Navigating ChatGPT: A librarian’s perspective on the impact of ChatGPT in academia

Image of a persons hands using a computer with an AI program.
By Annie Kavanagh, Co-op librarian (April-December, 2023)

The introduction of ChatGPT on November 30, 2022, was a revolution. Although the development of artificial intelligence has been ongoing for decades, it was not until the release of ChatGPT by Open AI that the impact of artificial intelligence on our day-to-day lives was truly felt. People I know reacted in two opposing ways: either they immediately embraced the possibilities of ChatGPT and use it frequently, or have reacted in fear and distrust, refusing to use the application, and emphasizing the drawbacks and ethical implications of the software. This reaction is no different from the introduction of most technologies throughout history as there are always those more cautious than others – this is not necessarily a bad thing. This was seen recently, just under a year after ChatGPT launched, with the firing, protests, and swift rehiring of Sam Altman, OpenAI’s CEO. Rumours swirled that Altman was removed from a position allegedly over a lack of caution around the fast advancement of the technology, namely over fears, “that ChatGPT’s success was antithetical to creating safe A.I.” (Mickle et al., 2023). With artificial intelligence and Open AI in the news almost daily, it is important to look at how it fits into the context of academia and where the library fits into the conversation.

In the spring of 2023, the Leddy Library formed an AI Working Group to address the subject and to produce resources that can guide library users on how to be information literate when it comes to ChatGPT. Sharon Munro (Librarian) and I developed an AI Guide for Faculty and Adam Mulcaster (Librarian) and I created the AI Guide for Students. During my research, I was able to get a greater understanding of what is really going on when you use ChatGPT, in what contexts it can be a useful tool and when to not use it.
A groundbreaking essay for my understanding of what ChatGPT does was the New Yorker article, “ChatGPT is a blurry JPEG of the web” by Ted Chiang. Chiang explains that ChatGPT essentially provides the same type of search results you would find in a search engine, though with less accuracy since it can only hold so much data. Still, because it conversationally regurgitates the information, it seems as though it is analyzing and answering your question like a person. This is one of the major reasons that ChatGPT has been shown to ‘hallucinate’ or give false information and why we are more likely to take the information as legitimate and not fact-check. In general, ChatGPT is a great background knowledge tool, like Wikipedia, but it is not where you should go when you want to ensure you are getting accurate information, and you need the references to cite. Further, you cannot craft strategic searches or develop your research abilities using the tool, so it is not a great research resource.

During my co-op term at Leddy, I was able to attend several workshops presented by the Office of Open Learning about ChatGPT and AI. Ongoing guidance can be found in the living document Generative Artificial Intelligence in Teaching and Learning at UWindsor. The question of whether to allow ChatGPT in the classroom or if it is considered cheating for a student to use is up to each instructor. This can lead to confusion for students, especially early adopters of the technology who use it to help them understand readings or for help in editing assignments. Though students should always consult their instructors and read the course syllabus thoroughly to find out if they can use it, we have also curated some resources for students in this guide to understand how and when it can be useful and the multiple issues they should consider before using ChatGPT.
How can the library help you? First, consult our guides to familiarize yourself with background information and some basic frequently asked questions about the technology. Should you have more questions, as a student looking for suggestions on when it is a clever idea to use ChatGPT or a faculty member looking for ways it can enrich the classroom, feel free to reach out to your subject librarian or the general reference email. The Leddy Library is here to help you find information and to develop information literacy skills. ChatGPT can both help and hinder those processes, so we are always here to help you find what you need. Also, be careful using ChatGPT to find sources for your work and asking the library to help you find them – it has been shown to produce false citations when asked for them and librarians cannot find a work if it does not exist!

Regardless of any drawbacks to the technology, upon its release, ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer software application in history and presently has one hundred million users each week. The reality is that ChatGPT and other AI chatbots will only grow in capability and popularity and it is important to explore their benefits while being aware of any ethical implications and potential drawbacks. Preparing these guides and curating the resources listed has been a tremendous help for my knowledge of the topic. I will be maintaining a wary but optimistic view of the technology. Though I am certainly no Luddite, I am cautious of the ongoing drama in the technology space and the current lack of government oversight of its development. One of the aims of AI development is to create artificial general intelligence, or systems that are smarter than humans. As Open AI states, “Given the picture as we see it now, it’s conceivable that within the next ten years, AI systems will exceed expert skill level in most domains and carry out as much productive activity as one of today’s largest corporations” (Open AI, 2023, May 22, para. 1). These cannot help but recall artificial intelligence from popular culture such as Wall-E, Skynet, HAL 9000, Ultrahouse 3000, or Ava from Ex Machina. ChatGPT has recently introduced the ability to “see, hear, and speak,” a step closer to these intelligences (OpenAI, 2023). Hopefully, we will be able to develop technologies that lean closer to the Wall-E end of the spectrum and use their powers for the good and betterment of humanity.

Learn about more AI in our upcoming workshop:
Literature Searching with Artificial Intelligence
Thursday, March 14, 2024
10:00 am - 11:30 am 
Leddy Library Student Research Collaboratory

Altman, S. (2023, February 24). Planning for AGI and beyond. OpenAI Blog.

Chiang, T. (2023, February 9). ChatGPT Is a Blurry JPEG of the Web. The New Yorker.

Mickle, T., Metz, C., Isaac, M., & Weise, K. (2023, December 9). Inside OpenAI’s Crisis Over the Future of Artificial Intelligence. The New York Times.

OpenAI. (2023, September 25). ChatGPT can now see, hear, and speak. OpenAI Blog.

Porter, J. (2023, November 6). ChatGPT continues to be one of the fastest-growing services ever. The Verge.

University of Windsor. (2023, February 1). Generative artificial intelligence in teaching and learning at UWindsor—Emerging guidance.


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AI in Academia
Artificial Intelligence
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