As one school year ends, area administrators are already looking to the fall with a topic fresh in their experience but increasingly demanding attention in education: the launch of ChatGPT, and Open AI.

Jim Shannon Republican-American
Woodland High School seniors Audrey Fencil, left, and Ervin Owuse finish up their independent studies Capstone Project in the STEM Pathway during class at the school.

Open A1 is a private technology company pursing ways to create and use artificial intelligence; ChatGPT is an advanced language program developed by OpenA! that can produce humanlike text and conversation. The technology pulls information from the internet and writes paragraphs about it in seconds — a tempting ability for students raised with phones in hand and online access a part of life since they were born.

In Naugatuck, students will return to class in the fall with a new policy that using ChatGPT to submit work will fall under the same consequences as traditional plagiarism, said Naugatuck High School Principal John Harris.

This school year, there already were a few examples where high school students used ChatGPT in unethical manners, Harris said.

In two or three cases, students used the technology to plagiarize.

Teachers found it fairly easy to identify, as the writing didn’t match the students’ typical style and the plagiarized papers addressed topics and ideas that weren’t discussed in the classroom, Harris said.

The students received a zero on the assignments and were not allowed to make them up.

In Region 16, Boad of Education Chairman Robert A. Hiscox said school officials are going to learn more about the technology.

“We all need to be educated on the pros and cons and the implications of this. As the teacher, I’m a little concerned,” Hiscox said. “I have my personal concerns about it but where the board goes it’ll probably come up in discussions later on and may generate some changes in policy.”

Woodland Regional High Vice Principal Ryan Mackenzie provided a report about the issue at a March 8 Region 16 Board of Education meeting.

“If it’s something that’s going to affect our kids and affect our staff, it’s something that we want to make sure that we’re in front of,” Mackenzie said.

The technology puts added pressure on teachers, who need to know their students and be able to see natural improvement versus a big jump in writing or content, Mackenzie said. Teachers need to recognize red flags that might suggest a student used ChatGPT, and they can do their own query to see if the program produces similar wording and information to what a student filed, he said.

“We want kids to critically think, we want them to understand things at a deeper level,” Mackenzie said. “We have to make sure that we’re thinking about on our assessments so that kids can’t just go on, find something and answer it quickly.”

ChatGPT can be used in a good way for a student who needs a tutor and allows for personalized learning, Mackenzie said. A high school sophomore student who is reading at a seventh grade reading level can ask ChatGPT to convert any text into an 8th grade reading level, ask it for revisions and to put something into your own words.

“Not all of our learners are at the same level,” Mackenzie said. “This can help them through the process, meet them at the level that they are at without sacrificing any of the content.”