ChatGPT: Product Over Process?

Amid the growing popularity of ChatGPT, the Editorial Board calls for the college to make curricular changes in defense of critical, original thought.

No matter what classes you’re taking this semester, chances are high that conversations about AI have infiltrated your classrooms. While our cultural zeitgeist has been preoccupied with the rise of AI for decades, the advent of ChatGPT has made previously hypothetical discussions eerily tangible, particularly in academic circles. One in five college students nationwide has used ChatGPT to complete assignments. As such, it is necessary not only for our community to reflect on the changes ChatGPT will bring to our academic culture, but also for the college to lay the groundwork for regulation and adaptation.

After all, if programs such as ChatGPT can create an equivalent product to the work of actual students with none of the time and hassle, won’t that only further devalue the humanities, a discipline already in a precarious position? Is there even a need for human writers anymore? Perhaps this worry doesn’t seem so realistic in the present — the Editorial Board would argue that using ChatGPT in its current iteration would only be a detriment to one’s academic achievements. But as the writing and synthesizing capabilities of AI become stronger in coming years, it is necessary for us to reflect on what we value in the learning process and ensure that the productive capabilities of AI do not overshadow those values.

Take, for instance, academic writing. It may be tempting to use ChatGPT to complete essays, but in doing so, one completely bypasses the process of writing, much more important to a liberal arts education than the literal completed assignment. The value in human writing is not only the capacity for creativity and originality but the time and effort put in: the hours spent struggling with the material, discussing ideas with others, and synthesizing those ideas to form an argument. To let ChatGPT do that is not only to ruin your capacity for critical thinking and originality but to lose fundamental aspects of the student experience.

To some extent, therefore, in order to prevent our work from becoming indistinguishable from the algorithm’s, it is necessary for Amherst as a whole to undergo a cultural academic shift: Amherst classes should require us to be better than ChatGPT.

Too many writing-based classes at Amherst focus on the product of writing, rather than the process itself — that is to say, these classes involve assignments that require writing without incorporating the necessary analytical reasoning skills that will improve student writing in the long-term. This has three two consequences: firstly, it reduces the paper-writing process to its few pages of final product instead of a synthesis of ideas in collaboration with existing debates,  nullifying the possibility for interesting and original thought. Secondly, it encourages procrastination and last-minute completion of assignments — creating the stressful environment that drives students to use ChatGPT in the first place.

One solution is for classes to de-emphasize writing projects in favor of oral assignments. A shift towards oral exams and presentations could more effectively teach students how to communicate ideas clearly and formulate arguments in real time. This could also be a greater emphasis on discussion in even lecture-based classes, facilitating student engagement with peers. Rather than having classes centered around writing four or five major papers over the course of the semester or 10 mini-response papers, classes with one or two major papers that focus on the process of creating those papers could be much more effective in fighting the influx of ChatGPT product-oriented writing. We acknowledge that this argument works better in some disciplines than others — classes in STEM departments, such as computer science, are often forced to decenter discussion due to the structure of their discipline. Rather than making any finalized arguments ourselves, we call upon each department to rethink the structure of their own classes in response to ChatGPT.

These responses can be positive as well. From generating practice problems for effective studying to helping draft the wording for emails and cover letters, ChatGPT could bring many benefits to students. But in order to maximize these benefits, students must have resources that can guide safe usage of ChatGPT, encouraging students to explore rather than live in fear of the dystopian AI.

Whatever decision the college makes in regards to regulating usage of ChatGPT, its relevance to our lives shows no signs of waning. The Editorial Board believes that the administration must show their dedication to this issue, considering its potential ramifications on education at Amherst and nationwide. Most importantly, academic departments need to take active steps to preserve the learning process and combat the dangers of AI usage.

Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 13; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 4).