A.I. and Higher Education: The Rise of ChatGPT

top view of a laptop with hands typing on keyboard
Seth Fishman, PhD

ChatGPT. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Colleges and universities certainly have. It’s the chatbot that uses artificial intelligence (A.I.) to generate sentences based only on a brief prompt, writing anything from college-level papers to fanfiction. And as one might expect, the popular chatbot is taking the academic world by storm, raising questions about trust, academic integrity and even the future of college admissions. We turned to Seth Matthew Fishman, PhD, assistant dean of Curriculum and Assessment and director of the MA in Higher Education Leadership program in the Villanova University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to get his thoughts.

Q. What makes ChatGPT different and why is it causing such a stir?

Fishman. Of course, the use of chatbots is not a new debate in higher education. But ChatGPT and other similar free software certainly add a complex layer that we are only just now starting to have conversations about. There will be an ongoing debate about trust—who wrote the material we are reading? To what extent if any, will it impact faculty members? There are also A.I. digital images, graphics, and design—to what extent do these programs impact our creative arts and design programs? I think these fields will mostly embrace A.I., though I can see issues of copyright infringement and artist control/attribution.

Q. How are other chatbots being used in academic settings?

Fishman. A.I. use already impacts higher education. If you ask any faculty member teaching a foreign language that requires a translation, he/she will have tales of work submitted by students who use online translation software. But benefits do exist for students and faculty regardless—we’re able to interact a bit more with others, reducing some language barriers.

I expect we will see hundreds of articles about ChatGPT’s impact on education; there are likely several dissertations underway, and I expect to see ChatGPT and similar software cited in papers and likely even in authorship groups.

Q. What will the impact of ChatGPT be on the college application and admissions process?

Fishman. I think we’ll see conversations from college admissions professionals on the impact of ChatGPT on higher education admissions. For example, key components of college applications such as essays and writing samples may be impacted. And ChatGPT may also be used to write some rather good letters of recommendation.

Q. What does the future hold? Will ChatGPT and similar A.I. programs maintain popularity?

Fishman. I’m curious if A.I. will be used to generate employment cover letters. Additionally, many corporations already use A.I. to sift through candidate applications to narrow down their applicant pools. It may continue to transcend academia.

I also expect to hear more from our philosophy and ethics experts to help us better understand the societal and educational implications of using A.I. in these ways. And these kinds of conversations will be had with our students to engage them as partners in the learning experience. We will probably generate new ideas and different perspectives from doing just that.

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About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.

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