TU Delft teachers on ChatGPT: ‘Banning it is pointless’

Artificial intelligence can help students in their writing and programming assignments. What should TU Delft teachers do about the much talked about ChatGPT? Some opinions.

Many teachers see ChatGPT as a potential tool. “This will take some work off our hands.” (Photo: Marjolein van der Veldt)

It writes texts and codes before your very eyes and does it well, certainly in English. The ChatGPT artificial intelligence writing tool has been so popular among a wide audience since its launch at the beginning of December 2022, that it is currently not accepting anymore new users. TU Delft students too are starting to discover the tool, our poll on Instagram reveals.  

We asked our followers whether they know the tool (88% of the 313 respondents said ‘yes’) and whether they have used it. To the latter question, 34% said ‘no’, 50% used it ‘for fun’, and 16% already uses it in writing papers and assignments. One student writes that he used ChatGPT to have Python, a programming language, run a simulation of a heat flow through a pipe. “And it worked!”

Another student, Arian Joyandeh, studies Applied Mathematics and Computer Science. He is currently using ChatGPT to write his master’s thesis. “It’s a bit like having a mentor helping me out, but where the barrier to ask for help is non-existent. For example, when I do not understand a certain definition introduced in a paper, a definition which is quite standard in the field that is why the authors are not explaining it, I can ask ChatGPT to explain it to me.”

Joyandeh has worked with another artificial intelligence (AI) tool, Github Copilot, to help write codes. He does not believe that he is fooling his teachers. “I still need to ‘accept’ proposals that Copilot gives me.” To his mind this ‘curating code’ is in fact what every programmer does. Furthermore, he uses the code that he has written himself as input for the new proposed code. Github suggests minor changes here and there. “It is similar to someone watching over your shoulder and giving hints here and there.” According to Joyandeh, many of his friends use AI tools, including ChatGPT.  

‘The capacities of the programme are overestimated’  

Assistant Professor of Ethics and Philosophy of Technology Olya Kudina (Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, TPM) sees the shortcomings in ChatGPT. “I do not really like the hype around it as the capacities of the programme are overestimated. ChatGPT may be able to write long texts, but they contain a lot of repetition. Instead of three different arguments, the programme sometimes presents the same argument three times. It is only the wording that is different.” 

That said, Kudina also sees the value that ChatGPT can add to education. Furthermore, students will still find a way to use these kinds of programmes, she says. “It is better for us to explore what ChatGPT can do and what the limitations are.”

Education directors consultation
There was a reason that the Directors of Education of the eight faculties immediately discussed the subject at their first meeting of 2023. The meeting revealed that the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) was ahead of the rest in terms of what Ruud Balkenende, IDE Education Director, calls the ‘orientation phase’.

A small team of AI experts has been working on identifying the risks and opportunities at IDE since December. Balkenende explained that IDE will make ‘a first attempt’, on which the other faculties can build.

What stands out in the discussions in terms of education is that everyone feels the urgency to find out the effects of ChatGPT, but that the general feeling is confidence that solutions and even opportunities will be found. While the subject is dominating the media, the responses at TU Delft are relaxed.

A basis of trust
Neelke Doorn, TPM Director of Education, remembers when calculators arrived. “Mental arithmetic may have become less important, but attention was alwaysl being paid to what students should be able to do and how it can be tested. You will not test the things that the machine can do already.” Above all, so Doorn’s words imply, trust is the starting point. “We are aware of this change and the potential for fraud if you do not include fraud in the way you examine students. But the potential for fraud in some types of tests does not mean that testing throughout the system is vulnerable. Students who commit fraud will have to face up to what they have done at some point. So in that sense I am not concerned about the quality of education and the question whether students will reach the right level in the degree programme.”

Annoesjka Cabo, Director of Education at Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (EEMCS) and Academic Director at the TU Delft Teaching Academy, has a similar response. “It is already here, we cannot ignore it. We should not fall into the danger of thinking that students are not learning anything. It is up to us to start a dialogue with students. They come here to learn and to prepare themselves for the labour market.” Cabo also believes that teachers should discuss how to adapt their tests to this new development. “We will do this both within the Faculty and in the wider context of the teachers’ network of the Teaching Academy.”

We should not think students are not learning anything’

Angeniet Kam, a teacher at the Centre for Languages and Academic Skills that is part of TPM, sees opportunities. Every year the Centre for Languages and Academic Skills teaches writing skills to more than 4,000 students of 16 bachelor and master degree programmes as part of their curricula. Is she afraid that she will not be needed anymore? “Certainly not. ChatGPT will take some work off our hands as it can act as a coach in the writing process or as a support to dyslexic students. We can then devote more time to teaching academic skills such as searching for, evaluating, and using good sources.”

 Ruud Balkenende at IDE sees tools like ChatGPT as a potential learning aid. “You can use them to come up with areas to look for potential solutions so that you do not have to search for them yourself. But you will have to verify them. Students can then spend more time on the creative component of their assignment. So yes, we do see potential. But AI tools’ role and place in our education still needs to be looked into.”

Concerns and solutions
This sounds hopeful, and yet there are concerns, just as in the wider education system, even if not everyone wants to label them as such. Balkenende is clear. “There are concerns regarding assessments of essay type work. Will we still be able to do them? There are risks involved as preventing fraud is one of our priorities.”

This is where his team of AI experts comes in. They are assessing whether they can design guidelines for teachers. The interviews with Kam, Balkenende, Cabo, Doorn and Joyandeh have already generated possible guidelines. In no particular order these include the following.

  • Think whether the design of your exam or assignment tests what you want to test, even if students do use ChatGPT.
  • Think about whether you can explicitly permit the use of ChatGPT, but then ask students to keep a log of what they ask the tool to do.
  • Ask very specific questions that need to be answered in a particular context. There is a high chance that ChatGPT will make an error somewhere.
  • Do not only use a plagiarism scanner, but a GPT checker such as GPT-2 Output Detector or GPTZero as well.
  • If not already included, include moments of feedback in the process of writing assignments and check whether the feedback is incorporated in the next version.
  • Thus, divide written assignments into stages. For example, first ask for a work plan, structure and literature list.

Doorn, Balkenende, Cabo and Kam all intend to build in measures where needed as quickly as possible, and certainly before the third quarter that starts in mid-February or the examination period in April. Forbidding ChatGPT does not enter their vocabulary as they are all in agreement that it is unavoidable. Kam says that “Banning it is pointless. We need to allow its use, but in the right way.”

By Saskia Bonger and Rob van der Wal in cooperation with Marjolein van der Veldt

Editor in chief Saskia Bonger

Do you have a question or comment about this article?

Comments are closed.