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ChatGPT: Your new academic mentor


Have you ever asked your lecturer for feedback and waited for a response, and by the time they got back to you, you’d already written your next academic assignment? Due to the frustratingly high student-to-faculty ratio in most universities– many lecturers can’t seem to give you the feedback you need in time. It’s an undeniable truth that we need more academic mentors in universities. So, what if we could employ new technologies to be our academic advisors? Well, that’s where ChatGPT could come in. Most of us know ChatGPT as the chatbot that can help you write content, plan assignments, and look up specific information that may otherwise be hard to find. But what if we trained this generative pre-trained transformer to act as our new academic mentor?

We at Cybernews Academy spoke to four lecturers and five students about ChatGPT and mentorship at University.

Now meet our panel:

When to use ChatGPT

Streamline your study strategies

We at Cybernews Academy found that ChatGPT can help you streamline your study strategies by providing new methods to help you work more efficiently. I asked ChatGPT how to hone my study strategies, and it said, “I can advise on effective study techniques, time management, note-taking methods, and organization skills to help you optimize your learning process.” If you’re struggling with where to start, ask ChatGPT to help you. I asked, “Can you provide some study techniques” and ChatGPT devised eight different strategies. These include active learning, the Pomodoro technique, effective note-taking, mind mapping, teaching others, practice and retrieval, and many more. If you want a subject-specific study strategy, ask the software particular questions. What if you need a specific solution to a complex problem? Don’t worry. ChatGPT has got you covered.

Source solutions to difficult problems

Need support with your homework? ChatGPT can come up with quick solutions to your problems. ChatGPT can offer guidance if you're struggling with certain aspects of your assignment. When asked if the software can help with your homework, ChatGPT says, "I can help you with homework assignments by providing guidance, explaining concepts, and assisting you in finding solutions." However, it does state "that it won't be able to complete your homework for you." Suppose you're still finding it challenging; Cybernews Academy spoke to Dr. Antony Aumann and shared some tips on effectively using the software to get more out of your answers. He said, “Ask it to give you four answers and then sort through it for yourselves.” As some of the information produced by ChatGPT may not be what you’re looking for, make sure you ask multiple questions and push the program to say more than it initially says. There are various ways to approach an assignment, so follow Antony’s tip and see how far it takes you. ChatGPT can be a great learning tool, but remember, use it to support your work, do not ask the bot to do your homework for you. Many other students have expressed that ChatGPT is an excellent learning tool. David Ngei Omurwa, a Cybersecurity Student at Coventry University Wrocław, told us that, in his opinion, ChatGPT is a good learning aid. He said, “I've used ChatGPT for learning. I've used it extensively in programming, usually for proofreading code, and I have also used it to solve programming problems.” ChatGPT can be a great tool to solve your study problems and help you get more out of your academic journey. But how can it aid your independent research?

Aid in research

ChatGPT has an extensive database of information up to September 2021. If you are revising for a history exam or want to understand the fundamentals of computer science up to this date, ChatGPT is a great tool to help expand your knowledge. The software can help with topic exploration, source evaluation, research methodology, data analysis, and writing. Simona Mohammad, a Natural Sciences major and soon-to-be Master's student at Loughborough University, commented on her use of ChatGPT in academia. She said, "I think it's useful when writing reports and finding information when you're stuck." So, ChatGPT can be a great way to get your research off the ground. However, Simona mentioned that the software struggled to find resources. She told Cybernews Academy, "Finding a paper was quite hard, as it often sent me incorrect or broken links."

Similarly, Dr. Olivia Ramsbottom, a senior lecturer in Strategic Management at Sheffield Hallam University, commented that "frequently the references are incorrect" as ChatGPT tends to "come up with hybrid references." Unfortunately, ChatGPT isn't perfect, and we have to take the positives with the negatives when using the software. One thing we can gain from these anecdotes is how ChatGPT can aid your research but shouldn't be relied on solely. One of the positive things about the chatbot is its ability to restructure texts and help you develop your writing style.

Improve writing style

Writing can be tricky at times, your ideas may be working, and you need help to structure and deliver these ideas concisely and coherently. This can be especially difficult if you're an international student and English isn't your first language. ChatGPT can help you craft compelling arguments, improve your writing style, and create clear and persuasive presentations. When I say 'help,' this means gathering ideas and taking pointers from ChatGPT– never allow the software to do your work for you. Simona Mohammad, an international student from Italy, said the chatbot can be helpful "if you're writing a paper and "you get stuck, you hit a wall, and you don't know how to rephrase your sentence." In addition, Simona told us, "I wish ChatGPT were around when I was applying for placement so it could help me write a cover letter." As cover letters and applications are repetitive, Simona believes this is an excellent use of ChatGPT. Dr. Peter Boxall, lecturer of English at the University of Sussex, said that although ChatGPT shouldn't be used to write essays, it can be used "as a legitimate tool." He gave a few examples of how you could use ChatGPT "to write an abstract" or "use it to write very intelligent indexes." These are just a few examples of ways you can use the chatbot to write otherwise tedious text. Dr. Ramsbottom shared her thoughts on the software: "If students use this tool to create clear, concise work, that can only be good." So, there are a few excellent ways to use the software to improve your writing and help you save time. Many of our speakers agreed that ChatGPT is a brilliant writing tool. This includes Professor Mitali Halder, Assistant Lecturer responsible for Artificial Intelligence courses at Coventry University Wrocław. She said, "ChatGPT is one of the best tools for text generation." So, if you plan on using it for anything, improving your writing style and tweaking structural, grammatical, and syntactical elements is the best way to use it. However, there is much more to learning than just writing essays. What if your new academic mentor could help you prepare for the difficult things; exams?

Prepare for exams

Hate exams? Well, not anymore; with ChatGPT's guidance preparing for exams should be a breeze. The program can review course material, create a tailored study schedule, summarize and condense information, provide past exam questions, and even offer helpful tips that might make studying easier. By providing the specific areas of study, ChatGPT can help familiarize you with your chosen topic. ChatGPT can explain concepts, summarize key points, generate practical questions, and help you review quizzes and assessments. Ayman Ali, a Computer Science undergraduate at Loughborough University, commented on the time-saving element of ChatGPT. When it comes to preparing for exams, it can take a lot of effort and even more time. Ayman commented on this; he said, "I think it's a massive time saver more than anything because a lot of the time you need to find something that's outside the course material, or you need to analyze slides, and then you have to go to the library or go to Google and that takes time. So, ChatGPT is just a good time-saving mechanism." But be careful. Ask ChatGPT specific questions about your course, as this will yield optimal results, don't just accept the first answer. Allow it to give you multiple solutions and come to your own conclusions.

Subject-specific guidance

ChatGPT can help give you subject-specific guidance and help you to manage your workload. It can explain concepts and terminology, find specific resources, provide information, clarify doubts surrounding certain topics, and help you gain more knowledge surrounding the subject matter. It's important to provide exact details about your course to obtain the most valuable answers. Information supplied by ChatGPT can sometimes be inaccurate, so make sure you fact-check all the information before using it in essays or exams. Pavils Kobenkins, an international Engineering student from Southern Denmark University, used ChatGPT to help him make sense of his course. He said, "I just asked ChatGPT to rephrase a term in normal words to help me understand it." The student says the software "helped me understand what I need to do." Dr. Olivia Ramsbottom commented on the development of AI in education, saying that a "support tool isn't handing things on a plate to the student, but trying to get them to think a bit more about the subject area." ChatGPT could be one of those tools that help you gain subject-specific knowledge surrounding your discipline.

How to get the best out of ChatGPT

Many people need to know how to use ChatGPT. Often students will accept the first answer and take that as the only answer. But there are so many more fascinating uses of ChatGPT. We at Cybernews Academy have come up with some tips to help you get the best out of this intelligent chatbot.

Don’t accept the first answer

You can't rely on the first answer generated by ChatGPT, so it's best to have a conversation with the software, ask follow-up questions, and elaborate on the answers you receive. Ask open-ended questions about your course and avoid simple yes or no questions unless you are looking for specific details. ChatGPT reminds you to be clear and precise when asking questions, always use complete sentences, avoid using complex language, provide the necessary background information, and seek clarification if you don't receive the answer you were looking for. You should receive many interesting answers by asking a host of questions. Dr. Antony Aumann commented on the incorrect usage of ChatGPT; he said, "Students will ask it a question, and it provides an answer, and they're like, OK, that's the answer. But that's not the best way to use it." Dr. Aumann told us, "The best way to use it is actually to try to have a conversation with it, have follow-up questions, and ask it for alternatives."

Converse, converse, converse

Have a conversation with ChatGPT, don't just ask it a single question, as you can't rely on these responses alone. ChatGPT can provide various outcomes to one problem, so apply your critical thinking skills and determine which solution fits your subject matter. Conversations with the chatbot can be beneficial as the software strives to provide objective and unbiased information that can strengthen continuous learning and promote academic improvement. There are many benefits to having an in-depth conversation with ChatGPT. Dr. Antony Aumann elaborated on his previous point: "The best way to use ChatGPT is to have a conversation with it and have follow-up questions where you push it to say more than what it initially says.” You should always push ChatGPT to develop its answers, as the software will initially produce a very basic response.

Tell ChatGPT EXACTLY what you need

Be specific, tell ChatGPT precisely what you need, and it will give you practical answers to help solve your problems. If you are clear, this allows for a more in-depth, relevant, and accurate response to your question. Ask follow-up questions, focus on what areas of study you need to target, and use simple language. Dr. Antony Aumann gave an excellent recommendation on how to use ChatGPT effectively. Antony says, "Ask ChatGPT to give you four answers and then sort through it yourselves." Then you are engaged in active learning, employing critical thinking skills, and being creative– all while using ChatGPT. However, don't forget to do independent research on your chosen subject, as ChatGPT doesn't have all the answers.

Rely on independent research

Don't simply rely on ChatGPT for your knowledge. Make sure you research all the topics that ChatGPT raises, as some of the information may not be accurate. In addition, this chatbot can't replace hard work and dedication, so ensure you complete your own research and apply this information to your university degree. You will gain a deeper understanding of your course, avoid plagiarism, and develop your critical thinking skills through research. ChatGPT might seem like the easy way out, but you will get more satisfaction from your learning process by doing the work yourself. Pavils Kobenkins commented that the software "gives you a good understanding of what your work should look like." Which is great, but he also said, "You always need to recheck what you're writing. It's not like you can copy the work; you must also do something yourself." Simona Mohammad had a different experience when using the software. She said, "I would ask ChatGPT questions, and it would feed back to me, and I would realize that the things it was saying were wrong." Yet another example of why you should rely on your research, as the answers generated by ChatGPT are not always accurate. In addition, Simona Mohammad would tell the chabot it was wrong and "it would apologize and then explain an alternative answer, but that would be wrong again." If you use ChatGPT without checking your work, you could risk using irrelevant or incorrect statements in your assignments if not adequately researched. Kyran Peel, an Ethical Hacking and Cybersecurity student from Coventry University, commented on this lack of understanding, he said: "There's a lack of understanding surrounding ChatGPT as some people are using the technology to come up with things for them, and they don't have the actual knowledge." This is another reason why it's essential to focus on independent research, as it helps you develop your understanding and expand your knowledge.

So, ChatGPT can be our new academic mentor– as long as we ask the right questions and are specific and precise in our prompting. Let’s run through a few things we can take with us along our next ChatGPT journey.

Remember:

  • Don’t accept the first answer- Converse with the program and ensure you get the best out of your experience.
  • Have a conversation with ChatGPT- Get to know your new academic mentor, ask questions, ask ChatGPT to take specific roles, and talk to it as if it were your lecturer.
  • Tell ChatGPT what you want to achieve- By telling ChatGPT what you want to achieve, you can tailor its responses to fit your needs, meaning you will get more out of ChatGPT.

If you have struggled to find where to use ChatGPT and how to get the best out of it, follow these curated tips to help you navigate the software and optimize your learning experience.

Would you consider trying out ChatGPT as your new academic advisor?