ChatGPT: Reimagining Assessment in Higher Education

ChatGPT is an opportunity for faculty to reimagine assessment in higher education, working alongside NLP and AI.

ChatGPT is an advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbot launched by OpenAI in November 2022. The chatbot responds to, and converses with users following a written input similar to a human-to-human conversation. ChatGPT is based on the GPT-3 (Generative Pre-Training Transformer) language model which generates human-like responses and is trained by a large set of text available on the Internet.

ChatGPT has everyone in higher education wondering how this little new AI tool will come to change teaching and learning, or if it, indeed, will replace or improve aspects of teaching and learning as a whole. There is a potential to use this technology to improve assessment, to develop creative thinking, to let AI do the hard work while students and faculty focus on the best part: Teaching and learning while developing soft skills. 

ChatGPT can write fairly good college assignments such as an essay with references, it can write a literature review with academic references, it can even write a method section if prompted to do so, according to Dr. Matty Wood, , a former university lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of the West of England Bristol (UWE) in the United Kingdom, who currently works as a Digital Learning Developer. “ChatGPT is very good at synthesis of information, excels at short answers, and is remarkable at generating recommendations,” he commented while demonstrating how the AI tool can be used in assessment.  

Dr. Wood has a YouTube channel where he discusses the use of technology in higher education. Dr. Wood recently tested and demonstrated the implications of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and AI tools such as ChatGPT in higher education as well as sharing some thoughts and ideas on how it can be used as an assessment tool.

ChatGPT can become rather useful for both students and researchers in a variety of situations including the following:

  • It can work very well as a study tool
  • It can excel as a synthesis tool
  • It might trigger critical thinking and questions such as: How would I write this differently?
  • It might trigger creativity in assessment: How would I mark this differently? 

Reimagining and updating the syllabuses:

Dr. Wood suggests the following as ways of using ChatGPT creatively as a tool assessing students:

  • Getting students to optimize search prompts
  • Writing critiques off the responses created by tools such as ChatGPT
  • Getting students to submit evidence in different forms of media

Dr. Wood believes that it is more meaningful, interesting, and exciting to think about how faculty can embrace AI tools, encompassing these tools into a more authentic model of thinking about assessment in higher education. “A new emphasis could be on more authentic writing styles,” he says.

Similarly, Dr. Cynthia Abby, Professor of Teacher Education and Lead Developer for the Governor’s Teaching Fellows Program, believes that ChatGPT and other AI are funneling us toward two possible worlds: Increased punishment, control, and surveillance or, spectacular freedom.

When one of Dr. Wood’s friends who does not work in higher education hear that ChatGPT not only can generate an assignment complete with academic references but also can generate feedback to such assignment he said: “If AI can do the coursework, and AI can mark the coursework, then you can use the time you save to do some teaching and learning.” Indeed, Dr. Wood says “we over assess with essay writing.”

By spending less time doing research and writing a first draft, students can then use the time to focus on improving the ChatGPT generated essay to reflect their own thoughts, opinions, and ideas, making it better and unique to reflect their personal style.

Dr. Wood reflects on the future of higher education and says that going forward, there will be less certainty whether a straightforward piece of writing has been written by a human or by a bot. “I think in a lot of cases it’s going to be a hybrid between the two,” he says. Indeed, he speaks of a human-machine collaboration in higher education, pretty much as it will happen in many other industries.

And even though some colleges could use proctoring software or go back to in-person exams in an attempt to locking down AI-generated writing, or even start to ban or accuse people of using these tools, he believes a better approach is to learn to use the technology to incorporate it into a more authentic model of thinking about assessment in higher education with emphasis on more authentic writing styles.    

For Dr. Wood, the current AI explosion could be an opportunity to think about more pragmatic assessment. “ […] assessment models where we think more cohesively about students learning across the whole program, submitting a whole lot of evidence in different formats, and it would be more difficult just to get ChatGPT or another tool to do the bigger work for a bigger assignment like that.”

Reimagining how higher education and assessment look like alongside NLP and AI is an opportunity to become more creative, to develop critical thinking, and to exercise and develop trust which indeed, has the potential to lead to spectacular freedom. 

For more articles on ChatGPT in higher education, see:

AI in Higher Education: ChatGPT is Only the Beginning

Professors Face Challenges with Students Using AI Writing Tool