‘No getting rid of it’: Students voice mixed feelings about the use of ChatGPT


AP Photo/Richard Drew

The logo for OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, appears on a mobile phone in New York, Tuesday, Jan. 31.

By James Paul, Staff Writer

Grant Kokenberger said the first time he interacted with ChatGPT he was just “playing around.” Since then, he said he’s used it in almost all of his classes. 

“I’ve used it in biology, and it can pick out multiple-choice answers from groups of answers and questions,” Kokenberger, a first-year biology major, said. “Chemistry it’s not very good at, the math-based stuff it has a little trouble with, but if you put something in for English or grammar or something like that, it can help.”

The company OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November and, according to their website, it is a language model that “interacts in a conversational way.” With its ability to write entire essays, solve multiple choice questions and streamline research, students at Pitt and across the country have used it to assist with school work, though some worry about plagiarism and the implications the software has on critical thinking.

For Kokenberger, the software’s inaccuracies in chemistry and math problem sets mean he mostly uses it for help in his writing-based general education requirements. Though he doesn’t directly submit essays written by ChatGPT, he said it’s useful when formulating ideas. 

“The first time I used it in school was to figure out some ideas for a paper that I was writing,” Kokenberger said. “I just kind of put in the prompt and it kind of gave a general outline of some ideas that I could write about and I went from there.”

Pitt should not consider the use of ChatGPT plagiarism because it simply compiles and “streamlines” information that he said he could find online, according to Kokenberger.

Kokenberger said he’s already had a professor mention using counter-software to detect if an essay was written by ChatGPT. However, he said he recalled reading about another open-access site to rewrite ChatGPT output to make it sound more natural.

“I mean, I know they have software to detect if you’re using it, but then they just came out with more software to rewrite it,” Kokenberger said. “It’s open AI, so it’s an open access thing. You can download the code, like, they could ban it, but you’re still gonna have access to it.”

Kokenberger said he could understand why universities are incentivized to ban the software, but given its widespread use and ease of access, “there’s really no getting rid of it at this point.”

Callie Stoltz, a first-year political science major, said while she’s interested in the technology, she hasn’t used it for her classes because she’s worried a professor will cite her for plagiarism. Though she herself doesn’t consider it plagiarism, she said “the school probably does.”

“If other people use it, I don’t really have an issue with that,” Stoltz said. “It’s just for me personally, I don’t want to get too caught using it. And I feel like it wouldn’t write essays like the way I would want them to be written.”

Stoltz said students should make the distinction between major and non-major classes when it comes to using ChatGPT. She said if she were to start using it, it would only be for fact-based multiple-choice assignments that don’t require “analytical essay writing,” as her major does.

“I think a lot of the American education system is set up to memorize, regurgitate, and then you forget after a multiple choice test,” Stoltz said. “You’re just memorizing info and spitting it back, and then you forget it because you don’t really need it.” 

Additionally, Stoltz said beyond “generic” writing assignments, she’s worried about the accuracy of ChatGPT. For example, she said she has to pitch public art projects specific to Pittsburgh for her “Art in Public” class, a task she can’t imagine ChatGPT being able to accomplish.

“I don’t think it would be useful for my classes,” Stoltz said. “Like if I had a really generic essay that I thought I could write, then I might use it and take ideas from it and then write my own essay, but I don’t know. For me, it’s just not worth it in the long run.”

Michelangelo Montelone, a Pitt alumnus who graduated in 2000 with an interdisciplinary degree in global culture and travel writing, writes for a Pitt athletics blog, Pitt POV. Last month he edited and published an article, written by ChatGPT, describing the success of Pitt’s basketball team with the dramatization of the movie “Gladiator.”

“I don’t really have time to write as much as I’d like to, and the basketball team won their third game in a row by one point, and I’m like, you know, let me just see what ChatGPT can do,” Montelone said. “Like [the article] is really general and it has no specifics, but it does sort of capture the essence of what I was trying to do.”

Montelone said based on the ChatGPT written article, he’s not worried about being replaced as a writer anytime soon. The comments left by readers of the article definitively stated that the article was “nowhere near the quality of the work” Pitt POV usually produces.

“Is it potentially a terrifying portend for the future?” Montelone said. “Maybe, but, like, right now, it’s not there. It’s not even close to what a finely crafted researched and opinionated article can be, and so my personal opinion is that ChatGPT has a long way to go.”