Since November, one of the biggest questions on everyone's mind has been: What is ChatGPT? This AI chatbot has the ability to write essays, debug code, create poems, and give slightly terrible relationship advice. However, it raises a major question for schools like Mercersburg: can students use ChatGPT?
“I think we're still in the beginning stages of thinking about what it could mean to use ChatGPT in the classroom,” Alexandra Patterson, Director of Library Services and English teacher, said. “It’s such a new tool that we are exploring how it works, and it’s hard to create regulations for something you don’t understand.” Michele Poacelli, Writing Center Director and English Department Head, added, “I feel like right now the best approach is to be both curious and playful, before rushing to be like in some kind of state of alarm.”
It seems a popular misconception that using ChatGPT always means plagiarism or cheating, but that is not the case. “I think right now there’s a lot of fear surrounding it, because people aren’t really familiar with the tool,” Tech Integration Specialist Nicole Brown said, “[but] the thing is, it can be a very useful tool.”
Several teachers actually have expressed their interest in using ChatGPT in their classes. “What ChatGPT does really well is generate a list of themes or topics to think about,” Patterson noted. “It provides this framework,” said Brown, “so I can use it to get [the students] started, like a scaffold.” Poacelli described it as a ping-pong match: “You come up with an idea, and you volley off [ChatGPT’s ideas], and then you come up with ideas to refine [ChatGPT’s ideas].” There are many ways ChatGPT can be used in assignments to help a student’s learning, and teachers are “navigating what those boundaries look like,” Patterson said.
Currently, expectations for using ChatGPT are subject to the school’s policy on academic honesty. “Fundamentally, if you're using something that includes information that you do not know that you are passing off as your own, that's a problem.” Jennifer Smith, Dean of Academics, clarified, “Just like any other resource, if you’re using ChatGPT and not citing that you used it, it’s definitely academic misconduct.” Justine O’Connell, Head of the Conduct Review Committee, said, “It's important for students to ask questions if it doesn't explicitly say, [so] ask your teacher before you start to use [ChatGPT].”
Students have been testing the benefits and limits of ChatGPT. “I think that ChatGPT is great for logical thinking, and could give great evidence,” Cocona Yamamoto ’23 said; “However, I believe that it is lacking when it comes to lateral thinking, or when thinking out of the box.” Hongyu Jasmine Zhu ‘23 said, “The few times that I have interacted with ChatGPT, I dared the bot to render an excerpt of a Chinese short story into English as a literary translator. The results were to my surprise. Its choices of diction, syntax, and cadences, while no match for a professional literary translator… seemed well beyond what Google Translate is capable of.”
Many students also voiced thoughtful concerns. “ChatGPT is a dishonest method for students to cheat and get ahead of other students that actually put in the effort,” said Sean Flaherty ‘26. “It discourages learning and encourages shortcuts for a better grade.” “AI is becoming smarter and more dangerous at the same time,” Emily Tan ‘24 said. “I think it’s kind of scary that AI is so advanced right now, but I guess this might help people work much more efficiently in the future,” said Samuel Zhao ‘24.
Poacelli affirmed that there would be institutional thought put into next steps concerning ChatGPT. “Wherever the school lands on this, it will be after a lot of vetting and a lot of conversation and a lot of different perspectives being brought to your question.”