Should Universities ban ChatGPT? Uncovering the risks and benefits of AI-powered writing in Academics. | Fieldfisher
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Should Universities ban ChatGPT? Uncovering the risks and benefits of AI-powered writing in Academics.



As a young lawyer I fought relentlessly on behalf of students who had been failed in their exams. I heard the same question over and over again, posed in various ways - had my clients crossed any legal lines? The answer was often a sobering yes; some had brazenly attempted to cheat, while others had inadvertently dipped their toes into plagiarism when it came to their dissertations and theses. There were countless blurred lines that, with the wrong footstep, could send a student from law-abiding to criminal.
But debates like these are now a thing of the past, due to the emergence of ChatGPT and other AI assistants. Entire essays can now be written by an automated system and it's no surprise that some universities are putting an end to this, forbidding students to use AI-generated content. Is this necessary or do we all need to rethink our opinions on the matter?


What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a variant of GPT-3, a language model trained by OpenAI to respond to humans in conversation. It generates human-like text and can engage in natural-sounding conversations on various topics. It can be used in customer service, chatbots, and virtual assistants.
GPT is AI built around linguistic modeling, allowing the public to experience it. OpenAI also upgraded its art-generation software, DALL-E and Lensa AI, showing how close AI is to matching human capabilities.
For those that have yet to experience ChatGPT, now is the time to take the plunge. Registration is still free, but the Artificial Intelligence capabilities are simply mind-blowing. Newspapers abound with quotes from academics all extolling the virtues of the tool and its potential to create papers of an academic caliber. The threat of students using the platform to craft their academic projects such as baccalaureates and masters theses can no longer be ignored!


Overview of the Debate Surrounding the Use of ChatGPT

The use of ChatGPT has been a subject of fierce debate. On one hand, there are those who feel the tool is beneficial, as it would save time for learners and allow them to focus on other activities. Conversely, some view it as a way of cheating, since users can leverage the technology to generate a paper that isn't originally theirs.
Recently, the New York City Department of Education released a statement prohibiting ChatGPT in classrooms. This organization recognized it as a gateway to academic dishonesty, and felt the learning environment should promote the sharing of knowledge instead of automated conversation software. The rule will be put into effect right away in all learning institutions associated with the Department of Education. Reactions to this ban are split; some believe it will protect the system from corruption, while others argue that it limits the freedom of teachers and students to implement the best resources for their success.
But is this the right approach?

Benefits of AI writing tools in education such as ChatGPT

Clearly there are benefits to student writing with AI.
Improved Student Writing
Students are harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence to not only craft superior-quality work, but also to hone their own writing skills in the process. By utilizing AI writing tools, they are capable of becoming experts in all facets of writing, from grammar and syntax to best practices in researching and crafting complex essays. For example, Grammaly is a powerful AI assistant that allows students and researchers alike to improve their writing exponentially by providing detailed feedback and guidance. This groundbreaking technology doesn’t generate content for you, but can substantially shape and refine your own works into perfect results.
Increased Creativity
ChatGPT sparks creativity in students, pushing them outside of the comfort zone of structured academic writing. It encourages them to explore different ways of expressing their ideas, and to think deeply about the possible implications of their work. This opens up a realm of original thinking that is essential for success in the academic world.
Accessibility and Affordability
ChatGPT is highly affordable and can be used affordably by students from all walks of life, regardless of their financial circumstances. This removes potential barriers for students who may not have access to the same resources as their peers. It also provides students with a tool that can help them to improve their writing quality, regardless of their ability.


Risks of ChatGPT

On the one hand, ChatGPT can be a boon to students, helping them to quickly complete their assignments. On the other hand, its use carries a significant risk - by becoming too reliant on it, students can become lazy and could potentially fail their class. I'm faced with a difficult choice - should I take the easy route and use ChatGPT, or put in the effort and go the traditional route?
Let's have a look at the most significant risks:
Lack of Control Over Quality
The convenience of using ChatGPT to generate an initial draft of their paper is undeniable, yet without rigorous checking and control over the quality, students may be at risk of submitting a paper which is sub-par or even plagiarised. To make matters worse, this could result in a low grade or even being reprimanded for academic dishonesty.
From the lawyer's point of view, the student holds the full risk. He cannot take back his submission or prove that he trusted in the correctness of ChatGPT's elaborations. On the contrary: Whoever submits a scientific paper declares to have worked scientifically and to have checked the correctness of the explanations (or at least their justifiability) according to scientific standards. If the explanations are wrong, the student will pay for it.
Unauthorized Use of Copyrighted Materials and the risk of plagiarism
The potential risks associated with ChatGPT were both frightening and exhilarating. On one hand, it could provide an outlet for students to access academic materials quickly and easily. However, this could also lead to serious legal troubles if the materials were copyrighted or plagiarism if the student used the content as their own.
The worry of plagiarism should be at the forefront of a student's thinking. Despite the lure of submitting someone else's work as their own, they know that the penalties would be severe - from a fail grade to expulsion from the university or having their degree revoked. What's more, plagiarism would damage their reputation as a scholar and have long-term repercussions.
When asked about legal issues, ChatGPT responded that there were none as long as it was used according to OpenAI's terms. However, they highlighted the importance of consulting a legal professional if specific questions or concerns arise.
And of course – genius cheaters
Cheating has been a chronic problem in the academic world for many years, but with the rise of AI technology, it seems to be getting worse. Students can now access and manipulate massive amounts of data with ease and minimal risk of detection. They have access to answers for tests and assignments that would have otherwise been impossible to obtain. AI can even be used to ensure that the student's work gets top-notch grades, as it can automatically retrieve the correct information from numerous sources. With AI, it's now much easier for cheaters to get away with their actions.


But…is it really cheating?

But let's consider the question: Is it really so wrong to allow geniuses to get their degree with the help of AI? Hear me out.
The truth is undeniable: It is becoming essential for students to understand AI in order to thrive in the ever-changing future.
The world is changing at a rapid rate, and technology is inevitably following. AI has become more and more important for students to come up to speed on if they want to be successful in their subsequent careers. Universities must prioritize the teaching of AI technologies to give students an edge in a quickly-becoming increasingly competitive job market. AI has become a cornerstone of almost all industries, and mastering it can give students the ability to analyze data faster, solve problems more efficiently, and make decisions quicker than ever before. Students that learn AI can become highly specialized leaders in their field, and make the most of their chosen profession.  
AI can give college students an advantage when searching for a job. Companies want employees who are able to use AI to gather and assess data, devise strategies, and make educated decisions. AI can make individuals stand out from the pack and give them the edge over other applicants.
AI is being practiced to automate monotonous tasks, saving students energy and time so they can take care of more intricate problems. For example, AI can swiftly and accurately sort through large amounts of data, allowing the student to dedicate their time to studying and understanding the implications of their discoveries. AI can likewise be utilized to automate certain types of research, freeing up time for students to focus on the deeper implications of their work.
It appears essential for universities to teach AI to their students so they are ready for the future. By using AI, students can become more valuable personnel in the work force, helping everyone in the process.
Therefore, prohibiting AI does not appear to me to be a sensible solution.


An inconvenient truth

The risks associated with ChatGPT have become increasingly apparent, prompting Joseph South, chief learning officer at the International Association for Technology in Education, to urge those considering blocking the bot to understand that doing so may only be a temporary solution. Despite efforts to contain it, experts warn that the bot's popularity is likely to drive students to find other ways of accessing it, making it difficult for teachers to identify when a student has used the AI-powered platform. To address this, several AI firms have created programs to help detect when students are taking advantage of the bot.



The use of ChatGPT poses both a great opportunity and a great risk for students. The potential gains are tremendous; improved writing quality, increased creativity, and greater affordability and accessibility are just some of the potential rewards. But with these potential rewards come considerable risks; lack of quality control, unauthorized use of copyrighted material, and an increased risk of plagiarism looms overhead. With such critical decisions at stake, universities must weigh the risks against the rewards before deciding to implement or ban the use of ChatGPT.
The time has come to abandon traditional modes of learning and testing, as artificial intelligence will render them obsolete or meaningless. Such a thought can be daunting, yet out of discomfort often arises progress. So it is time to embrace AI and explore the new possibilities it can provide us.

​Dennis Hillemann is a specialist in administrative law and a partner in our Hamburg office. He has recently published and lectured on the use of AI in the public sector. In addition, he advises companies and public authorities on digitalization issues.