Published: Feb. 3, 2023

It’s plagiarism. It’s also a learning tool. We need to talk more. 

Those were the main views about ChatGPT offered by the Boulder Faculty Assembly in a formal agenda discussion Thursday evening. 

The discussion, led by BFA Chair Tiffany Beechy of English and BFA Academic Technologies and Services Committee Chair Janet Casagrand of Integrative Physiology, sought to poll faculty representatives on what approach CU Boulder faculty should take on student and faculty use of the artificial intelligence tool, which can use programmed instructions to write prose and even essays. 

“I’ve played around with it—it’s a lot of fun. You can ask it to tell jokes and write plays in the style of Samuel Beckett,” said BFA co-chair Alastair Norcross of Philosophy. “But if it’s presenting something as your own work that’s not your own—it’s simply plagiarism,” said Norcross. 

Casagrand said the technology itself isn’t plagiarizing—as in directly lifting pre-existing material—but rather is “synthesizing [available material] into novel content.” 

Zach Herz of Classics said he wondered, given that ChatGPT is built partly on the common academic task of “entering things into computers to generate outputs,” how it substantively differs in impact from technologies like Grammarly, which are commonly used by academics. 

He said he didn’t relish the possibility of “arguing with a lawyer” retained by a student about what academic circumstances would permit its use. 

Ravinder Singh of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology was even more blunt, saying, “as a faculty member, I’m asking myself what the hell to do with it.” 

Andrea Feldman, BFA at-large representative and a faculty member in the Program for Writing and Rhetoric, said faculty could learn “to design our assignments and prompts along the lines of habits of mind, speaking about what the students are writing about. ChatGPT isn’t set up for this—we can refine (our approaches to teaching) so that what we’re asking our students to do is much more critical thinking.” 

Senior Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Assessment Katherine Eggert reminded the group that the campus “is not coming up with a statement on the use of A.I. because it’s so different across every discipline.”

“We’re getting questions from the press on what we’re doing, and the answer is the honor code is capable of handling this . . . it’s part of our current policies on ethics. If need be, these will be revised to include A.I. as one arena of possible unethical behavior,” Eggert said. 

Beechy closed the discussion with an appeal for further discussion, saying, “my sense is this is our job—this is what is exciting about what we face.”

Faculty interested in the topic of AI and ChatGPT can attend a Feb. 13 webinar co-hosted by CU Boulder’s Center for Teaching and Learning and ASSETT. Also, Feldman and BFA representative Rolf Norgaard, will co-host a workshop “Designing Writing Prompts that Defy A.I. Text Generators” on Thursday, Feb. 15. Both Norgaard and Feldman are Teaching Professors of Distinction in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric. 

In other BFA action

The assembly received an update from Eggert on the progress and next steps on the campus’s creation and adoption of a common curriculum. Eggert said that the common curriculum planning committee’s proposal had received overwhelming approval by the BFA as well as by the schools and colleges. At the provost’s directive, Eggert, common curriculum co-chair and dean of undergraduate education Daryl Maeda, Beechy and members of the BFA executive committee will soon partner to design implementation principles for the common curriculum, followed by the formation of a campus curriculum committee in the fall. The curriculum committee will evaluate the mapping of the curriculum by working with colleges, schools, the University Libraries, the Program in Environmental Design and the Division of Student Affairs to identify and fill gaps between the common curriculum and the learning outcomes achieved by students through their college and school degrees and majors and in the first-year experience. 

The assembly heard a presentation from University Libraries assistant professor Melissa Cantrell, scholarly communication librarian and interim lead for the Data and Scholarly Communication Services Center, on three faculty listening sessions on how CU Boulder will respond to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy ruling last fall that stipulated that agencies make the results of taxpayer-supported research “immediately available to the American public at no cost.” The Zoom listening sessions are as follows: 

  • Thursday, Feb. 9: 4 to 5 p.m.
  • Friday, Feb. 17: Noon to 1 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 9: 4 to 5 p.m. 

Join via Zoom

The assembly also voted to approve three motions from the BFA Bylaws Committee—two on changes regarding who is eligible to serve as an officer of the BFA (chair, vice chair, secretary) and a third similar motion recommending similar changes for the CU system Faculty Council. For more details on the vote, see the meeting summary on the BFA website.