The joy of studying with ChatGPT

Duke students love being productive, and they love feeling productive even more. ChatGPT, which can streamline one’s workflow, might seem irresistible. Yet, many students barely use it. 

This is unsurprising, as ChatGPT’s reputation was shaky from the start. Early news coverage portrayed ChatGPT as a one-trick pony. It was exceptional at passing standardized exams or writing mediocre essays, but not much else. By extension, students curious about ChatGPT were opportunistic, seeking academic shortcuts.

Overall, most narratives are either didactic or unrealistic. They either insinuate that ChatGPT users are morally compromised or overhype ChatGPT’s capabilities, leading to inflated expectations. 

One narrative that critics overlook is the feeling of working with ChatGPT. It helps me overcome writer’s block, enhance my productivity and build self-efficacy with ease.

Speed bumps riddle my writing process. With distractions just a click away, minor inconveniences — finding the right word, fixing clunky sentences or crafting a strong conclusion — become a convenient excuse to procrastinate. 

ChatGPT blasts through these challenges, freeing up my creative energy. It helps me select the perfect synonym and untangle wordy sentences. With ChatGPT's help, I feel less pressure to produce perfect writing from the start, allowing my ideas to flow.  

Second, ChatGPT is like a learning compass. In the past, when I didn’t know where to start on a problem set, I would have to wait a few days to ask a TA during office hours. With ChatGPT, I can get an answer instantly. It’s not always an amazing answer. While ChatGPT might identify the general concept or provide a possible solution, it is helpless with details. If I provide a counterexample, ChatGPT fails to modify its answer accordingly. It even butchers simple arithmetic. 

However, with ChatGPT’s guidance, I’ll know which lectures to rewatch or which keywords to search for on YouTube. ChatGPT’s outputs are imperfect, but they are usually a step in the right direction. 

The feeling of blazing through an assignment rather than slogging through it is addictive. Success begets success, and ChatGPT created a powerful sense of momentum, which inspires even greater confidence in my abilities. 

Yet, when ChatGPT first came out, I didn’t want to touch it. Because I assumed its only purpose was to spit out essays and exam answers, I associated its use with bad behavior. I thought my job was to spew out essays and exam answers. This was how I proved my dedication to learning. If I used ChatGPT (which only to expedite these tasks) what would become of me? 

In fact, I had conflated utilizing ChatGPT with depending on ChatGPT. 

When students write essays now, they aren’t limited to just a pen and paper. In fact, they might write down ideas by hand, conduct research on the Internet then type drafts on a word processor. These papers are always more polished than a timed pen-and-paper essay. ChatGPT — like Google Drive, Grammarly or a Bic Pen — is one of many study tools. 

Now, ChatGPT has altered my learning process. It reduces barriers to getting started and keeps me moving forward. In the past, students might tap their pen anxiously or stare helplessly into VSCode’s unyielding cursor. Now, ChatGPT stands ready to provide brainstorming, debugging and translation services 24/7, fueling continuous progress. 

Undeniably, some students may care more about submitting something rather than submitting something good. ChatGPT can facilitate laziness and dishonesty by churning out deliverables that are just good enough.

However, other students may seek to beef up their study methods or to improve their mindset toward learning. It is the user’s responsibility to wield ChatGPT for growth. 

In my experience, ChatGPT’s magic is not its answers, but rather its ability to change my mindset around learning. Just knowing that ChatGPT is available can make you feel more confident before a study session. And when you feel better, your learning will likely be better too. 

If you’re not using ChatGPT already, give it a try. A happier, more studious and more productive version of you awaits.

Jessica Luan is a Trinity senior. Her column typically runs on alternate Fridays.


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