ChatGPT snapshot: University of Waterloo

Vol 4, No. 7 (Spring 2023)

Clare Bermingham,
Director, Writing and Communication Centre,
University of Waterloo

In April 2023, I asked writing centre practitioners to answer 5 questions on ChatGPT and their centres’ responses. Over the next month, I’ll post the response. If you have a perspective to offer, please use this form, and I’ll post it here. Brian Hotson, Editor, CWCR/RCCR

What actions, policies, resources, or information has your institution put in place for ChatGPT?

At the University of Waterloo, the Office of the Associate Vice-President, Academic has shared several information memos and a FAQ resource, which includes guidance on the university’s pedagogy-first approach and maintaining academic integrity related to ChatGPT. Our university uses Turnitin and has just activated the ChatGPT detection option. The impact of this for instructors and students is unclear at this point in time.

Staff from academic support units, including the Writing and Communication Centre (WCC), have been working together to share information to support instructors and students, and to stay up-to-date on new developments. The Library has released a subject guide on citing AI like ChatGPT. The Centre for Teaching Excellence has a resource for instructors on talking to students about Chat GPT. The WCC is working on a student resource with guidance on ethical and productive ways to use ChatGPT and preparing a student-facing workshop for fall.

What actions, policies, resources, or information has your centre put in place for ChatGPT?

At the WCC, we have not put any formal policies into place at this point; however, we have been sharing information internally to help with any conversations that may arise with students. It’s important that we are familiar with the possibilities and limitations of ChatGPT to support students who have been directed to use ChatGPT or who may be anticipating using it in their co-op work terms. It’s also important to be familiar with the most up-to-date information on including AI in authorship and citation for assignments and publications.

We are working with other units to create a general student resource with guidance on ethical and productive ways to use ChatGPT, and we are planning a workshop for students for the fall. Our goals are to empower students to optimally use the technology in ways that support their writing processes; to educate them about its limitations and any potential areas of concern, such as privacy issues and  linguistic whitewashing; and to give them information about citation and academic integrity policies so that they can learn to use ChatGPT ethically and know not to use it when not permitted to.

Is your centre providing training for the writing centre staff?

Yes, we have been sharing information to this point, but we will engage in more active education and planning for fall peer tutor training over our spring term (May-Aug).

What are your students saying about ChatGPT?

Students are saying that there are a range of approaches to ChatGPT by instructors: not mentioning it, banning its use, incorporating it to some degree, and embracing it. One student recently noted that they are expected to do additional work to prove they have not used it.

What other comments, etc. would you like to add?

ChatGPT is new and exciting, and we will adapt, just as we have to Wikipedia, calculators, integrated grammar and spell check, and other technologies. This kind of AI will encourage educators to really think about what they want students to be able to do, and to be intentional about aligning learning outcomes with assessments. It will encourage students to show all of their sources of ideas and information, including the development of their own thinking.

One unfortunate aspect of AI detection tools is the possibility of false positives in reports. A role for writing centres might be to educate students about this risk and encourage them to keep a record of their ideation and drafting processes for assignments to show the development of their work.

Our students will be using tools like ChatGPT to write in their future workplaces. The more that we can guide, support, and educate students at this early stage, then the more prepared they will be to write productively and ethically with AI as they develop their writing capacities and processes. Ignoring or standing against these technologies isn’t the right answer; writing centres need to become familiar with AI text generators to be the best advisors for students that we can be.