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Executive Board column: ChatGPT, threat or opportunity?

ChatGPT, the text-generating chatbot, has recently become available for anyone to use. Some people are thrilled, but others less so. In the past few weeks, we have had a lot of questions about it from lecturers, students and the media. Is this artificial intelligence (AI) tool a threat to our teaching? What are the risks for student assessments? And wouldn’t it be better to ban it completely at the university?

In this column Annetje Ottow, Hester Bijl and Martijn Ridderbos give a peek behind the scenes at the Executive Board of Leiden University. What does their work involve? What makes them enthusiastic? What challenges do they face? Building a healthy and engaged learning community begins with sharing what you are up to. This time it’s Hester Bijl’s turn.

Although I myself can mainly see opportunities, I completely understand people’s concerns. I can’t see much point in banning it at the university. It is our job to teach students to be critical of such tools and use them responsibly because these will take work off their hands in the future and increase productivity – not a bad thing for our ageing society. As AI tools get better and better at writing texts and computer programs become able to write texts based on existing material, this will enable us to focus on critical reflection, studying our interaction with such tools and working on actual innovation.

ChatGPT in our teaching

We do, of course, have to think carefully about how we want to use ChatGPT in our teaching. Depending on the learning objectives and forms of assessment, some changes may be necessary. If you are assessing writing proficiency or reasoning, you could, for instance, provide unique sources or have the exam invigilated. Or you could ask students to reflect on a first draft generated with ChatGPT. Much is possible and I have every confidence that lecturers will find good solutions in their courses.

We will help them, of course: for example, by asking our experts to help draw up advice for our lecturers and boards of examiners. We will also focus on this in meetings for lecturers, programme directors and boards of examiners. And our Leiden Learning & Innovation Centre (LLInC) has written a blog for lecturers that covers various questions such as how you can use AI in your classes and what to be aware of when marking work. We are also going to discuss ChatGPT in the student newsletter on 15 February so that it is also clear to students what we expect of them in terms of academic integrity. Our students obviously won’t be allowed to use ChatGPT texts in tests and assignments, not even in their own words, without clear reference to this. That has always been forbidden and is comparable with hiring someone to write a text for you (ghost-writing) and therefore fraud.

Critical thinking

In the long term the main thing is that we teach students how to use tools like this and encourage them to keep thinking critically. We will have to stay alert and continue to adapt – in our research too. Fortunately we have plenty of experts and an interdisciplinary programme focusing on the use of AI: SAILS.  Because the end of this development is not yet in sight. There is much that we still don’t know, but I personally am very intrigued as to how AI will affect our future. Let’s stay critical but keep an open mind. People feared the calculator at first – ‘Children won’t learn their sums anymore!’ – but now we all use them.

Share your thoughts or experiences by sending an email to nieuws@leidenuniv.nl.

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