University-wide research

Nearly four in ten students use ChatGPT often

ChatGPT. Foto: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

If you suspect that students are often using generative AI tools such as ChatGPT to write essays and assignments, it looks like you are correct, according to a survey by Karin van Es and Dennis Nguyen.

Generative AI is a form of artificial intelligence that can be used to generate texts, images and audio, among other things. ChatGPT and Bard are examples of generative AI, but there are plenty of other chatbots.

In the study, 33 percent of students and 26 percent of teachers who reported using generative AI use it several times a month. 31 percent of students use it several times a week, while the percentage of teachers who do the same is 27 percent. There are hardcore users, too: 7 percent of students and teachers use it several times a day. But there is also a significant group that prefers to stay away from it: 28 percent of students said they rarely use generative AI, compared to 38 percent of teachers.

More than 80 percent of respondents have used generative AI tools at least once, although the number of students who are familiar with these tools is slightly higher than the number of teachers. The Faculty of Humanities is the only one where students seem more reluctant to use generative AI than the teachers. In that faculty, 78 percent of students have used generative AI, compared to 89 percent of teachers.

A total of 1,981 respondents participated in the survey, of which 1,633 were students and 348 were teachers. The results paint a picture of the use of generative AI at UU. The study investigated how UU students and teachers use generative AI in education, how they view this technology, what kind of risks they perceive, and how competent they judge themselves in generative AI use. Respondents were also asked about the support and training that students and teachers receive from the university to properly use such tools. The research is part of a Utrecht Education Incentive Fund (USO) project.

Most students (68 percent) and teachers (47 percent) who have used generative AI do so when working with text, such as writing papers, reports and e-mails. A third of UU students also use it for programming or coding. For teachers, that's one in five. There are major differences between faculties. At the Faculty of Science, programming and coding are most often done using generative AI. Students and teachers generate images with it to a lesser extent.

Writing coach
The students use generative AI while brainstorming, writing texts, attempting to clarify questions, explaining texts, and summarising texts. For example, before getting started with an assignment, they will use ChatGPT as a "nudge", asking it to come up with ideas. They also use it as a spelling and grammar checker, rewriting sentences accordingly.

In addition, students use it to explain or summarise course material. “If I don't understand something, I just ask ChatGPT,” writes a student. “It is really good at explaining difficult material or answering specific questions. That would take much longer if I asked the teacher,” someone else wrote.

They also indicate that they use generative AI because of its convenience: it just makes studying faster. “It saves time on tasks that require minimal mental effort,” writes one respondent.

A third of students indicate that they hardly use generative AI. They have several reasons not to use it, such as not deeming it necessary or preferring to do assignments themselves to learn from the experience. Some are afraid of being accused of plagiarism, while others find chatbots unreliable because they don't mention their sources.

Paid version
Teachers use generative AI to generate teaching materials (19 percent) or to demonstrate ChatGPT in class (27 percent). 7 percent of teachers who indicated that they use generative AI in education do so when checking assignments or grading.

Teachers are more likely to use the paid version of ChatGPT, which is of better quality. Students from the Faculty of Law, Economics & Governance are more inclined to pay for the service: 22 percent of students from that faculty are using the paid version, which is considerably more than average: considering the entire student community, only 9 percent of students surveyed indicated that they would pay for generative AI.

Students do not think it is unethical to use generative AI as a means of support or guidance. Having generative AI write a small part of the assignment is also okay, according to them.

In addition, students are generally more optimistic than teachers about the added value of generative AI in education, but both groups also see its dangers. The vast majority (86 percent) are concerned about the spread of misinformation.

Most respondents also believe that generative AI is being used at the expense of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They also think it is easier to commit fraud. In addition, concerns are expressed about privacy and data security, as well as about the negative impact of such tools on the climate due to their high energy consumption. About 40 percent of respondents it problematic. Only 1 percent saw no danger in generative AI.

Getting along with AI
The respondents have indicated that the university isn't clear enough about chatbot use. Some believe there should be a university-wide policy. Almost all students and teachers surveyed deem the training and support they have received from the university insusfficient. Only 1 percent of the teachers and 2 percent of think otherwise. 

Moreover, respondents think that generative AI is here to stay. According to some, for this very reason, the university must support teachers and students in the correct use of generative AI. In their view, it is the university's responsibility to provide information about the shortcomings of the technology. There can be major differences between courses and even courses in terms of what is and is not allowed.

Karin van Es and Dennis Nguyen also wrote an op-ed in which they make a number of recommendations about how to deal with generative AI.