How you should—and shouldn’t—use ChatGPT as a student

It’s the new artificial intelligence tool everyone’s talking about—a chatbot designed to change how we write. But if you ask it for help on your uni assessments, is that considered cheating? Let’s see what the universities are saying.

A smiling red robot

As a uni student, you’ve probably heard all the debates about ChatGPT. This ground-breaking conversational chatbot can answer any question, write whole paragraphs in seconds, and analyse problems in a remarkably human-like way. 

It’s an exciting invention, because it will revolutionise the way we interact with computers. But there’s a lot of controversy around the tool too. For a start, some students have realised ChatGPT could write their assessments for them.  

Obviously, this isn’t great. Universities all agree this is a form of cheating, and students giving this a go are opening themselves up to serious academic penalties. They’re also not forming any original opinions in their future area of expertise and turning in some pretty poorly written assignments. 

But there’s no denying AI tools like ChatGPT, Jasper and Grammarly are here to stay. And they can be genuinely helpful in your school and working life, if you use them correctly.  

So how can you lean on artificial intelligence during your studies, without crossing any ethical lines? Here are some helpful dos and don’ts to guide you, based on what we see different universities doing. We even asked ChatGPT for help with this article, just to show you how it can be done.

ChatGPT dos

Do ask for research guidance before writing an essay

Getting started is often the hardest part when you’re writing an essay or prepping for an exam. Some universities suggest using ChatGPT as a remedy for your procrastination. You can ask the tool where you should kick off your research on a particular topic, and it will point you to relevant resources. 

As an example, when we asked: “What academic resources could I use to research the ethics of artificial intelligence for university students?” it came back with a list of industry journals, books and websites that should be accessible through a university library login. Talk about a time saver!

Do use it when brainstorming

Universities like Flinders University, the University of Adelaide, and the University of South Australia will allow students to use ChatGPT as a writing prompter for assignments, if they disclose it. The benefit to this approach is that you get a jumping off point, but you still need to build your own argument and do the critical thinking.

To give you an idea of this in action, we asked the tool: "I have to write an essay about the ethics of artificial intelligence tools in the academic world. Can you give me some thought starters to help direct my writing?”

It gave us 6 possible directions to take things. One answer was: “Definition of AI in the academic context: Start by defining AI and its different forms and applications in the academic world. Discuss how AI tools are increasingly being used in various academic fields and the potential benefits they offer.” 

Do ask questions about study material you don’t understand

Some universities recognise the value of ChatGPT as a student support service. It can instantly explain topics you’re unsure about, which could save you from needing to email your tutor every time you have a question. If there’s an academic term or piece of jargon you don’t recognise in an assessment, you can ask ChatGPT to summarise it for you in plain speak. 

Do use it to proofread your work

The tool can also proofread your final draft for grammatical errors, issues with your sentence structure and readability, and provide suggestions for improvement. This is similar to what AI-powered writing assistant Grammarly does. This is an ethical approach some unis prefer because it encourages you to make your work better, but you have to take the next steps. 

Do cite any AI assistance in your reference list

If you do use an AI tool for idea or text generation, it's almost guaranteed your uni will want you to cite it as a source in your final references. While most referencing styles don’t have a format for ChatGPT usage yet, your tutors will have a recommendation around how to handle it. The University of Queensland suggests using the reference style you would use for personal correspondence

Rules around this will change as the technology evolves, so be sure to keep up to date with your university’s academic integrity policy (more on this below). 

ChatGPT don’ts

Don’t ask AI software to write essays for you

The fact is, if you ask ChatGPT to write an assessment for you, that’s a form of plagiarism. And your teachers will figure out what you’re doing. 

Universities are already coming up with new measures to identify AI-generated text. Plagiarism detection software like Turnitin is being upgraded to tackle this issue, while a new tool called AICheatCheck has been developed specifically in response to AI cheating in Australia. 

While AI-generated text might sound passable to the untrained eye, it lacks personality, insight and, sometimes, logic. ChatGPT itself says that, “As an AI language model, I'm not designed to replace human writers. My language capabilities are limited to what I have been trained on and I do not have the ability to generate new ideas or insights that come from human experiences and perspectives.” 

Qualified university tutors grade hundreds of assessments every year. They’ll be able to tell that your language patterns are robotic. And the consequences you face when getting caught aren’t worth the risk.

Don’t blindly trust AI-generated information

OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, has been upfront about the fact that ChatGPT’s answers aren’t always accurate. Sometimes, the chatbot straight up lies. When Marcel Salathe, a digital epidemiologist, asked the tool to give him a list of epidemiology references, the bot invented some. After he challenged this, ChatGPT responded, “I can only provide information based on the text I have been trained on... I am not able to detect when my responses are incorrect or out-of-date.” 

In other words, don’t rely on ChatGPT as a primary source of information. Check multiple sources to verify what it tells you. 

Don’t do anything that violates your university’s academic integrity policy

Finally, it’s crucial to remember that different universities have different stances on AI tools. Some will encourage you to use ChatGPT as a resource, while others may ban it altogether. You should familiarise yourself with your uni’s academic integrity policy to see what side of the fence it sits on. This policy outlines what counts as academic misconduct and plagiarism. You’ll generally find it on your university’s website or learning management system if you’re an online student. 

It’s important not to violate this policy when writing an assessment, because you could face serious academic penalties if caught, like a failing grade or termination of your enrolment. And no one wants that! 

Consider how ChatGPT will be used in the real world

Controversial or not, we have to face the truth: AI tools like ChatGPT will have their place in the future of work. Some fields like digital media, justice and healthcare are already testing how this innovation could make certain tasks easier. 

Provided you're following the rules set out by your university, it can’t hurt to experiment with the tool now, so you’re familiar with its ethical applications. ChatGPT could support and even boost your career in unexpected ways. It’s all about how you use it. 

Looking for more tips around student life? Explore our study and life hacks

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