Have you found yourself worried or overwhelmed in thinking about the implications of artificial intelligence for your discipline? Whether, for example, your department’s approaches to teaching basic skills such as library research and source evaluation still hold up? You’re not alone. As we enter another school year, many educators continue to think deeply about questions of truth and misinformation, creativity, and how large language model (LLM) tools such as chatbots are reshaping higher education. Along with our students, faculty (oh, and instructional designers) must consider new paradigms for our collective media literacy.
Here’s a quick backstory for this two-part post. In late spring, shortly after the “stable release” of ChatGPT to iOS, I started chatting with bot model GPT-3.5, which innovator Ethan Mollick describes as “very fast and pretty solid at writing and coding tasks,” if a bit lacking in personality. Other, internet-connected models, such as Bing, have made headlines for their resourcefulness and darker, erratic tendencies. But so far, access to GPT-4 remains limited, and I wanted to better understand the more popular engine’s capabilities. At the time, I was preparing a workshop for a creative writing conference. So, I asked ChatGPT to write a short story in the modern style of George Saunders, based in part on historical events. The chatbot’s response, a brief burst of prose it titled “Language Unleashed,” read almost nothing like Saunders. Still, it got my participants talking about questions of authorship, originality, representation, etc. Check, check, check.
The next time I sat down with the GPT-3.5, things went a little more off-script.
One faculty developer working with Ecampus had asked our team about establishing learning norms in a 200-level course dealing with sensitive subject matter. As a writing instructor, I had bookmarked a few resources in this vein, including strategies from the University of Colorado Boulder. So, I asked ChatGPT to create a bibliographic citation of Creating Collaborative Classroom Norms, which it did with the usual lightning speed. Then I got curious about what else this AI model could do, as my colleagues Philip Chambers and Nadia Jaramillo Cherrez have been exploring. Could ChatGPT point me to some good resources for faculty on setting norms for learning in online college classes?
“Certainly!” came the cheery reply, along with a summary of five sources that would provide me with “valuable information and guidance” (see Image 1). Noting OpenAI’s fine-print caveat (“ChatGPT may produce inaccurate information about people, places, or facts”), I began opening each link, expecting to be teleported to university teaching centers across the country. Except none of the tabs would load properly.
“Sorry we can’t find what you’re looking for,” reported Inside Higher Ed. “Try these resources instead,” suggested Stanford’s Teaching Commons. A closer look with Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine confirmed that the five sources in question were, like “Language Unleashed,” entirely fictitious.
Image 1: An early, hallucinatory chat with ChatGPT-3.5
As Mollick would explain months later: “it is very easy for the AI to ‘hallucinate’ and generate plausible facts. It can generate entirely false content that is utterly convincing. Let me emphasize that: AI lies continuously and well. Every fact or piece of information it tells you may be incorrect. You will need to check it all.”
The fabrications and limitations of chatbots lacking real-time access to the ever-expanding web have by now been well-documented. But as an early adopter, the speed and confidence ChatGPT brought to the task of inventing and describing fake sources felt unnerving. And without better guideposts for verification, I expect students less familiar with the evolution of AI will continue to experience confusion, or worse. As the Post recently reported, chatbots can easily say offensive things and act in culturally-biased ways—”a reminder that they’ve ingested some of the ugliest material the internet has to offer, and they lack the independent judgment to filter that out.”
Just how, exactly, we’re supposed to “check it all” happens to be the subject of a lively, forthcoming collaboration from two education researchers who have been following the intersection of new media and misinformation for decades.
Stay tuned for an upcoming post with the second installment of “Media Literacy in the Age of AI,” a review of Verified: How to Think Straight, Get Duped Less, and Make Better Decisions about What to Believe Online by Mike Caulfield and Sam Wineburg (University of Chicago Press, November 2023).
Mollick, E. (2023, July 15). How to use AI to do stuff: An opinionated guide. One Useful Thing.
Wroe, T., & Volckens, J. (2022, January). Creating collaborative classroom norms. Office of Faculty Affairs, University of Colorado Boulder.
Yu Chen, S., Tenjarla, R., Oremus , W., & Harris, T. (2023, August 31). How to talk to an AI chatbot. The Washington Post.