ChatGPT a Two Way Conversation
With the release of ChatGPT 4, the artificial intelligence platform continues to dominate the digital world and create controversy.
Noam Chomsky (YouTube video: Chomsky on ChatGPT, Education, Russia and the unvaccinated) has labelled it mechanized plagiarism, however, has not come to grips with the postmodern concept of intertextuality, defined by Julia Kristeva, which accepts the proposition that every text depends on every other text. It might be summarised that there is nothing new under the sun.
Christopher Booker’s book, The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories introduces the notion that there are only really seven stories that keep on being retold in different ways. The original Greek tragedies were based on oral myths and stories of the gods, Shakespeare’s history plays extensively used Holinshed's four-volume Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande, Thomas North’s English translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans among other sources. Samuel Becket used the New Testament and Charlie Chaplin movies as inspiration for Waiting for Godot. These are original works of genius, the authors do not acknowledge their sources yet we do not consider them in any way stolen.
In higher education, plagiarism is a cardinal sin and has given rise to its own software solutions such as Turnitin, which scours academic journals to see if an assignment has been copied. In some ways it mirrors ChatGPT process. It is a thorny issue, but in truth, no essay is completely original and in fact good academic results depend on using a variety of sources to demonstrate an author’s point. The sticking point is attribution. You can use as many ideas as you want as long as you acknowledge them. Some teacher colleagues used Chat GPT to answer an exam question. The answer it produced was agreed to be a “C”, an average essay. Now clearly we can’t say that the program understands the topic, so to me, it calls into question the value of the traditional written assignment as an assessment tool.
As educators we want to know that our students understand what we are. It is not really being able to repeat a fact but to have mastered it and incorporated it into their own body of knowledge and skills. We can legitimately use sources and other ideas but does that mean we really understand them. To genuinely gauge understanding, we may have to steal an idea from Aristotle, and engage in dialogue with students.
ChatGPT is a powerful tool in many ways, it is the evolution of Google, and in time this new artificial intelligence tool will further reshape our behaviour. For higher education there are interesting times ahead.
Associate Professor Tom O’Connor is Associate Program Director, Postgraduate Studies (Melbourne CBD Campus) and Manager of Special Projects in the Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor. He is a Fellow of the Centre for Scholarship and Research.