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How do students feel about ChatGPT in higher education?

11 May 2023

Does AI pose a threat to future learning? And where does the boundary for cheating lie? The first large-scale European study that investigates students’ attitudes towards AI seeks to answer these pressing questions.

Image: Chalmers University of Technology/Mia Halleröd Palmgren
Image: Chalmers University of Technology/Mia Halleröd Palmgren

Students in Sweden are positive towards AI tools such as ChatGPT in education, but 62 percent believe that using chatbots during exams is cheating. 

However, where the boundary for cheating lies is highly unclear, according to a new survey from Chalmers University of Technology.

“I am afraid of AI and what it could mean for the future.”

“Don't worry so much! Keep up with the development and adapt your teaching for the future.”

“ChatGPT and similar tools will revolutionise how we learn, and we will be able to come up with amazing things.”

These are three out of nearly two thousand optional comments from the survey in which almost 6,000 students in Sweden recently participated.

“The students express strong, diverse, and in many cases emotionally charged opinions,” says Hans Malmström, Professor at the Department of Communication and Learning in Science at Chalmers University of Technology. He, together with his colleagues Christian Stöhr and Amy Wanyu Ou, conducted the study.

More than a third use ChatGPT regularly
A majority of the respondents believe that chatbots and AI language tools make them more efficient as students and argue that such tools improve their academic writing and overall language skills. 

Virtually all the responding students are familiar with ChatGPT, the majority use the tool, and 35 percent use the chatbot regularly.

Lack guidance – opposed a ban
Despite their positive attitude towards AI, many students feel anxious and lack clear guidance on how to use AI in their learning environments. It is simply difficult to know where the boundary for cheating lies. 

“Most students have no idea whether their educational institution has any rules or guidelines for using AI responsibly, and that is, of course, worrying. At the same time, an overwhelming majority is against a ban on AI in educational contexts,” says Malmström.

No replacement for critical thinking
Many students perceive chatbots as a mentor or teacher that they can ask questions or get help from, for example, with explanations of concepts and summaries of ideas. 

The dominant attitude is that chatbots should be used as an aid, not replace students' own critical thinking. Or as one student put it: “You should be able to do the same things as the AI, but it should help you do it. You should not use a calculator if you don't know what the plus sign on it does”.

Aid in case of disabilities
Another important aspect that emerged in the survey was that AI serves as an effective aid for people with various disabilities. A student with ADD and dyslexia described how they had spent 20 minutes writing down their answer in the survey and then improved it by inputting the text into ChatGPT: “It’s like being colour blind and suddenly being able to see all the beautiful colours”.

Giving students a voice
The researchers have now gathered a wealth of important information and compiled the results in an overview report. 

“We hope and believe that the answers from this survey will give students a voice and the results will thus be an important contribution to our collective understanding of AI and learning,” says Christian Stöhr, Associate Professor at the Department of Communication and Learning in Science at Chalmers.

More about the study 
“Chatbots and other AI for learning: A survey on use and views among university students in Sweden” was conducted in the following way: the researchers at Chalmers conducted the survey between 5 April and 5 May 2023. Students at all universities in Sweden could participate. The survey was distributed through social media and targeted efforts from multiple universities and student organisations. In total, the survey was answered by 5,894 students.

Summary of results:

• 95 percent of students are familiar with ChatGPT, while awareness of other chatbots is very low
• 56 percent are positive about using chatbots in their studies; 35 percent use ChatGTP regularly
• 60 percent are opposed to a ban on chatbots, and 77 percent are against a ban on other AI tools (such as Grammarly) in education
• More than half of the students do not know if their institution has guidelines for how AI can be used in education; one in four explicitly says that their institution lack such regulations
• 62 percent believe that using chatbots during examinations is cheating
• Students express some concern about AI development, and there is particular concern over the impact of chatbots on future education

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