DUB's student podcast discusses ChatGPT

'Make use of it and become an expert'

studentenpodcast DUB aflevering 1 foto: DUB
Foto: DUB

Will ChatGPT give rise to changes as extensive as those engendered by Google? That's the main question Lou Boshart, a third-year student of Liberal Arts & Sciences at UCU, tries to answer in the podcast (you can listen to it here if you can understand Dutch, Ed.). How should students deal with all the possibilities offered by the chatbot? What kinds of use should the university allow? 

To answer these questions, Lou invited Professor Antal van den Bosch, who teaches Language Technology and Artificial Intelligence, to the table. Van den Bosch is a pioneer when it comes to ChatGPT research, supervising students studying the topic. Lou also invited Marijne Wijnker, Project Manager at the Centre for Academic Teaching & Training, who advises lecturers on how to deal with AI tools such as ChatGPT.

A collaboration between humans and machine
"In my view, ChatGPT is a fine collaboration between humans and machines," she says. "I use it to translate texts from English to Dutch and to send e-mails to lecturers. I type in all my bullet points and then ask it to write me a polite e-mail based on that." She also uses ChatGPT to ask questions about programming. "Back in the day, you had to submit such questions to a forum. Now, ChatGPT can give you the answer just like that."

Antal van den Bosch also gives regular assignments to ChatGPT, partly because he is studying the tool, so he wants to know how it works. But he also uses it to get rid of writer's block. "It is always hard to start writing something. That's when I tell ChatGPT: 'Please do that for me.'"

However, the researcher warns that "the information provided by ChatGPT is not always correct. I once asked which well-known Dutch writer managed to score a hit on the Top 40. The chatbot not only came up with an answer but it even gave me the name of the song. However, there is no way that answer could be correct because there is no Dutch writer who's had a song on the hit parade."

Chatting at a high level 
That doesn't mean that you have to put ChatGPT aside, says the professor. "There used to be other chatbots that could answer questions. ChatGPT just represents a huge leap in this area because the whole world is interested in it and the results are good. ChatGPT has taken chatting with a computer to a higher level."

In his research, the professor tests the ChatGPT's abilities by letting it compete with a number of human volunteers. Most progress can be seen in the area of language command. For example, one of the tests he's conducted asked the chatbot to fill in the gaps in a text, something ChatGPT is really good at. Then, human volunteers had to guess what words should be written in the blank spaces as well.

ChatGPT is groundbreaking when it comes to generating compelling texts. Wijnker: "Students have been using it to improve the style of their written assignments, something that lecturers can certainly appreciate since they no longer have to struggle with poorly-formulated sentences full of grammar mistakes."

A huge grey area
But when do these beautifully-written sentences cross the line and become plagiarism? Both guests had a hard time answering that one. Antal van den Bosch: "The rules are clear. You can't submit a text that you didn't write yourself. But there is a huge grey area. What if you did write the text yourself but then you used ChatGPT to improve it? In that case, it isn't possible to detect the use of ChatGPT every single time. Lecturers do sense when students didn't write their assignments all by themselves but they can't prove anything."

Another question covered by the podcast is to what extent students should use ChatGPT to gather information. Can ChatGPT be cited as a source? That question isn't easy to answer, either. Van den Bosch: "It's always risky to use information obtained through ChatGPT without checking it. The margin of error is significant. If you do use it that way, then you should be honest about how you obtained your information."

Informing your sources
Lou has a good example of that. "I once attended the lecture of a PhD candidate who had asked ChatGPT to make a theoretical analysis of a certain book. The answer was well-written and the analysis was on point. The PhD candidate wanted to use that exact sentence in his thesis but was puzzled about who to cite as a source.

"That's a good example, indeed," reacts Van den Bosch. "In this case, he should be transparent about his entire process: what kind of prompt he gave to the bot and the book that was being analysed."

The main problem with citing ChatGPT is that the tool does not tell you the sources it used to come up with its answer. There is no link you can refer to. For this reason, Van den Bosch thinks it's hard to use ChatGPT as a source in a thesis or research.

No open questions
Lou and Sheetal admit to using ChatGPT to search for basic information. "I had to write an essay about intelligent fungi and single-celled organisms, two things I knew nothing about. So, I started asking ChatGPT some questions. Whenever I didn't understand something, I'd just keep on asking. This way, the chatbot allowed me to have the basic knowledge necessary to understand what was in the textbook."

Van den Bosch: "It is a good method to keep on asking but remember to avoid using open questions as much as possible. The more information you give to the bot, the more trustworthy the results are going to be. Although there is always the risk of asking questions based on incorrect information and then falling down a rabbit hole that you don't want to fall into."

UU lecturers can't yet turn to university-wide guidelines on how to deal with ChatGPT. Wijnker: "Everything is changing so fast. You can't catch up with that. At the moment, our policy is to give lecturers the prerogative to decide the extent to which they will use ChatGPT in their classes. We're currently gathering information about all the teachers who are doing things in this regard, which should lead to a guidebook on how to interact with AI in higher education. For instance, we've noticed that lecturers use ChatGPT to go through readings when things aren't clear. But a lot still needs to be discovered."

"That's the beauty of our times," adds Antal van den Bosch. "Make use of it and become an expert. Those who delve deeper into it will be pioneers and get a lot of opportunities."

"Use your common sense, though," warns Sheetal, to which van den Bosch and Wijnker agree. "Don't be fooled by misinformation, stay alert. You should always check and double-check."

This is the first podcast of the DUB Student Podcast. Four students have been selected for this series. Meet them here. This episode is about ChatGPT. Upcoming topics include: being addicted to your mobile, female students who have to study with adhd and normalisation of drugs in the student world. On the English page we make reports.  If you want to hear it (in Dutch):