You are not alone if you’re curious about ChatGPT or other generative AI tools to help with your course load this semester. A recent poll found that 30 percent of U.S. college students (out of 1,000) currently use ChatGPT for written assignments, and nearly 60 percent use it on at least half of their homework. However, as this technology becomes more ubiquitous, it raises ethical concerns about potentially breaking academic rules.
When leveraged as a supplementary resource — not as a replacement for original work — ChatGPT can help you brainstorm creative ideas, streamline the research process, and boost productivity to increase the overall learning experience. However, before you start automating all essays and written assignments, familiarize yourself with campus and instructor policies, then follow these guidelines to ensure responsible AI usage.
Harness ChatGPT as a Learning Aid
Generative AI should tap into your existing skills and reinforce your knowledge of the topic — it should not complete the whole assignment for you. Utilizing ChatGPT and similar tools to build on critical concepts and flesh out the material will enrich educational outcomes, so here are a few effective ways to harness the learning potential of this new technology:
- Creative Ideation: If you’re unsure which direction to take the assignment, ChatGPT is a valuable brainstorming collaborator. Input a one-sentence query (such as: “Help me draft a thesis for an essay on the socioeconomic impact of climate disasters”), then let ChatGPT formulate ideas. This process will provide fresh angles to spark creativity.
- Editing Assistance: Not only is ChatGPT a helpful writing tool, but it can also assist with revisions. For example, suppose a section of the assignment doesn’t flow smoothly, or a central point you want to emphasize comes across as jumbled. In that case, ChatGPT will edit your work to refine the grammar, sentence structure, concision, and overall coherence.
- Subject Matter Clarity: ChatGPT can help you gain a clearer, more simplistic understanding when faced with a complex or technical subject matter. For instance, you can ask questions such as: “Describe string theory to me like I am a fifth-grader.” ChatGPT will churn out a basic explanation to guide your research further.
- Multilingual Projects: ChatGPT also has a translation feature to ensure your content makes sense and follows the correct grammatical mechanics if a specific assignment requires you to use another language. For example: “Write a 500-word essay on the health benefits of cardiovascular exercise in English, then translate it into French.”
Contribute Your Unique Insights
Think of ChatGPT as a primer to organize and outline the project — from there, it’s your job to expand on that generative AI material with your research, insights, and analysis. While over 65 percent of surveyed educators think college students use ChatGPT responsibly, they still expect to see coursework with a unique writing style and original ideas.
Ultimately, the assignment should reflect your voice (not an AI robot), so use ChatGPT’s output as a basic skeletal frame, then fill in the more substantive parts yourself. Here are some ways to infuse your stamp on content generated from ChatGPT:
- Provide Clear Instructions: Specify all the details you want ChatGPT to include (topic, tone, style, angle, intent, etc.). The more precise your instructions, the more accurate and less ambiguous ChatGPT’s response will be. For instance: “Write me a 1,000-word undergraduate-level essay that outlines the importance of renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions in a tone that sounds both academic and conversational.”
- Ask Follow-Up Questions: If the initial response doesn’t align with your intent, provide more context or ask some follow-up questions to steer ChatGPT in the right direction. You can ask it to expand on a specific idea with queries like, “Could you tell me how you reached that conclusion?” Or you can offer feedback such as, “This writing style feels too elevated. Rephrase it for an audience with basic knowledge of the subject.”
- Offer Illustrative Examples: Help ChatGPT nail down the specific tone or format you’re looking for with clear examples to illustrate. For instance, if it’s a creative writing project, tell ChatGPT to generate a blank verse poem in iambic pentameter that uses the ocean to metaphorize the ebbs and flows of living. A colorful description will make it easier for this generative model to interpret and execute your vision for the output.
Cite and Review AI-Created Content
Be transparent if you use a generative AI model like ChatGPT for individual assignments or collaborative projects. Communicate with your professor beforehand to ensure they allow AI usage, and then remember to cite the platform as one of your sources. ChatGPT is a valuable tool, but submitting generated content without explicit attribution can be plagiarism. When in doubt, lead with honesty to maintain academic integrity.
It’s also important to review all ChatGPT content before submitting it to check its accuracy against other credible sources. As impressive as AI technology is, it’s not infallible — just 10 percent of surveyed users report high trust in generative AI content. To avoid misrepresenting critical information or data points in an assignment, research to ensure that ChatGPT’s claims are reliable, then include each cross-reference in your citations.
If you’re unsure how to correctly attribute ChatGPT, the online proofreading tool Scribbr breaks it down for you in all three main academic citation styles: MLA, APA, and Chicago. Even unintentional plagiarism can carry serious repercussions, so the more conscientious you are with generative AI, the safer you’ll be.
Follow these Guidelines for Responsible ChatGPT Use
ChatGPT and similar generative AI models have immense potential to bolster your educational pursuits. These tools can help you tackle academic challenges, harness creativity, increase productivity, and reinforce learning outcomes. But if you use ChatGPT to augment your studies, follow these guidelines to a “T.” You’ll sidestep any ethical concerns and position yourself for a successful, enriching semester here on campus.
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