ChatGPT helps SILS information expert focus

The AI chatbot can be a powerful assistive technology for those with ADHD, including herself, says Maggie Melo.

Maggie Melo
Melo said ChatGPT helps her quickly get through tasks such as writing emails and devising lesson-plan questions. (Megan May/UNC Research)

The rapid rise in popularity of artificial intelligence chatbots has divided opinions and prompted questions about what impact technology such as ChatGPT could have on society, including academia. Some are excited, others fearful. Many are unsure how to feel.

Maggie Melo, an assistant professor in the School of Information and Library Science, teaches emerging information professionals and librarians. Her job is to connect users with their information needs, so she has thought a lot about AI chatbots. Melo believes ChatGPT is a promising assistive technology for people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Melo spoke with The Well about her own ADHD, how ChatGPT has already become an “essential tool” for her work and why she is not overly worried about AI as a tool for cheating.

What makes ChatGPT a good assistive technology for people with ADHD?

As someone who has ADHD myself, I’ve found that ChatGPT has become an essential tool for both my writing and teaching. There are a lot of assistive technologies out there designed to help mitigate the barriers associated with ADHD, such as time management and organization, but what sets ChatGPT apart is its minimalist design and simple user interface. It presents users with mostly reliable responses in real-time and allows for follow-up questions, which can be a real benefit for those of us whose thinking and writing processes aren’t always linear.

Personally, I find that the chatbot helps me stay focused and minimizes the need to toggle between different tabs, which can be a major distraction for me. In my work, I use 3D printing for data visualization and for creating materials for outreach programs. So, for example, instead of spending hours searching for information on how to unclog my 3D printer’s extruder head on Quora, Stack Overflow or YouTube, I can ask ChatGPT for help and get quick, reliable answers. This allows me to avoid decision fatigue and keeps me moving forward with my work.

How do you use ChatGPT?

I use ChatGPT on a daily basis for teaching, research and personal assistance. For example, I had a meeting with two program officers for a grant that I’m applying to. I haven’t had this type of meeting before and wanted to make sure I was prepared. I ran my proposal through ChatGPT to summarize the main points and for a list of common questions to pose to program officers.

Also, in terms of the day-to-day, I find that ChatGPT is an excellent tool for quickly getting through functional writing tasks such as emails and devising lesson-plan questions. ChatGPT helps me efficiently handle a seemingly endless pipeline of smaller tasks, freeing up my energy to focus on the critical ones such as writing grant proposals and giving student feedback.

Outside of the academic setting, I’ve also used ChatGPT to help me navigate the world of gardening. It’s provided me with guidance on how to grow pumpkins in North Carolina and the difference between potting, top and conditioning soil. And, it’s even been a great gift-giving recommender!

Are there limitations to ChatGPT?

To be sure, ChatGPT has its limitations, but it’s important to acknowledge the benefits it can bring as an assistive technology for students. The chatbot’s website does list some setbacks, such as potentially generating incorrect information or biased content, but it’s worth noting that people also have these limitations. Additionally, ChatGPT’s knowledge cutoff is 2021, so it may not be able to provide information on more recent events. While there are certainly limitations to ChatGPT, it’s important to also consider the potential benefits it can bring for students and educators.

What would you say to those who see ChatGPT as a tool for cheating?

As a teacher, I get it. I recognize that this chatbot is posing a lot of disruption in the classroom and learning. However, cheating will persist and will continue within and outside of the Academy. I think cheating is something that needs to be unpacked.

For example, I had a conversation with a colleague about this journal article I’m pulling together. I mentioned how ChatGPT is helping me synthesize across various documents and is providing sentence-level revisions. She responded by saying, “It sounds like the chatbot is doing the work that I hired my writing consultant to do.” This made me wonder about cheating: Is her use of a writing consultant considered cheating? Should she cite her writing consultant? Why are writing consultants and tutors encouraged, but a chatbot isn’t?

ChatGPT has become a synecdoche for cheating, but I think that energy is misguided. I think instead that energy could be channeled into thinking about the radical pedagogical possibilities that this AI can mean for the classroom as a learning community. I think that writing and test taking could be valuable forms for knowledge assessment, but they aren’t the only demonstrations. Instead, I think this inflection point in AI could be an invitation to be curious about how students are finding their information and what tools they are using. What prompts are they using, and how are they discerning what works and doesn’t?

Have you incorporated ChatGPT into your work with students? If so, have they been receptive?

The short answer is yes. In fact, in one of my classes, I’ve made it a point to only bring up ChatGPT two times within the span of the class period. I encourage students to use it and to be transparent about their use. As someone who teaches emerging information professionals, part of my job is to connect users to better information resources.

So, in my class where students are asked to respond to theoretical reference questions such as, “Where can I find information about banned books in North Carolina?” and “How do I 3D print?” I ask them to run the queries through the chatbot and provide an analysis of the response and whether they would use it. I think the students have been skeptical of the tool, and this makes me happy because it means they are weighing the benefits and drawbacks of the tool.