A local teacher caught her students using AI for essays. Now, it's become a learning tool
In December, Brooke Nasser saw several of her students' assignments with the same answer to a question about Toni Morrison's book, "Beloved."
The Kalani High School teacher, who teaches 12th-grade English, said she thought it was a classic cheating case. But it wasn't.
"If you're an English teacher, that's not totally out of the realm of possibility because often students exchange worksheets to copy off each other. So it's not an unreasonable thing to find," Nasser said. "However, this answer that was repeated on 10 different worksheets was wrong. That doesn't happen that often."
Nasser said she heard about ChatGPT, a chatbox powered by artificial intelligence. She typed in the assignment question out of curiosity, then it spat out the same wrong answer in seconds.
Since ChatGPT launched in November, educators have raised concerns about their students using the new AI software to cheat and plagiarize. The software can write academic essays, poems and computer code.
The Hawaiʻi Department of Education also banned students from using ChatGPT in its network, although it's accessible to teachers and administrators.
The problem is pervasive. More than a quarter of Nasser's students were caught using ChatGPT just a month after its launch.
"Everything is so viral," Nasser said. "If one kid knows, two seconds later, every single kid in Hawaiʻi knows. Everyone is on TikTok all of the time. I'm sure there are 3,000 TikTok videos about how to cheat using ChatGPT."
ChatGPT as a lesson on critical thinking
But Nasser said she saw it as a learning tool. So she created a lesson plan to demonstrate to her students that they can use ChatGPT to practice critical thinking.
She gave her students three essays about coastal erosion and tasked them to figure out which was written by AI or a real person. Then, the students had to choose and explain why one essay was written by a teacher, ninth grader, or ChatGPT.
When Nasser revealed to her students that they were all written by ChatGPT, she said her students understood that it could modify to meet a person's writing ability.
For example, Nasser said the ninth grader essay AI wrote had grammar errors that matched what a student would typically make.
Despite ChatGPT's ability to write essays to fit a person's writing style, it's not always accurate, Nasser said.
Nasser said most of her students were surprised that ChatGPT wrote the academic essay instead of a teacher because it produced citations. But one student caught inaccuracies the AI made.
"I wanted them to realize that it's not perfect," Nasser said about the AI chatbox. "It's not going to spit out some flawless essay for you that you can turn in, and if you rely on it, you're going to get in trouble if someone reads it closely."
Nasser asked her students why they use ChatGPT. Some say it helps them brainstorm, fight writer's block and find citations faster than Google.
Nasser said she plans to use ChatGPT in her classes next year.
"At the very least, we can use it as a brainstorming tool," Nasser said. "But I believe in transparency. I believe in giving kids as much information as possible and letting them use their brains to navigate the intricacies of the world."
Educators explore using ChatGPT
Meanwhile, teachers are using it for themselves.
William McGuire, a vice principal at McKinley High School, said teachers use ChatGPT to save time and money.
"Educators — quality educators — the number one thing that impedes them is time," McGuire said, adding that teachers juggle creating lesson plans and parents, colleagues and bosses.
Teachers can pay hundreds of dollars for lesson plans created by other teachers. ChatGPT is free.
McGuire said he hopes ChatGPT will be a diverse tool for teachers and that it remains accessible.
"Some of the things that it can do, schools are already paying $10 or $15 ahead for programs that they bought to do, and now it will do it for free," McGuire said. "So I'm hoping a good portion stays free, so it has the biggest impact."
This is part one of a two-part series about ChatGPT from HPR's Cassie Ordonio. Click here to read and listen to part two.