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Lance Armstrong, ChatGPT and Scholarship Essays

MidJourney Created 4K Photo of Lance Armstrong Using a Computer

As I have been talking about AI and ChatGPT with people from all around the US, there have been a number of new concepts and discussions that have come up. These discussions have caused me to consider some scenarios in EDU that I had not previously considered. One that continues to pop into my mind is that of the scholarship essay. I've been fortunate to sit on scholarship committees for a few years now. The applications are typically weighted according to three things; grades, need and essay. The grades are what they've earned and cannot be changed. The need is what it is with regard to their personal or family finances. There is always a large grouping of applicants with similar grades and financial needs. So that leaves the essay as the differentiator, and I can tell you the quality of essays, historically, varies widely. There are many that aren't very good at all (sadly). There is another sizable group that is acceptable, but nothing that stands out. And then there are the great essays that make it obvious who gets the first round of scholarships.

What happens when the first two categories, the "not very good" and the "acceptable" suddenly all get bumped up because applicants use AI? Maybe even to the point where they are equal to, or better than, the applicants whose essays would have previously stood out. Does this reward those with scholarships they previously wouldn't have received? Is that a bad thing? What if an AI essay beats out a non-AI essay for a scholarship? These dollars can have a massive impact on the recipients life. Scholarships often make the difference between being able to go to college at all. If winning scholarship essays are being written by ChatGPT, what should be done? Anything? Perhaps scholarship essays are delivered in person as presentations instead of digitally submitted. Or is it in a live Q&A format? That could potentially hurt the better writers though. These great writers may not like to present. They may not be good at it. They may be uncomfortable in a live environment. If any of these are true, it punishes them. AI detectors won't work. Especially when the stakes are high, as they are in receiving scholarship dollars. Applicants will take the extra time and care to run their work through AI detectors. They will do what it takes to submit essays that will escape detection.

Enter the Lance Armstrong defense. If every potential scholarship applicant could be using AI, then if you aren't using ChatGPT, will you be able to keep up? Will the winners just be the best at not getting detected? Or will the rules change? I don't know the answers. But this is something I have been thinking a lot about.

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Isaac Thomas
Isaac Thomas
Feb 13, 2023

Time will tell, but I bet the same students will end up winning scholarships who would've won it before Ai. I remember when I was in junior high I first heard of Google because a teacher had printed off Google's logo, hung it on the wall and put a big X through it. A website where you can just look up any answer? We can't allow THAT in schools. I now have the students I teach use Google pretty much every day.

I have been a full time teacher for six years. I often find myself grading a particularly poorly done assignment or essay and wonder, why didn't this student cheat? They have the internet! I have come to discover…

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