Sweeping back the ocean: the unexpected challenge of ChatGPT

I am part of a working group of political science faculty who are developing new online courses. I’m planning on teaching “Introduction to Comparative Politics” this summer. Last week we had our first meeting. One of the faculty had volunteered to lead a conversation around ChatGPT, a new artificial intelligence system that can generate text based on the web, books, and other sources. If you are in higher education, you’ve probably heard a lot about ChatGPT over the last month. The New York Times and other media outlets have covered this topic in depth, and with good reason.

In December 2022 Stephen Marche had an excellent article in the Atlantic about how ChatGPT could produce an outstanding college entrance paper. Work by ChatGPT also passed a Wharton MBA exam. Perhaps most chilling, its product has also now passed all three stages of the US medical exam system. So how do we as professors respond?

What has been most interesting to me is to see how my colleagues think about this issue. One senior colleague is literally blowing up his teaching methods. His class will now be hybrid only for the exams, in which students will have to come in and write a pen and ink “green book” exam. Students may also be asked to do oral exams. This represents an immense amount of work for this professor. It also means that this class cannot be a fully online class, because students will have to appear for the testing phase. But this faculty member is deeply committed to their teaching and doesn’t see any alternative.

During this brainstorming session other faculty and I wondered about changing our assessments. One faculty suggested creating a podcast, but then worried that ChatGPT might write the script. I thought about perhaps using other assignments, such as data visualizations. But most faculty felt that this meant entering into an arms race with the soft-ware, one which we were unlikely to win in the long term. I still wonder if my critical reading reflections might be hard for ChatGPT to replicate. Typically I ask the students to pick the three most important readings from the course during the last three weeks, to discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and to select which one was the most important, and to justify their decision. Can ChatGPT really respond to such specific question prompts? The consensus in the discussion group seemed to be that this might not be enough to overcome this new challenge. AKA, “Denial is not a strategy.” But I think many colleagues also felt uncertain about how to respond.

After the meeting, one of my colleagues decided to ask ChatGPT to write a syllabus for the political science course that he is developing. It did so relatively well. It wasn’t a brilliant syllabus, but it was as good as many such syllabi that you could find on the web. More disturbing, ChatGPT also wrote the questions for a class quiz, and an introductory lecture. The lecture was too short, and still needed some work to be used. But it wasn’t a bad first draft, which might save a faculty member some time. The quiz was pretty good.

Personally, I was shocked after receiving this email. But not all of my colleagues felt the same way. I decided to try to testing out some ChatGPT detection tools. One author online wrote that a new website was over 99% effective at detecting fakes: GPT-2 Output Detector Demo. I tested it out using the text that my colleague had generated for his syllabus and quiz. The test found that this text was “99.96%” likely to be real. Based on a single sample with just one such system, I’m not convinced that the new software will be able to work as well as older generation plagiarism software did.

So how do I respond to this new challenge? I am wondering if I could put something in my syllabus to require students to also upload a draft, or to share a link to Google Docs so that I can see their writing process using the history feature? The challenge is that I don’t really want to require students to use one writing system. Pages is still popular with a lot of students who just have an Ipad, not a computer. And perhaps Chat GPT can also write a convincing draft? It’s not a perfect solution. But I wonder if both having very specific writing prompts -and asking for evidence of the writing process- might be able to address plagiarism?

I think that all educators -from middle school to grad programs- are going to face this challenge. I am curious to hear how peers are addressing this challenge at other institutions. This technology is still in its early stages, and new competitors will emerge soon. I predict that all levels of our educational system will have to make major adjustments to respond.

I come from a family of writers. My mom, Phyllis Smallman, wrote a mystery series set in a bar in West Florida, as well as a couple of books set in the Gulf Islands off the West Coast of Canada. Since her death much of her work (the electronic versions for Kindle and Kobo) are available for free online. My sister is also a writer. In ten or fifteen years will we be able to ask Kindle to write a mystery for us, one set in the Roman Republic, with a particular love interest, and a locked room puzzle?


Kung, Tiffany H., Morgan Cheatham, Arielle Medenilla, Czarina Sillos, Lorie De Leon, Camille Elepaño, Maria Madriaga, et al. “Performance of ChatGPT on USMLE: Potential for AI-Assisted Medical Education Using Large Language Models.” bioRxiv, December 20, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.12.19.22283643.

Marche, Stephen. “The College Essay Is Dead.” The Atlantic, December 6, 2022. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2022/12/chatgpt-ai-writing-college-student-essays/672371/.

Mollman, Steve. “ChatGPT Passed a Wharton MBA Exam and It’s Still in Its Infancy. One Professor Is Sounding the Alarm.” Fortune, January 22, 2023. https://fortune.com/2023/01/21/chatgpt-passed-wharton-mba-exam-one-professor-is-sounding-alarm-artificial-intelligence/.

The strange and addictive global geography game

Years ago I used to teach my ”Introduction to International Studies” class online with a custom-built geography quiz. Students had to learn a list of approximately 60 countries, as well as some basic geographical features. Although this sounds quite simple to build, in practice the instructional designer that I worked with found it really hard to keep the system functioning.

Fast forward a decade, and there a plethora of such platforms freely available. But the most fun way to learn global geography is probably Globle. Much like Wordle, there is only a single game to play a day. In this case, you need to learn the identify of a mystery country. You start by guessing a country for which you know the location. The first information that you will get is how close this country’s border is to the mystery country. And then you keep guessing successive countries. You can see a ranking of your countries by how close they are to your target country. This may sound a little complicated, but after you’ve played it a couple of times it’s second nature. And if it sounds too easy, in my experience it’s not at all.

This is a really fun tool- enjoy!

Shawn Smallman, 2022

Michael Crummy’s Galore- a lecture

I am sharing a series of lectures from a class that I used to teach on folklore in Canadian literature and art. Here is a brief lecture that I gave on Michael Crummy’s Galore, a novel which is set in Newfoundland. You are free to use, edit and adapt this lecture however you want for your own classes. I apologize for the formatting changes at points; as you might guess, I cut and pasted in the section on magical realism from a lecture in my “Introduction to Latin America” class.

Be warned- if you are just reading this lecture for fun, there are major spoilers in this lecture.

Shawn Smallman

Neoliberalism- a lecture for a Global Studies theory class

This will be the last lecture that I post for a Global Studies class. As with all the earlier materials, please feel free to adapt and use in your classes any way that is helpful. One free documentary that I think would work well to accompany this lecture would be the Spider’s Web.

Shawn Smallman

Feminism, a lecture for a Global Studies theory class

If you’ve been following this chain of blog posts, I’ve been sharing the class materials I created for a Global Studies theory class. I no longer teach it and I wanted these materials to be useful to others. Please feel free to take, use and adapt. Like all my lectures, I would have liked to have updated this piece if I were to teach it again. But I hope that there may be some passages or ideas here that may be useful still.

Shawn Smallman

Green Theory, a lecture for a Global Studies theory class

If you’ve been following the series of blog posts, over the last two weeks I have been posting course content from my Global Studies Theory course. Please feel free to use, adapt and make it your own. In this lecture, I focused on India’s Chipko movement to talk about Green Theory. I feel that this lecture (and my feminism lecture) are not as strong as the others, but I hope that there may be some material here that you find useful.

Shawn Smallman

Classical Liberalism, a lecture for a Global Studies theory class

This month I am posting some syllabi, assignments, rubrics and lectures for my theory class in Global Studies. Please feel free to take, use and adapt for your own classes.

Shawn Smallman

Critical Theory- a lecture for a global studies theory class

This month I am sharing lectures, assignments, rubrics and syllabi for a Global Studies theory class. Please feel free to take, adapt and use this material in your own classes.

Shawn Smallman

NeoMarxism: a lecture for a Global Studies theory class

This month I am sharing syllabi, lectures and assignments for a global studies theory class. Please feel free to take, adapt and use as you see fit in your classes. Please note that this lecture is now several years old, so examples and figures will need updating.

Shawn Smallman

Postcolonialism- a lecture for a Global Studies Theory class

This month I am sharing lectures, assignments and syllabi for a Global Studies theory class. Here is a lecture on postcolonialism that you are free to take, adapt, and use for your own classes. As you’ll see, some of these lectures may have references to my own experiences or location, so please edit them as needed. Please click on page 2 below to view the syllabus. Good luck with your class!

Shawn Smallman

Privacy & Cookies: This site uses cookies. See our Privacy Policy for details. By continuing to use this website, you agree to their use. If you do not consent, click here to opt out of Google Analytics.