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New York City public schools ban access to AI tool that could help students cheat

<i>Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Getty Images</i><br/>New York City public schools will ban students and teachers from using ChatGPT
NurPhoto via Getty Images
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/Getty Images
New York City public schools will ban students and teachers from using ChatGPT

By Jennifer Korn and Samantha Kelly, CNN

New York City public schools will ban students and teachers from using ChatGPT, a powerful new AI chatbot tool, on the district’s networks and devices, an official confirmed to CNN on Thursday.

The move comes amid growing concerns that the tool, which generates eerily convincing responses and even essays in response to user prompts, could make it easier for students to cheat on assignments. Some also worry that ChatGPT could be used to spread inaccurate information.

“Due to concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of content, access to ChatGPT is restricted on New York City Public Schools’ networks and devices,” Jenna Lyle, the deputy press secretary for the New York public schools, said in a statement. “While the tool may be able to provide quick and easy answers to questions, it does not build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success.”

Although the chatbot is restricted under the new policy, New York City public schools can request to gain specific access to the tool for AI and tech-related educational purposes.

Education publication ChalkBeat first reported the news.

New York City appears to be one of the first major school districts to crack down on ChatGPT, barely a month after the tool first launched. Last month, the Los Angeles Unified School District moved to preemptively block the site on all networks and devices in their system “to protect academic honesty while a risk/benefit assessment is conducted,” a spokesperson for the district told CNN this week.

While there are genuine concerns about how ChatGPT could be used, it’s unclear how widely adopted it is among students. Other districts, meanwhile, appear to be moving more slowly.

Peter Feng, the public information officer for the South San Francisco Unified School District, said the district is aware of the potential for its students to use ChatGPT but it has “not yet instituted an outright ban.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia said it has “no knowledge of students using the ChatGPT nor have we received any complaints from principals or teachers.”

In a statement shared with CNN after publication, a spokesperson for OpenAI, the artificial intelligence research lab behind the tool, said it made ChatGPT available as a research preview to learn from real-world use. The spokesperson called that step a “critical part of developing and deploying capable, safe AI systems.”

“We are constantly incorporating feedback and lessons learned,” the spokesperson added.

The company said it aims to work with educators on ways to help teachers and students benefit from artificial intelligence. “We don’t want ChatGPT to be used for misleading purposes in schools or anywhere else, so we’re already developing mitigations to help anyone identify text generated by that system,” the spokesperson said.

OpenAI opened up access to ChatGPT in late November. It is able to provide lengthy, thoughtful and thorough responses to questions and prompts, ranging from factual questions like “Who was the president of the United States in 1955” to more open-ended questions such as “What’s the meaning of life?”

The tool stunned users, including academics and some in the tech industry. ChatGPT is a large language model trained on a massive trove of information online to create its responses. It comes from the same company behind DALL-E, which generates a seemingly limitless range of images in response to prompts from users.

ChatGPT went viral just days after its launch. Open AI co-founder Sam Altman, a prominent Silicon Valley investor, said on Twitter in early December that ChatGPT had topped one million users.

But many educators fear students will use the tool to cheat on assignments. One user, for example, fed ChatGPT an AP English exam question; it responded with a 5 paragraph essay about Wuthering Heights. Another user asked the chat bot to write an essay about the life of William Shakespeare four times; he received a unique version with the same prompt each time.

Darren Hicks, assistant professor of philosophy at Furman University, previously told CNN it will be harder to prove when a student misuses ChatGPT than with other forms of cheating.

“In more traditional forms of plagiarism — cheating off the internet, copy pasting stuff — I can go and find additional proof, evidence that I can then bring into a board hearing,” he said. “In this case, there’s nothing out there that I can point to and say, ‘Here’s the material they took.'”

“It’s really a new form of an old problem where students would pay somebody or get somebody to write their paper for them — say an essay farm or a friend that has taken a course before,” Hicks added. “This is like that only it’s instantaneous and free.”

Feng, from the South San Francisco Unified School District, told CNN that “some teachers have responded to the rise of AI text generators by using tools of their own to check whether work submitted by students has been plagiarized or generated via AI.”

Some companies such as Turnitin — a detection tool that thousands of school districts use to scan the internet for signs of plagiarism — are now looking into how its software could detect the usage of AI generated text in student submissions.

Hicks said teachers will need to rethink assignments so they couldn’t be easily written by the tool. “The bigger issue,” Hicks added, “is going to be administrations who have to figure out how they’re going to adjudicate these kinds of cases.”

— CNN’s Abby Phillip contributed to this report.

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