Event Capsules, Teaching Tips, Tool Talk | May 22, 2023

ChatGPT and Our Spring 2023 Teaching

During the Spring 2023 semester professors in various fields used ChatGPT for the first time in their classrooms. In this post you can read more about some of their experiences with ChatGPT in undergraduate courses on news literacy, linguistics, translation and interpretation, and English composition. The following examples were initially shared during Hunter ACERT Lunchtime Seminars held in April 2023 and open to the CUNY community.

Did a bear travel in space? Fact-checking ChatGPT

Sissel McCarthy (Film & Media, Hunter College) directs the Journalism program at Hunter and was curious to try out ChatGPT-3 from the moment it came out. This Spring, she introduced various ChatGPT assignments in the multi-section News Literacy in a Digital Age course that she coordinates. In this course, students learn to apply their critical thinking skills to evaluate the credibility of news on different platforms, which now includes fact-checking ChatGPT. For this fact-checking exercise, Sissel prompted ChatGPT to “write a paragraph about the first bear to travel in space.” This is the response from ChatGPT (spoiler alert: a bear never went to space!). Students then were asked if this paragraph was reliable, and why or why not. They noted that the ChatGPT response contained mainly incorrect facts, intermixed with statements about other space-traveling animals. The citations ChatGPT produced were all completely fake. Even the follow-up prompt “these links don’t work and appear to be fabricated” resulted in more non-existent sources.

Prompt by Sissel McCarthy: "these links don't work and appear to be fabricated" Response by ChatGPT: "I apologize for the inconvenience. It appears that there was an error in my previous response. As an Al language model, I do not have the ability to fabricate information, but I understand that providing sources that cannot be accessed is not helpful. Here are some updated sources for the information about the first bear to travel in space:"

An apology from ChatGPT when Sissel noted that the citations it previously generated were all fake. Also the updated sources were fabricated.

Who wrote this text? Comparison exercises

Comparison is another approach – think of the New York Times quiz “Did a Fourth Grader Write This? Or the New Chatbot?” (published in late 2022). As the first assignment in the News Literacy in a Digital Age course, students write a 300-word reflective essay on their 48-hour news blackout that includes specific examples and lessons learned. After completing their own essays this Spring, they were then presented with two responses: one was written by a student, the other was the ChatGPT response. In pairs, the students then compared the responses, guided by questions such as “Which essay best met the requirements of this assignment and why?” and “Who writes better and why?” Most students were able to identify which essay was written by a human and which by AI; in the online section of the course, however, where students were individually polled on Zoom without that moment of group discussion, almost half of the students weren’t able to identify the AI essay.

Connecting ChatGPT to the course content

Karen Greenberg (English, Hunter College) teaches linguistics courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She fully integrated ChatGPT and AI writing tools in her undergraduate Critical Discourse Analysis course this semester. Also Karen provided ample context, starting with Kevin Roose’s New York Times article “How Should I Use A.I. Chatbots Like ChatGPT?” from late March 2023. She asked students what they would say to their teachers about ChatGPT if they could (here are some of their responses). She entered the prompt “Why teachers shouldn’t fear ChatGPT?”, and brought five ChatGPT responses to class for discussion. “[ChatGPT’s] flaws make it the perfect tool for critical thinking activities,” Karen believes. Students work together to catch errors, misinformation, and rhetorical fallacies in the responses. To teach key concepts in discourse analysis, Karen again used ChatGPT: students got two different ChatGPT responses to a prompt about each concept, which they compared for clarity. They also reflected on the rhetorical and linguistic features that made the responses sound like they were produced by AI rather than people (this is the full assignment). Karen used Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to introduce Meta (formally Facebook) for another, more extensive compare-and-contrast assignment. Students first analyzed Zuckerberg’s discursive strategies in the letter themselves, identifying the rhetorical and linguistic strategies Zuckerberg used to persuade his audiences to believe his points. Then, students compared their responses with a series of ChatGPT responses to a similar prompt. Karen further expanded the exercise by prompting ChatGPT to respond at the level of a college student, a 10th grader, and a 6th grader. The whole class then reflected on how well ChatGPT performed at the discourse analysis. 

Please translate! 

For Rafael Fernandez (Romance Languages, Hunter College), coordinator of the Spanish-English translation and interpretation program at Hunter, ChatGPT is the latest in a series of tools he uses in teaching translation, each with their advantages and disadvantages. ChatGPT is different, though, from computer-assisted translation software and machine translation programs (think Google Translate): it was not specifically designed to translate, and the cautions to using ChatGPT in general – its limits in up-to-date knowledge, the need for human supervision – also apply to ChatGPT translations. Rafael shares this all with his translation students. In the classroom, Rafael fully integrates ChatGPT and other translation tools, but always first asks students to look at the text without any assistance. They then compare and contrast the outputs of machine translation and ChatGPT, and use other resources such as dictionaries to improve the translations. Students practice carefully reviewing the generated translations and editing them, and also learn to combine these tech tools according to their needs and the translation task. Rafael also stresses in class the importance of writing clear and precise instructions or prompts – that’s the way to obtain high-quality and customized translation results. Students practice formulating ChatGPT prompts to translate certain English sentences into Spanish in specific contexts (e.g., a business meeting, a wedding) and registers (e.g., formal, slang). Currently, only the AI-based language models can adjust translation for register and style. 

Brainstorming research questions

“I think students were somewhat shocked that I asked them to use this tool,” Sarah Perez (English, City College) noted about her experience using ChatGPT in a Freshman Composition course this Spring. She integrated ChatGPT in an exercise on developing research questions for the students’ research essays. Sarah first asked students to brainstorm research questions using the City College library databases. Next, she asked them to use ChatGPT to create 5 additional questions or more. Also Sarah made sure she briefly discussed how to most effectively use the tool in order to generate the best responses before the students got started. In her view, the students got more and better questions from which to take their research and then to return to the library databases. 

Further resources

Given the rapid advances in AI, please note the creation date of each document listed at the end and be aware that some of the information may no longer apply.

Resources related to the classroom examples above

Introducing & staying up-to-date on ChatGPT


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