what he was stuck on, he said. Solod was also able to ask Chat­G­PT to come up with ques­tions that a bio­chem­istry pro­fes­sor would ask on a quiz based on Solod’s notes. 

By assign­ing it a role and mak­ing your ques­tion real­ly, real­ly spe­cif­ic, you could get the most out of it,” Solod said. “By assign­ing it a cer­tain ‘per­son­al­i­ty,’ you are able to extract more infor­ma­tion or to extract a bet­ter result out of the mod­el based on what­ev­er task you want to accomplish.”

Solod pre­dicts its pop­u­lar­i­ty will con­tin­ue grow­ing as Google and Microsoft inte­grate gen­er­a­tive AI tech­nol­o­gy into its writ­ing tools.

These tools will become a sta­ple in our day-to-day lives kin­da the same way that Google has become ubiq­ui­tous and every­body uses it,” Solod said. 

Solod also rec­og­nizes risks asso­ci­at­ed with try­ing to pre­vent the use of Chat­G­PT in the school set­ting. He has been see­ing a grow­ing num­ber of Red­dit posts where stu­dents claim that they have been false­ly accused of using AI tools in their writ­ing because AI detec­tion tools are large­ly inac­cu­rate, he said. So he has test­ed it out him­self, putting in both mid­dle school assign­ments he wrote long before the release of Chat­G­PT as well as the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence. ZeroG­PT detect­ed both of these texts as AI-generated.

The want to want to try to detect and reg­u­late is one that we will slow­ly need to try to bypass and instead focus on how to teach respon­si­ble and eth­i­cal use of AI instead of a blan­ket ban on it,” Solod said. 

A UConn stu­dent in his fresh­man year study­ing com­put­er sci­ence who has asked to go by Rafi for fear of aca­d­e­m­ic reper­cus­sions said he knows ways to evade detec­tion from pla­gia­rism detec­tors and pro­fes­sors when he uses Chat­G­PT. One way is to be spe­cif­ic in prompts, sim­i­lar to prompt engineering. 

I can ask the Chat­G­PT to write it as if it’s com­ing from a col­lege fresh­man, and Chat­G­PT will write it in that style,” Rafi said.

He said that stu­dents could also take the out­put they receive from Chat­G­PT and reword it. 

You put it in ZeroG­PT, you see if it’s detect­ed, you could change it up a bit and just keep going through until it’s much less or com­plete­ly unde­tectable,” Rafi said. “If you put in spelling mis­takes, then that real­ly throws ZeroG­PT off.” 

How­ev­er, Rafi said he sus­pects that detec­tion tools at ZeroG­PT are not pop­u­lar among pro­fes­sors at UConn yet, but may be in the future. 

Rafi said he believes there are two rea­sons why peo­ple may use Chat­G­PT instead of doing their own assign­ments. First, some stu­dents may be just “going through the motions in col­lege” and are not mak­ing the most of their edu­ca­tion; they are sim­ply just try­ing to pass. So it may make it eas­i­er for these stu­dents. Some stu­dents are under aca­d­e­m­ic pres­sure and want the time to focus on oth­er class­es, Rafi said. 

As advice for stu­dents, look, if you get away with it, if it’s a class you don’t feel is nec­es­sar­i­ly going to help you, do it while you can, take advan­tage of it, sure,” Rafi said. “Just don’t be stu­pid. Give it good prompts, read over it, under­stand what it’s say­ing, try to at least under­stand a lit­tle bit. Don’t just be lazy, that’s all.”