ChatGPT in Higher Education: A Primer for Instructors

Above view of students studying at a coffee shop
Artificial IntelligenceOnline Learning
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Audrey Wick is an English professor and Cengage faculty partner


ChatGPT in higher education is here, and instructors are in a position to steer its use.

Of course, that has always been the case. Whether it’s math instructors incorporating the use of graphing calculators or writing instructors leaning into word processor spelling checkers, technology demands that instructors in the classroom respond to it.

Now, instructors are responding to ChatGPT.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence technology that generates text based on a user’s request. It can answer questions, produce sentences, write code, build scripts, create translations, play games, and more. ChatGPT is designed to be interactive with a dialogue format, which its creator OpenAI contends “makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer followup questions, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests.”

ChatGPT’s responses are meant to sound human-generated. With this, the application is not only easy to use, but it also becomes attractive as a potential source of academic dishonesty when students are engaging in coursework.

Can ChatGPT be used for cheating? 

Absolutely. But before instructors panic, forms of cheating have always been available to students. Collusion, text spinners, file manipulation, contract cheating, and plagiarism are some of the ways that students may be academically dishonest. Of course, instructors have always been able to use proactive approaches to minimize these forms.

Still, ChatGPT’s ease of use and its quick turnaround time make it tempting for obtaining material that students can appropriate as their own.

How should instructors who require writing assignments respond? 

Writing assignments are an important, viable means of assessing student knowledge, not just for English instructors but for assessment of skills in a variety of disciplines. But writing assignments are usually only one component of many in a class.

Additionally, the final drafts of a written assignment are not the only component to use as a grade. Some instructors use process-based methods, whereby students are awarded credit for completing various stages like prewriting, outlining, rough drafting, or peer editing. Some instructors require proof of research along with a final draft, whether that includes an assignment like an annotated bibliography or the requirement for students to share copies of the sources they have used for research. Other instructors favor project-based assignments for scores, like portfolios. Rubrics can even be used for grading these.

Grading more than just a final draft can lessen a student’s reliance on ChatGPT. Then, a combination of lower-stakes assignments (quizzes, reflections, journal responses) and higher-stakes assignments (major tests, midterms, final exams) can help ensure that instructors assess a range of skills and are meeting a variety of curriculum outcomes.

Can instructors leverage ChatGPT in higher education in a positive way? 

There are always innovative ways to incorporate technology in the classroom, and ChatGPT in higher education offers endless possibilities that can be used alongside existing curriculum.

  • Speech instructors can use it for generating speech outline examples.
  • Foreign language instructors can use it for analyzing syntax.
  • Kinesiology instructors can use it for collating exercise advice and then having students respond to that advice.

Possibilities abound. By the time you are reading this article, you may have already discovered fresh ways to incorporate it into an existing activity for your class. Or you may have already experimented with a new classroom idea.

Educators have always been innovators. Likewise, adaptation is part of every higher education instructor’s job. Whatever the future brings with ChatGPT in higher education, instructors will do what they have always done: innovate, adapt, and continue to teach.


With new technology comes new ways of cheating. Learn more about cheating trends and cheating prevention in our eBook.