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Oh my this is awkward. Having to tell you who I am is a whole ordeal because I am still trying to figure that out myself lol. The most I know at this point is that, I am an unhinged hillbilly from a small town in Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal; My first love had “Petronella” as a middle name (gross right?); I will on occasion get dressed in a onesie, using my red blankie as a cape to live out my fantasy of being the caped crusader of justice: Captain Tanuki; Finally, I have an obsession with owls that should get its own section in the DSM-V. On that owl thing, I feel like in one of my many past lives as a shrew somewhere in the world, I met my end to one of those majestic birds and that specific bird reincarnated as my first love who, at the time of writing, has not killed me…yet! Talk about a circle of life, neh. My goals? Well right now, I have but one very simple goal: to be the best human I can possibly be. Achieving that would make a hillbilly like me, a better person and growth is always good. My time at the paper has made sure I stay on this path. Should a lost soul wanting to know about the paper, stumbles across this bio, I want you to know that I will totally be a radically different person in the best way possible. Who knows, I might have reincarnated as an owl, by then.

On 19 April, the University of Pretoria released its official guidelines regarding the use of ChatGPT in all faculties during academic activities. This came as an expected response to the rapid growth of the AI tool and the threat it poses to higher education. Though students have taken to using the AI, UP’s regulation around ChatGPT and plagiarism is dated. 

The students

UP’s official stance regarding ChatGPT is a positive one. Not only is the university accommodating the AI tool, but it also plans to actively incorporate AI into methods of study. ChatGPT’s arrival on the scene, especially for the Social Sciences, was compared to the ground-breaking revolution that calculators and spreadsheets brought to the Natural and Economics Sciences. UP encourages students to use ChatGPT in many ways, such as summarising themes, solving equations with steps, getting an overview of a complex chapter before starting it, generating writing prompts, proofreading, generating an assessment outline for the topics given, and providing feedback on the student’s work. The university sees ChatGPT as a 24/7 tutor and learning aide that will be part of any student’s toolbox when facing the challenge of their studies.

However, the way in which students see ChatGPT is not aligned with how the University of Pretoria sees ChatGPT. According to a third-year LLB student who wishes to keep her identity concealed, ‘Roxanne’, students in the third year of LLB used ChatGPT during their Jurisprudence (legal philosophy) essay as well as their Administrative Law online semester test. Roxanne does not share the University of Pretoria’s sentiments on the subject. She said, “I’m really pissed! It happened with PBL310 and with Jurisprudence as well… we have been going through all the readings and put in a lot of effort into the essays. My friend who wrote the essay with ChatGPT got 60% whereas I got 68%, and I worked really, really hard on the essay.” Roxanne explained how students were able to do this for their Jurisprudence essays, “You can just state [to ChatGPT] ‘please write me an introduction of 250 words’, [and] the AI will write you an introduction. And if you are not happy with it, you can just regenerate it. And to avoid plagiarism you can put it into QuillBot to paraphrase it a bit.” 

Roxanne explained further, “You can break down the essay question because it takes different readings. So you can say, ‘Summarise this reading for me in X amount of words, with reference to this text.’ [Then], ChatGPT writes you a beautiful paragraph about the work, and all the students have to do is compare it to a few slides and see what page in the reader or text the work is from [to reference it] without much effort.” Roxanne concluded, “That’s what happened with Jurisprudence, and that is why we are writing a semester test on campus, which for a student [like me] who has 8 modules, I wasn’t planning on writing another semester test before my BWR310 (Law of Evidence) semester test.” Previously, Jurisprudence always had take-home essay-type assessments.

The same could be said for the Administrative Law assessment, which was an online ClickUP assessment. “You take the question, you copy paste the question, put it in ChatGPT and then voila, you have an answer. If it is too long you can be like, ‘Hey chat, please make it shorter.’ [If you] want to be sure [that the answer is correct] you can just regenerate the answer, and if it gives you the same thing, then you know it is correct.” Roxanne further commented, “So, that is how my friends passed PBL310 and I got 30%… my friends who didn’t study just pitched up [and knew] they could just use ChatGPT to get an answer. It is just really frustrating when you get comments [from your lecturers] saying, ‘Didn’t show full understanding of the work.’ Meanwhile, I am trying, and my friends […] are relying on an AI to comprehend the work for them. And they have no clue what’s going on, but it’s fine; they get 60% for the work by just using ChatGPT.”

Academic Staff

UP wants not only students but also lecturers to embrace this new technology. They encourage lecturers to offer guidance to students regarding its use, even incorporating the rules of how they want it to be used in each subject’s study guide. The university’s new guidelines also mention how lesson plans can be prompted in the future. Lecturers are also encouraged to use AI to provide feedback on the completeness of a section and/or give students  examples of how they could answer a question. UP aims to have ChatGPT become a constant TA for the lecturers in the future and lighten their load.

Katelyn-Mae Carter, an academic associate in the department of Public Law, weighs in on the subject. On the topic of students using ChatGPT, Carter said, “It can often steer people on the wrong path, mostly because it is geared towards American education and not South African education.” Carter explained further, “It also takes away from your education because it doesn’t get you to do things yourself. You’re not learning how to research; it is compiling the research for you. And you aren’t reading books and cases to compile your own informed opinions, legal or otherwise.” When asked whether she would recommend ChatGPT to students, Carter answered, “I think it’s very cool and interesting, but I wouldn’t encourage students to use ChatGPT in academic work.” Regarding educators using ChatGPT in academic activities, she said, “I think I wouldn’t trust the computer to read me an article and write me a dissertation on it. As much as there is human error, the computer can make errors.” Carter offered the following example: “If you ask it [ChatGPT] to write an article on the stance on the death penalty [from] a South African perspective, it will still factor in federal law which South Africa no longer uses.” 

The disciplinary aspect to ChatGPT

Assignments are going to change without a doubt. The focus will shift more toward the thought process and evaluation of a topic, with a myriad of methods to ensure that it remains student work already being suggested or implemented. The big ones are that Turnitin has incorporated an AI text identifier, and assignments will require a complete ChatGPT-generated assignment to be submitted with your work as reference. Yet, as a positive, they also mention the possibility of using it as a translation tool to broaden the scope of their teaching, or making the work more personalised to cater to every student.

On the subject of the disciplinary aspect to ChatGPT, Chief Justice of the Constitutional Tribunal Lesedi Ngubeni shared his thoughts. “Students can definitely face a disciplinary from using ChatGPT; it’s plagiarism. Turnitin will pick it up immediately and flag it to the lecturer.” Regarding whether the use of an AI’s production of work could amount to plagiarism, Ngubeni stated, “Technology is advancing fast, and in the field of education there must be integrity, and platforms like Turnitin are here to do that. It’s not your own work.” On whether the use of this AI would amount to using a calculator, Ngubeni stated, “Sort of, there’s a difference in the nature of numbers and words. Words come naturally to us and are a by-product of our thoughts; numbers aren’t like that. Therefore, it can’t be regarded as a calculator.”