With all the discussion of ChatGPT and the use (or potential misuse) in academia, I decided to see how the software would fare with my old Intro to Theatre research paper assignment.
The assignment was this: a student would choose a playwright, or more likely I would choose one for them, and then they would research that person, to determine what their most significant play was. The paper would include (according to the assignment) “the playwright’s biography; an overview of the playwright’s written works; and the playwright’s most significant play. Include a brief synopsis of this play, and examine critical work on, productions of, and interpretations and adaptations of the play. This may include a film version or musical (or other) adaptation of the play—but it’s possible that your paper may not include all of these. The final paper should go beyond simple storytelling (just some biographical information) and investigate why you think the playwright is remembered for that particular play.”
To challenge ChatGPT, I first used this prompt: “write a 3 page essay on why The Alchemist is Ben Jonson’s most significant play, including Jonson’s bio, reviews of The Alchemist, and scholarly essays about the play.”
The result was adequate, and in fact I might have been pleased to have that handed in. I did not submit it to turnitin.com or any plagiarism detecting site, or else I might have been less pleased.
I then tried a second prompt, close to the first, but a bit more refined: “write a 3 page essay on why The Alchemist is Ben Jonson’s most significant play, including Jonson’s bio, a detailed synopsis of the play, reviews of The Alchemist, and scholarly essays about the play.” Oddly enough, this “submission did not even meet the page requirement, weighing in at 1.5 pages.
So, another try: “write a 3 page essay on why The Alchemist is Ben Jonson’s most significant play, including Jonson’s bio, a detailed synopsis of the play, reviews of The Alchemist, and scholarly essays about the play and include in-text citations.” This effort also did not make the page requirement at 2 full pages, but did have an introduction, which many of my students have often lacked.
For a final prompt, I added something like, “and include a works cited page.” While working toward the ending, as I watched the process, the cursor stopped. And would not move again. So I was not privy to the sources used by ChatGPT. But, without a bibliography, I would have refused to even grade the paper, so there would have been a 0 (or failing) grade. Stay in school, kids, but don’t expect ChatGPT to do the work for you! And professors, get more specific with your assignments!
And: Am I glad I retired? Why, yes!