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Colleges warn students against using ChatGPT to write essays, code

Colleges warn students against using ChatGPT to write essays, code
Photo Credit: Pixabay
19 Jan, 2023
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The first day of the New Year started on a serious note for  students at Bengaluru’s RV University who received a stern notice from the dean of the School of Computer Science and Engineering.

“AI (artificial intelligence) agents such as ChatGPT, GitHub Copilot or Blackbox should not be used when original submission is expected from students or faculty, such as code in the first-year programming course or original essays, answers to questions etc.,” according to the 1 January notice.

The state private university said it will start blocking these platforms in its labs and during tutorial sessions, and simultaneously run random checks by asking students to reproduce content, and take disciplinary action if significant differences are found in the checks.

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RV University is not a lone case. Faculty at various colleges in India are discouraging first-time coders and other students from using AI-based platforms that can generate code or text by themselves. For instance, GitHub Copilot is a tool co-developed by Microsoft-owned code repository GitHub and AI research firm OpenAI. It assists programmers by generating computer code from natural English language, or auto completing a block of code, etc.

Similarly, Blackbox allows developers to copy code from videos or turn any question into code. On the other hand, ChatGPT, which has been in the news lately, is an AI-driven text-to-speech platform that is capable of writing prose, college essays, poetry, books, and even computer code without any human intervention.

According to faculty at various colleges, use of such tools in colleges can hamper how much students actually learn. For instance, coders need to learn logical thinking in order to become good coders, which is likely to be difficult if an automated tool is generating the code for them. Similarly, ChatGPT can literally replicate the style of a writer like Ernest Hemingway instead of requiring a student to understand the depth of such authors’ works.

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Sanjay Chitnis, founding dean, School of Computer Science and Engineering, RV University, said he is in favour of students using automated coding tools when the objective is not to just write a code but to solve a larger problem. “In such cases, generating code is only incidental and most of the work goes into identifying the problem, stating the problem, and designing the solutions. These are the core human 21st-century skills. We encourage the use of Copilot in such projects, but we also raise the overall bar for the related project,” he said.

Similarly, Rupesh Nasre, a professor at the department of computer science (CS) and engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, said first- time programmers should be discouraged from using such tools. “It should be encouraged for students well aware of programming, who would anyway have written the code even without the help of the tool. This improves their productivity since they need not worry about the mundane part of the application and focus on the creative aspects of problem-solving. However, a disclaimer may be given that a particular code snippet is generated from a tool,” he added.

Recruiters concur. Sanjeev Azad, vice president of technology at digital services firm GlobalLogic said he would like to hire individuals with “solid understanding” of software engineering principles. “A good understanding of basics, critical thinking, and an analytical bent of mind are needed even if you are using tools like Copilot. These are a few things that can’t be automated,” he said.

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Some students agree on this issue. Vineeth Kada, a fourth-year CS student at IIT Madras, said he is using Copilot to complete his final-year project, but only for non-creative and repetitive tasks. He also noted that human intervention is required when using such tools to identify inaccurate results, which can cause more harm than good.

Universities understand that the use of such tools can’t be completely banned either. Dhiraj Gyani, director, education and government engagement at GitHub, said workshops around Copilot are being scheduled in institutions like IITs, and Uttar Pradesh’s Shiv Nadar University.

To be sure, software tools including Moss, Turnitin, Urkund and GPTZero can be used to keep plagiarism in check. In fact, GPTZero is used by global majors like Harvard University, Yale, and University of Rhode Island, to track ChatGPT-driven plagiarism, according to a 16 January report by the New York Times.

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RV University’s Chitnis, however, cautions that rapid advancements in AI code generation will eventually make it impossible for a tool like GPTZero to detect plagiarism.