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The Dartmouth
May 30, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

‘I’ll just stop grading’: Students, faculty reflect on ChatGPT after computer science course turns to paper exams

Students and faculty discussed how ChatGPT may change how homework assignments are completed and how students are assessed.

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After concerns that students were using ChatGPT to complete recitation assignments in COSC 10, “Problem Solving via Object-Oriented Programming,” computer science professor Timothy Pierson moved exams in the class from online to paper formats, according to an email he sent to students enrolled in the class on Jan. 18.

A student from the Class of 2025 currently taking the class estimated that a third of students in the course use the artificial intelligence tool in their work. The student spoke with The Dartmouth on the condition of anonymity, as he noted that he has violated the Academic Honor Principle by using ChatGPT to complete graded assignments. 

ChatGPT is a simple online artificial intelligence chatbot first launched in November 2022 that is capable of generating human-like text based on the input given by the user. ChatGPT is “powered by a large language model” and has been used for purposes ranging from creating song lyrics to writing essays, according to The Washington Post.

“Everybody whom I’ve talked to has used [ChatGPT],” the student said. “As soon as they find out about it, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is great.’ It can do so much, especially with coding.” 

Pierson said that there was “enough evidence” based on the fact that multiple students submitted the same code, and that he had already been considering a switch to paper exams, so “this was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“The big picture is that I’m certifying that you know the material,” Pierson said. “If all you’ve learned to do is take my question and paste it into ChatGPT … I can’t certify that you have.” 

The student described the move to paper exams in the class as “shocking” because it was announced after the add/drop period — in which students can switch classes — and on the last day in which students could choose the non-recording option.

“It’s just going to become a part of life, a part of how we work. So I think — for projects and homework assignments — it’s silly to try and curtail that use or say it’s cheating,” the student said.

The change came after some of Pierson’s teaching assistants expressed concern that students might be using ChatGPT on their assignments, according to Bill Zheng ’26, who is a TA for the class. Zheng and Amittai Wekesa ’24, who is also a TA, said they think very few students are actually using ChatGPT. 

“I don’t even think a lot of people have even touched it,” Zheng said. “I’m thinking less than 50 percent of students have even tried it, and then the people that are actively using it are less than 20 percent… I think that [20 percent] might even be high.”

The discussion comes amid a flurry of ChatGPT scandals at universities nationwide, as reported by the New York Times. Some professors are restructuring teaching styles and curricula to accommodate the new technology, according to the Times.

Philosophy professor and cognitive science program chair Adina Roskies described an “arms race” in technological development between systems like ChatGPT and AI detectors that educators can use to combat these advances. She warned that these detectors, while helpful as a “first pass” to detect plagiarism from AI, are easily “foiled.” However, more than 6,000 educators from institutions including Harvard University and Yale University have embraced GPTZero — a software designed to detect ChatGPT — created by Edward Tian, a senior at Princeton University. 

Faculty will have to decide how to deal with ChatGPT individually, according to Roskies. She anticipated a possible return to in-class essays, oral exams and participation grading — which she noted would be difficult for students who are shy about talking in class. 

“[These assessment methods] restrict the kind of thing that you can assess,” Roskies said. “You’re not then able to tell students what their writing is like, and I actually think learning to write is one of the most important skills that you can get in college.”

Roskies also said that the use of ChatGPT is frustrating for professors because it implies that class work is completed with the end goal of getting a “good grade,” as opposed to actually trying to understand material. 

“I certainly am not that interested in grading a lot of papers that are written by a machine because it’s extremely time consuming … And if it’s not a learning experience for the student, it’s a huge waste of my time,” Roskies said. “Maybe I’ll just stop grading, because it’s not about the grading. It’s about learning stuff and learning how to think about stuff.”

Pierson agreed with Roskies’s sentiments and added that interviews for computer science jobs often involve writing out code on a whiteboard. Students need to understand the introductory mechanics in the COSC 10 curriculum before they start taking shortcuts, he said.

Although Zheng and Wekesa noted that the use of ChatGPT is hard to detect, they said that they were skeptical of the utility of the technology to students who are in COSC 10. They cited the new paper exams and the difficulty of integrating ChatGPT into coding assignments. 

“If you’re sticking through this class … and you’re still using ChatGPT … you’re actually going to [need to] try to learn the material,” Zheng said. “If you’re just using it as a shortcut, as a method to jump over steps, then that’s obviously not helpful in the learning process.”

Wekesa said that ChatGPT also creates inequities between students who have knowledge of the technology and those who do not. Allowing students to use ChatGPT and teaching everyone how it can be incorporated into the learning process might be a solution, according to Wekesa.

Zheng and Pierson agreed that computer science is a rapidly changing field. 

“Maybe in the future there will be, literally, a ChatGPT class,” Zheng said. “That would actually be really cool.”