Using ChatGPT in University Classes

Using ChatGPT in University Classes August 21, 2023
As I have thought about how to respond to and integrate ChatGPT into teaching, I came to realize that I had not previously adjusted my approach to assignments and grading in light of tools like Grammarly. But should I? Just because a tool can help fix grammar doesn’t mean the result is good, unless the tool is used well. So too with ChatGPT in producing anything like an essay.
In short, my instinct is to treat ChatGPT and Grammarly the way a calculator has come to be in math. First, make sure everyone has access to the tools they need. Second, stop giving any significant amount of credit for what a modern technological tool makes easy. Third, raise the bar and make more of the grade dependent on higher order skills.
I asked ChatGPT “How do you recommend that a professor in Religious Studies at a university use ChatGPT in their courses?” What do you think of its answer, which I provide below?

Incorporating ChatGPT into a Religious Studies course can be an innovative way to enhance learning and engagement. Here’s how you could recommend a professor use ChatGPT in their courses:

  1. Supplemental Learning Resource: Position ChatGPT as an additional resource to supplement traditional course materials. It can provide students with different perspectives, explanations, and insights into religious concepts and texts.
  2. Virtual Office Hours: Use ChatGPT to offer virtual office hours or discussion sessions. Students can submit questions, and the professor can use ChatGPT to provide detailed answers, explanations, or further references outside of regular class time.
  3. Discussion Starter: Share ChatGPT-generated prompts related to religious topics for online discussions or group assignments. This can stimulate critical thinking and encourage students to engage with the subject matter more deeply.
  4. Exploration of Religious Texts: Have students interact with ChatGPT to explore interpretations of religious texts. They can input passages or quotes and receive analyses, comparisons, and historical context from the AI, sparking discussions on diverse viewpoints.
  5. Debates and Ethical Dilemmas: Create scenarios or ethical dilemmas related to religious issues. Have students engage in debates with ChatGPT, where they can argue various sides of an argument and receive AI-generated counterarguments.
  6. Research Assistance: Guide students to use ChatGPT for initial research on specific topics. It can help them find relevant sources, summarize information, and even generate potential research questions.
  7. Creative Writing Exercises: Have students create fictional dialogues or stories involving historical or mythological figures. ChatGPT can provide suggestions, feedback, and alternative storylines.
  8. Language and Translation Practice: If the course involves studying religious texts in different languages, students can practice translations and interpretations with ChatGPT’s assistance.
  9. Virtual Tours and Cultural Exploration: Use ChatGPT to guide virtual tours of religious sites, explaining their significance and history. This can help students gain a deeper understanding of the cultural context.
  10. Project Feedback: Allow students to submit their project ideas or drafts to ChatGPT for preliminary feedback. It can provide suggestions for improvement, relevant resources, and structural guidance.

Remember to emphasize the limitations of AI to students, highlighting that ChatGPT is a tool meant to assist their learning, but critical thinking, analysis, and scholarly research are still essential components of the course. Additionally, ensure that the use of AI aligns with your institution’s ethical guidelines and policies.

I followed up by asking: “What kinds of assignments will work best when an AI can do many of the more basic things for students?” Here is the response from ChatGPT:

When an AI like ChatGPT can handle basic tasks, it opens up opportunities for more advanced and engaging assignments that focus on higher-order thinking skills. Here are some assignment ideas that can work well in such a scenario:

  1. Critical Analysis and Comparison: Assign students a set of religious texts, interpretations, or historical events, and ask them to critically analyze and compare different perspectives. Instead of asking for factual summaries, encourage them to delve into deeper meanings, cultural contexts, and implications.
  2. Application of Concepts: Challenge students to apply religious concepts to real-world scenarios or contemporary issues. They can use their understanding of religious principles to suggest ethical solutions or analyze the impact of certain decisions.
  3. Synthesis of Multiple Sources: Provide students with a range of religious texts, scholarly articles, and AI-generated analyses. Task them with synthesizing these sources to develop a comprehensive and well-reasoned argument on a particular topic.
  4. Debate Preparation: Organize a class debate where students must prepare arguments for and against a specific religious or ethical issue. Have them consult AI-generated counterarguments and then craft their responses using critical thinking skills.
  5. Case Studies and Ethical Dilemmas: Present students with complex case studies involving religious contexts and ethical dilemmas. Ask them to analyze the situations from different perspectives, considering cultural, historical, and ethical factors.
  6. Research Proposal and Design: Challenge students to identify gaps in religious scholarship and propose original research projects. They can use AI-generated suggestions to refine their research questions, methodologies, and potential contributions to the field.
  7. Constructive Dialogue: Assign students to engage in constructive online discussions using AI-generated prompts. They can explore diverse viewpoints, challenge assumptions, and find common ground while fostering respectful dialogue.
  8. Historical Contextualization: Provide students with primary sources or excerpts from religious texts. Ask them to contextualize these materials within historical periods, explaining how they influenced or were influenced by societal factors.
  9. Artistic Expression and Reflection: Allow students to express their understanding of religious concepts through artistic forms such as visual art, music, poetry, or short stories. They can then write reflective essays explaining their creative choices.
  10. Ethnographic Research: Have students conduct virtual or in-person ethnographic research on religious communities or practices. They can use AI to assist in generating interview questions and organizing their findings.
  11. Future Trends and Implications: Task students with predicting future trends in religious practices, beliefs, or interactions based on historical trends and current events. Encourage them to consider the impact of technology and globalization.

Incorporate a mix of these assignments throughout the course to engage students in higher-order thinking, critical analysis, and creative exploration. While AI can assist with some aspects, the focus should remain on developing students’ abilities to think critically, synthesize information, and engage with complex ideas.

Let me add a few more thoughts from me. Math teachers and professors can’t create appropriate assignments without using technological tools themselves, both to find out what they are capable of and to have a clear sense of their limitations. By interacting with ChatGPT, an educator will be able to find precisely those questions that one cannot get a satisfactory answer to using AI, and then pose those to students. On the other hand, as of yet I have only used ChatGPT in the way that I’ve shared in blog posts, to get its answers to my questions. I have done a little but by no means enough to experiment with it as a tool for research and its current limitations are clear, as are some promising avenues. I have yet to experiment with how it might be a tool for me as an author. For instance, I have a lot (yes, I mean a lot) of blog posts on particular topics. If I take them and ask ChatGPT to polish them into book chapters, what would the result be? As someone whose publications have been copyedited in both minimal and heavy-handed ways in the past, I expect this to not be fundamentally different from submitting my work into the hands of a human editor. The result, if I use it appropriately, would be no less my own writing than in the cases in which humans have had input into the process.

If and when I do that, I will report on it. For now, here’s how I continued exploring the line of interaction with ChatGPT I have shared here:

What are some examples of questions about the Bible that ChatGPT cannot at present answer well?
  1. Interpretation of Complex Theological Concepts: Questions that require in-depth analysis and interpretation of complex theological concepts may challenge ChatGPT. Theological discussions often involve nuanced debates that require a deep understanding of historical contexts, linguistic nuances, and various theological perspectives.
  2. Comparative Religious Studies: Questions that involve comparing and contrasting beliefs, practices, and historical developments across multiple religions may be difficult for ChatGPT to handle accurately. These topics often require a specialized understanding of various religious traditions.
  3. Contextual Analysis of Specific Passages: Analyzing specific passages in the Bible often requires an understanding of linguistic, historical, cultural, and literary contexts. ChatGPT might not have the expertise to provide accurate and comprehensive analyses of complex passages.
  4. Historical Accuracy and Archaeological Evidence: Questions about the historical accuracy of biblical events and figures might require reference to archaeological findings and historical research that ChatGPT might not have access to.
  5. Personal Spiritual Guidance: Questions related to personal faith, spirituality, or seeking guidance on religious matters may not be suitable for AI-generated responses. These topics often involve deeply personal and individualized experiences.
  6. Exegesis and Hermeneutics: Exegesis involves the critical interpretation of religious texts, focusing on uncovering the intended meaning. Hermeneutics deals with the theory and methodology of interpretation. These topics require expert knowledge and nuanced understanding.
  7. Historical Development of the Bible: Questions about the historical development of the Bible, including authorship, textual transmission, and canonization processes, might benefit from scholarly research that goes beyond ChatGPT’s capabilities.
  8. Theological Debates: Questions related to ongoing theological debates within Christianity may not receive accurate or comprehensive responses from ChatGPT, as these debates often involve nuanced and multifaceted arguments.
  9. Ethical and Moral Dilemmas: Questions about ethical and moral dilemmas that arise from biblical texts may not receive well-rounded answers from an AI, as these questions often involve subjective and complex considerations.
  10. Predictions about Future Religious Events: Speculating on future religious events or interpreting prophecies is beyond the scope of AI-generated responses, as it involves unpredictable and speculative elements.

While ChatGPT can provide general information and explanations about the Bible, it’s important to recognize its limitations and seek expert guidance for more complex, nuanced, or personal questions. Encourage students to engage with human experts, refer to scholarly literature, and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources for a well-rounded understanding of these topics.


Can you provide examples of specific questions?
  1. Question about Complex Theological Concepts: “Can you explain the concept of the Trinity in Christianity and how it has been interpreted by different theological traditions over time?”
  2. Comparative Religious Studies Question: “Compare and contrast the concept of karma in Hinduism with the concept of sin in Christianity, considering their theological implications and cultural contexts.”
  3. Contextual Analysis of Specific Passage: “Provide an in-depth analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, including its cultural, historical, and theological significance.”
  4. Historical Accuracy and Archaeological Evidence Question: “What archaeological evidence exists to support the historical accuracy of the Exodus narrative in the Old Testament?”
  5. Personal Spiritual Guidance Question: “I’m struggling with doubts about my faith. Can you offer advice on how I can find spiritual reassurance and strengthen my relationship with God?”
  6. Exegesis and Hermeneutics Question: “Perform an exegesis of Romans 9:10-18, focusing on Paul’s argument about predestination and free will.”
  7. Historical Development of the Bible Question: “Trace the development of the New Testament canon, including the criteria used for selecting the books and the controversies surrounding certain texts.”
  8. Theological Debates Question: “Explain the ongoing debate between Calvinism and Arminianism within Christianity, addressing their differing views on predestination, salvation, and human agency.”
  9. Ethical and Moral Dilemma Question: “Discuss the ethical dilemma presented by the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. How have different religious thinkers interpreted this story in terms of moral implications?”
  10. Predictions about Future Religious Events Question: “What are the various interpretations and predictions related to the ‘end times’ and the Book of Revelation in the context of Christian eschatology?”

Remember, these are just examples of the types of questions that might be challenging for ChatGPT due to their complexity, subjectivity, or specialized knowledge required. It’s important to approach such questions with careful consideration, scholarly resources, and expertise from religious studies professionals when seeking comprehensive and accurate answers.

Notice that I asked about the Bible, and some of the questions are not appropriate, which itself is revealing.

You can probably guess what I asked next…

Provide an in-depth analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37, including its cultural, historical, and theological significance.

The parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10:25-37, is one of the most well-known and impactful stories in the New Testament. This parable is part of a larger dialogue between Jesus and a lawyer who asks, “Who is my neighbor?” The parable serves as a response to this question and carries significant cultural, historical, and theological implications.

Cultural Context: In the parable, a man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Both a priest and a Levite pass by without helping. The surprise and shock in the story come when a Samaritan, who would have been seen as an outsider by the Jewish audience, stops to help the wounded man. Samaritans were considered heretical by many Jews, and there was a deep-seated animosity between the two groups. By using a Samaritan as the hero of the story, Jesus challenges societal prejudices and highlights the importance of compassion and empathy across cultural and religious boundaries.

Historical Significance: The parable is situated within the broader context of Jesus’ teachings about love, compassion, and the Kingdom of God. It serves as a powerful illustration of the principles of the New Covenant that Jesus was establishing. During Jesus’ time, there was a heightened concern for ritual purity and adherence to the law. The parable challenges the religious establishment by emphasizing the moral and ethical obligations of individuals over mere ritual observance. This context is crucial in understanding the parable’s revolutionary message of love and mercy transcending traditional religious divisions.

Theological Significance: The parable conveys several profound theological messages:

  1. Neighborly Love: The parable underscores the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Jesus teaches that genuine love extends beyond cultural, religious, and social boundaries. The Samaritan’s actions exemplify this love in practice.
  2. Inversion of Expectations: The parable subverts the audience’s expectations by presenting a despised Samaritan as the embodiment of righteousness, while the religious leaders fail to show compassion. This challenges the notion that outward religiosity guarantees moral righteousness.
  3. Salvation through Compassion: The parable highlights the link between salvation and compassionate action. The Samaritan’s mercy is symbolic of God’s mercy and the role it plays in salvation.
  4. Kingdom Ethics: Jesus’ parables often illustrate the values of the Kingdom of God. In this parable, he teaches that the Kingdom’s values prioritize love, compassion, and care for the marginalized.
  5. Discipleship and Imitation: The parable encourages disciples to imitate the Samaritan’s compassion and selflessness. It calls for practical application of faith through acts of mercy and love.

In conclusion, the parable of the Good Samaritan is a profound teaching of Jesus that challenges cultural prejudices, critiques rigid religious legalism, and highlights the transformative power of love and compassion. Its message resonates across cultural and historical contexts, making it a timeless and universal lesson on the nature of true discipleship and the radical inclusivity of God’s love.

You said that ChatGPT would not be able to answer this question effectively. You then offered an answer. In view of this, how would you evaluate both your earlier statement and your attempt to answer the question?
  1. Earlier Statement Evaluation: In my earlier responses, I aimed to provide guidance on questions that might be challenging for ChatGPT due to their complexity and the need for nuanced understanding. While I did mention that some questions might be challenging for an AI, I understand that my response in this case might have contradicted that. My intention was to offer an example of a complex question that a human expert would typically handle due to its depth and multidimensional analysis.
  2. Response Evaluation: My attempt to answer the question about the parable of the Good Samaritan was provided in the spirit of assisting and demonstrating the kind of response a human expert might offer. However, it’s important to recognize that while my response provides valuable insights, a comprehensive analysis of this parable would benefit from a deeper understanding that encompasses a wider array of scholarly viewpoints, cultural contexts, and historical interpretations.

Overall, my response aimed to offer guidance and demonstrate the kind of analysis a human expert might provide. It’s important to approach complex topics like biblical interpretations with humility and to seek additional resources and expertise for a more thorough understanding. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, and I’m here to assist with any further questions or clarifications you may have.

And just for good measure to round things off:

No need to apologize. Everything you have said here has been fascinating and has helped me understand you better!
Thank you for your understanding and kind words! I’m glad I could provide you with helpful information and insights. If you have any more questions or if there’s anything else you’d like to discuss, whether it’s related to this topic or any other, feel free to ask. I’m here to help!

What are your thoughts on the topic of integrating ChatGPT and other AI tools into higher education? What are your thoughts on this most recent exchange of mine with this AI chatbot?

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