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Students review ChatGPT as Oxford cautions against its use

“With the advent of cutting-edge AI technology, students now have access to a highly advanced language model in the form of ChatGPT, revolutionizing the way they access information and complete their assignments.”

When prompted to “write the first sentence of an article about students using ChatGPT,” this is what ChatGPT came up with. ChatGPT is a chatbot developed with artificial intelligence techniques that has risen to fame for its ability to give fascinatingly intelligible responses across a wide range of prompts. Now, the new AI tool’s ability to simulate human writing has Oxford University administration on the alert. 

In this week’s edition of its Student News newsletter, the University warned students against engaging in the “unauthorised use of AI in exams and assessment,” singling out ChatGPT by name. The University notes that the use of AI tools is a “serious disciplinary offence” which “constitutes cheating and is covered under existing regulations”, adding that “further guidance to students will be issued soon.”

So far, Oxford students have had mixed responses to ChatGPT. Law is one of several subjects where students sit computer-based exams, but one student who tried the AI told Cherwell, “I think for law it isn’t that good yet.” Even with increasingly specific prompts, such as instructing ChatGPT to “write at an Oxford undergraduate first class level” with “exam style referencing,” the results were “okay but definitely not first class.” The student added, “It probably would only work if you really did no reading and have no idea what to write like 30 minutes before the deadline.”

However, other students have found ChatGPT immensely useful for certain tasks. A biology student told Cherwell, “I feel like ChatGPT has been quite a useful tool for wanting to get a basic and genrealised idea about a topic.” Rather than using the tool to write essays, they have used ChatGPT to help them study better. ChatGPT can summarise a topic they intend to do further research into, or help them revise by condensing entire textbook pages into key bullet points.

Other students agree that some of ChatGPT’s helpful abilities are unmatched. A PPE student told Cherwell that he has been using ChatGPT to complete coding homework problems, saying, “I have to say … I think it’s so good … It’s so good for code.” According to a modern languages student, “ChatGPT is surprisingly useful for languages – it arguably produces better translations than websites like DeepL and is pretty good for short-cutting linguistics questions too.” However, they added that “its essay writing is certainly not up to scratch and … would need significant editing to be passable.”

So while ChatGPT seems unable to produce an entire first-class Oxford essay, it can make writing essays or solving problem sheets significantly easier. Some have compared ChatGPT to calculators, arguing that students should be allowed to take advantage of available tools to produce work more quickly and efficiently. However, another student said that “it makes you think less on your own, as it’s quite easy to rely on.”

When reached for comment, the University reiterated to Cherwell that the governing body is taking a hard-line stance on ChatGPT: “In relation to student assessment, until further notice we will not permit students to use AI tools such as ChatGPT in their assessed work.” 

However, it is unclear how the university will identify indirect ChatGPT usage, such as assistance with drafting an essay outline or summarising a journal article. It also leaves us wondering to what extent ChatGPT is allowed, or recommended, for the vast amount of non-assessed work that students complete.

To all of these grey areas, the University told Cherwell, “We will be providing guidance to students, and support and advice to exam boards in the near future, to minimise problems and concerns in the current assessment cycle.”

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