Librarians’ Guide to Answering Students’ Practical Questions about AI

Give students useful information for their questions on AI

A librarian answering a students' questions about AI and ChatGPT

What questions are library users asking about generative AI and how can we be prepared to answer them? To help with that, we’ve drafted sample questions and answers about ChatGPT and similar tools.

Of course, sometimes students aren’t yet asking questions we would like them to know the answers to! This is why, at the University of Arizona Libraries, we’ve decided to include them in our LibAnswers FAQ system. This gives us a central place where our staff can direct students for their questions. We can also use them in different ways, such as in LibGuides, tutorials, and workshops.

As always, make sure these answers align with your campus policies. Sometimes, policies come from a writing center or other groups on campus. At the University of Arizona, it’s up to individual instructors to decide on classroom policies, so we always tell students to find out the policy for each class they are in.

Over the last two weeks, we looked at both technical and ethical questions students might ask and possible responses you might give them. This final part of the series offers responses to their practical questions about using AI at your institution.

Is using ChatGPT for coursework considered cheating?

[Note: Your answer will depend on your university’s or instructors’ policies.] At the University of Arizona, it’s up to each instructor to create policies for classroom use. So if your instructor doesn’t allow it, it would be cheating, especially if you use ChatGPT to write an academic paper.

However, many instructors do allow it for specific assignments or tasks. Always ask your instructor what their policies are. The best time to talk with your instructor is before you begin your assignment to avoid starting it over if generative AI isn’t allowed. Even if your instructor does allow it for particular uses, it’s still against the principles of academic integrity to represent a paper entirely written by ChatGPT as your own.

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If my professor allows some uses of ChatGPT, how should I cite it?

First, find out which citation style your instructor requires (such as MLA, APA, or Chicago Manual of Style). Then visit the citation style guide on our website. Some instructors may ask for an appendix that includes the prompts you provided to ChatGPT or the full transcript of your interaction.

Which AI tools are best for working with words (writing, brainstorming, summarizing)?

For tasks like brainstorming, changing your writing style, or summarizing information, you can use Claude or the free version of ChatGPT. Neither of these tools can search the web for answers, so they rely only on their training data, which doesn’t include the most current information.

These tools aren’t meant to be used like a search engine because they don’t have knowledge or understanding of facts. They are designed only to reply in a conversational style according to probability statistics based on their training data. This means they sometimes make up plausible sounding text that’s not factual. This is called “hallucination,” and it means you’ll need to fact-check what it says.

Note: As of May 13, 2024, free accounts on ChatGPT will begin to get access to a more powerful version called GPT-4o. It includes web browsing, so it can look up more current information. However, it has a limit to the amount of use in one day, so when you reach your limit, you’ll automatically be rolled back to the earlier version, which doesn’t include web browsing. You’ll have to wait until the next day to use the more powerful model again.

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Which AI tools are best for searching?

For finding results from websites, you can use Microsoft Copilot, Perplexity, or Google’s Gemini. These tools combine a language model with a source of facts, like web search results. They search the web and use the AI to summarize the text from those web pages, giving you links to where each part of the summary was found.

It’s a good idea to visit those web pages instead of only reading the summary because it’s still possible for the AI to make errors in those summaries. These tools “hallucinate” less often than tools like the free version of ChatGPT because of this connection to a source of facts. But they can still make mistakes.

For finding results from academic papers, it’s always best to begin with library databases and Google Scholar. However, there are some tools that combine an AI language model with a database of scholarly papers. Elicit is one example. It searches Semantic Scholar and uses AI to summarize results from the journal articles it finds. 

With Elicit, you may find some results that you didn’t find with library databases. That’s because Elicit uses semantic searching rather than keyword searching: it can find papers discussing similar concepts even if matching keywords don’t appear. But remember that library databases and Google Scholar index many more journals, so it’s best to use multiple tools if you want to be comprehensive.

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How can I fact-check the information that ChatGPT and other language models give me?

If you are using a model that links to its sources (like Copilot, Perplexity, or Gemini), follow the links and read the original pages. Make sure the AI-generated summary aligns with the content of the page it came from. And make sure the page content is relevant to the task you asked the model to do.

If you are using the free version of ChatGPT (without links to sources), you will want to do a quick web search to find out if what it’s saying is true. Look for more than one source to verify the information. Wikipedia can be helpful, as can mainstream news sites that employ fact-checkers.

Because the free version of ChatGPT doesn’t have an understanding of facts, it’s often better to use a model that links to its sources, like Perplexity or Copilot. This makes it easier to fact-check. However, as of May 13, 2024, free accounts on ChatGPT will begin to get access to a more powerful version called GPT-4o. It includes web browsing, so it can look up more current information. However, it has a limit to the amount of use in one day, so when you reach your limit, you’ll automatically be rolled back to the earlier version, which doesn’t include web browsing. You’ll have to wait until the next day to use the more powerful model again.

Since websites can also contain misinformation, try using the SIFT Method: Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, and Trace claims to the original context.

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How can I protect my privacy when using ChatGPT?

First, don’t enter any private or confidential information into ChatGPT and similar tools. It’s possible that developers may review your entries to improve the next version of their model. 

If you want to make sure none of your inputs are used to improve the model in ChatGPT, you can turn off that feature in the settings. Click on your name, then Settings, then Data controls, and turn off the switch called “improve the model for everyone.” Another option is to use the feature called “temporary chat.” At the top of the page, click on the menu that says “ChatGPT,” and then click the option that says “temporary chat.” Then your chat won’t appear in your history and ChatGPT won’t save anything from your conversation.

You can do the same in other tools. In Perplexity’s settings, the switch is called “AI data retention.” In Google’s Gemini, click a button in the lower left called “activity.” At the top of the page that comes up, you can click the menu that says “turn off.” Claude doesn’t use your inputs for training unless you opt in.

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Feel free to share and modify these questions for your own use. Since generative AI products change often, we’ll be working to keep these answers current. You can find all of our AI-related FAQs at the University of Arizona LibGuide.


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