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ChatGPT and Me: Adapting to Teaching and Writing in the Age of AI

By Kenneth Campbell

In my first year as a Department Chair in 1992, I was in a meeting with the other chairs in my school when one of them informed me that he had sent me an email. “Email!” I replied. “What on Earth is an email?” (Those may not have been my exact words, but I did say something to that effect.) I left the meeting thinking I was busy enough and did not need yet another imposition on my time, which something called email seemed like it promised to be. While I was proven right, I think, that email has certainly come to occupy a fair portion of our time (those of a younger generation than mine are wondering, I am sure, what we ever did without it), I was definitely wrong in thinking that I could somehow avoid it and simply refuse to use it (though I know one of my colleagues who took exactly that approach until she sadly passed away a few years ago).

I open with this story because this past year when my handyman, of all people, informed me of the miracle of something called ChatGPT and proceeded to give me a demonstration, I was determined not to get caught behind the curve this time. I have never gone out of my way to seek out new technologies, but as I have learned about each new innovation of the past thirty years, I have been much quicker to embrace them and adapt, much to my overall benefit and productivity. I approached ChatGPT the same way and immediately downloaded it on my iPhone and laptop. Since then, I have experimented with it in a variety of ways and think I have started to learn the ways in which it is useful and appropriate to use to assist me in my working, teaching, and personal life, and ways in which I know I need to exercise care and discretion in its use. This has not made me an expert and I do not claim to write this article as such, but I believe it has equipped me to advise my students, identify when they have used it inappropriately, and to counsel some of my colleagues who have sought me out on the topic. In fact, many of my colleagues seem so bewildered by it that last semester I was asked to give a presentation on the topic to my departmental colleagues and have been approached to give another for interested faculty across my university this coming semester

I might add that in addition to my own use of ChatGPT, I have attended several webinars on the use of AI by faculty and students and read numerous articles on the topic. In this article, I will briefly share some of the more important general points I have taken away from the presentations I have attended and the literature I have read, followed by some examples of how I have used ChatGPT effectively, as well as those I have already discarded. I am sure everyone’s experience will be different, but if you are taking the time to read this article, I hope you will find something useful from what I have to share.

I have been somewhat surprised by some of my colleagues’ resistance to AI, though I understand some of the reservations they have expressed: that ChatGPT illicitly uses copyrighted material (something I understand they are working to address); that it is unreliable factually (sometimes true); that it is not completely up-to-date (which I expect to change soon); that it is not an adequate substitute for human creativity and expression (I particularly agree with this last point). But the one constant in the webinars and literature that have informed me on the subject is that AI is here to stay and we can use it or ignore it, but it is not going to go away. I have heard AI compared to a tutor for students and a teaching assistant for faculty—why would we not want students to take advantage of this tool, and why would we not want to, especially when it comes at little to no cost. Of course, every article or presentation I have come across has also included caveats about the use of AI, especially since there is currently such a wide range of approaches individuals seem to be taking to its use and no clear cut, universally accepted guidelines to follow. The most useful rule-of-thumb I have heard is to not use it in any way we would not allow our students to use it, and not allow our students to use it in any way we would not be comfortable using it ourselves. This may not be a precise enough standard for some, but it is at least perhaps useful as a general guideline or starting point.

What does this mean in terms of its precise or general uses? Certainly, AI is no substitute for our own writing, creativity, or perspective, nor should we rely upon it for such. I have discovered though that it can at times enhance my work or serve as a useful aid. If I share with ChatGPT an outline for a project on which I am working and ask it for feedback, I might get valuable suggestions for topics to include I did not think of on my own (in the same way that a colleague looking over a proposal might respond.) Out of curiosity, I might see what ChatGPT comes up with as a course outline based on the readings I have assigned, compare it with my own, and make adjustments if I like any of what it has suggested. I might ask it for primary source databases or suggested sources or readings on particular topics to see if it suggests some of which I was not already aware – which it has done for me on occasion. On the whole, I would say my relationship with ChatGPT has been positive, and I have even found it enjoyable engaging with it. I can get basic information or recommendations on an infinite range of topics without having to sift through the various options suggested by Google.

I understand that it does make mistakes and take that into account, just as one would with any information obtained online. I thought it might be of some assistance to me in grading and at times it can be, but I have found that if anything it adds to my grading time because any feedback it helps me with has to come on top of that which I had already planned to give. I have found my own evaluations of student papers more reliable than that offered by ChatGPT. If you ask it to help you draft something, its writing is so formulaic, that you don’t want to use it as a substitute for your own unique style. It is obvious to me when students submit something written by ChatGPT, perhaps precisely because I have become so familiar with it.

In short, although there have been times when I have discovered mistakes or errors in what ChatGPT tells me, on the whole I have found it a helpful tool and plan to continue using it, prepared, I hope, for the time when it becomes even more reliable and sophisticated and as indispensable in our lives as the technologies we have already adopted and cannot imagine living without—kind of like email.

Kenneth L. Campbell is a Professor of History at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, where he has taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses in British, Irish, and European history. He is a past recipient of Monmouth University’s Distinguished Teacher Award. He has written a number of books, including The Beatles and the 1960s: Reception, Revolution, and Social Change (2022) and History of Britain and Ireland: Prehistory to the Present (2023).