AI and the FCI: Can ChatGPT Project an Understanding of Introductory Physics?

by   Colin G. West, et al.

ChatGPT is a groundbreaking “chatbot"–an AI interface built on a large language model that was trained on an enormous corpus of human text to emulate human conversation. Beyond its ability to shoot the breeze in a plausible way, it has attracted attention for its ability to competently answer questions from the bar exam and from MBA coursework, and to provide useful assistance in writing computer code. These apparent abilities have prompted discussion of ChatGPT as both a threat to the integrity of higher education and conversely as a powerful teaching tool. In this work we present a preliminary analysis of how ChatGPT fares in the field of first-semester university physics, using primarily the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) to assess whether it can give correct responses to conceptual physics questions about kinematics and Newtonian dynamics. We demonstrate that, by some measures, ChatGPT can match or exceed the median performance of a university student who has completed one semester of college physics, though its performance is notably uneven and the results are nuanced. We conclude with a discussion of these results in light of four questions that motivated this work: what does ChatGPT's performance tell us about the nature of conceptual assessment tools like the FCI? How might the availability of ChatGPT as a resource for students? Can ChatGPT be used as an in-class teaching tool for physics instruction? And can it be used as an out-of-classroom aid to those engaged in physics pedagogy?


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