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Three Student-Centered Approaches to Integrate ChatGPT in the Online Classroom
Effective eLearning (Special Series)

By Thomas Dyer, John Steele, Jean Mandernach / July 2023

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The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in academia is not new, but the emergence of ChatGPT in the fall of 2022 spurred intense debate (and fear) concerning the unintended implications of AI on education. Beyond obvious academic integrity concerns over students’ use of AI in completing assignments, we must consider the less apparent issues of bias, transparency, interpretability, and accessibility.

ChatGPT opened our eyes to the future of AI in education. ChatGPT is a language machine that uses statistics, words, phrases, sentences, and learned reinforcement behaviors to answer questions and write and summarize information. As such, it can easily produce essay-type responses or formulate research papers; in essence, it can produce output that is surprisingly aligned with the majority of traditional assessment questions and writing prompts  (it can even write a song about an online professor in the voice of Drake).

The ease at which ChatGPT can be used to complete typical academic writing assignments has many faculty scrambling to create new AI plagiarism policies and integrate AI detection checkers. But perhaps rather than reactively policing AI use, faculty should proactively embrace this technology breakthrough to enhance teaching and learning in ways that are relevant to our modern era. The following three approaches provide a starting point for faculty to integrate ChatGPT in the online classroom.

1. Develop AI literacy. It is important to understand the pros and cons of various resources students may use throughout their education. Instead of discouraging the use of some of these resources, help your students understand the positive aspects of ChatGPT and its potential pitfalls. Since the pandemic, the teaching of students through virtual means has shined a light on students’ technology literacy, or lack thereof. By providing them with opportunities to learn about AI concepts and technologies, and to experiment with them in a safe and controlled environment, we can help them develop a deeper understanding of the inner workings of AI and its potential applications. Furthermore, by incorporating real-world examples and case studies of AI in action, we can demonstrate the relevance of these concepts to students and inspire them to explore the possibilities. We are now teaching in a world when technology literacy is radically mutating as we now must question whether something we see in writing is written by a human or machine [1]. By encouraging AI literacy, we can foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork among faculty and students, so that they may develop the critical thinking and digital literacy skills needed to navigate the complexities of AI. As online educators, it is our responsibility to ensure that our students are well-prepared for the future, and AI literacy is a vital part of this preparation.

2. Incorporate AI into the assignment. ChatGPT can be used to create interactive assessments that help students practice research and writing skills. Students can leverage the AI to help them practice writing in different styles, while showing them real examples. For example, you can have an assignment that requires students to begin by entering the writing prompt into ChatGPT. Students then annotate the output provided by adding questions, comments, gaps, resources, and fact-checking. Finally, students revise the original output to address their annotations. They can then submit the original ChatGPT output, annotations, and final draft. Further, generative AI like ChatGPT can be used to improve stylistic choices, generate outlines of research articles, which can allow students to focus on digging deeper into the topic [2].There are several other options for incorporating ChatGTP into an assignment, including allowing students to get feedback on essays before submission, creating writing samples, and generating a writing prompt.

3. Generate ideas using AI. Beyond simply being a writing tool, ChatGPT has the potential to help foster idea generation. Students can ask ChatGPT to help brainstorm ideas for a specific topic or to provide a counterargument for a debate. Students could even take a position on a topic and query ChatGPT to provide a list of alternate considerations. Much of the learning process takes place outside the actual writing product; ChatGPT provides an avenue for students to test ideas, get feedback on their writing, or provide alternative opinions. Using AI as a tool to spur critical thinking can help students become more effective consumers of the theories and concepts in our courses.

As online educators, it is our responsibility to provide students with the best possible learning experience. In today's digital age, we must be open to utilizing new AI technologies, like ChatGPT, to achieve that goal. The potential for ChatGPT to enhance the online classroom is vast, from providing students with quick and accurate answers to their questions, to creating interactive and engaging activities that build their skills. As we explore the many ways that ChatGPT can be integrated into our online classrooms, we must also remember that technology alone is not enough. We must approach its implementation thoughtfully and with a focus on how it can support student learning and growth. By doing so, we can ensure that students are well-prepared for the ever-changing technological landscape that awaits them.


[1] Johinke, R., Cummings, R., and Di Lauro, F. Reclaiming the technology of higher education for teaching digital writing in a post—pandemic worldJournal of University Teaching & Learning Practice 20, 2 (2023), 1–16. 

[2] Kasneci, E. et al. ChatGPT for good? On opportunities and challenges of large language models for educationLearning and Individual Differences 103 (2023).

About the Authors

Thomas D. Dyer, PhD is a professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University. He has more than 15 years of experience in higher education and online education. His research focuses on examining student engagement, participation, and community connection in the online classroom through social presence strategies. He explores strategies for integrating community cohesion, online proximity, and social presence literacy through careful and considerate technology integration. Thomas is an active teacher, advocate, researcher, author, and presenter in the field of online education and social presence literacy.

John Steele, Ph.D. is a professor for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University (GCU). John has been teaching first-year series and psychology students at GCU for 12 years. In addition, he serves as a faculty mentor and on several university committees. His research focuses on several aspects of online learning including plagiarism, technology innovation, student learning, and psychology. John also has interests in social psychology and artificial intelligence.

Jean Mandernach, Ph.D. is executive director of the Center for Innovation in Research on Teaching at Grand Canyon University. Her research focuses on enhancing student learning experiences in the online classroom through innovative instructional and assessment strategies. She explores strategies for integrating efficient online instruction in a manner that maximizes student learning, satisfaction, and engagement. In addition, she has interests in innovative faculty development and evaluation models, teaching and learning analytics, emergent instructional technology, and faculty workload considerations. Jean is an active researcher, author, presenter, and consultant in the field of online education.

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