To prompt or not to prompt: SFU instructors share their approach on the use of ChatGPT in their courses

January 15, 2024

How are instructors responding to students using ChatGPT in their courses? At SFU, whether or not a student is permitted to use generative AI for course assignments is at the discretion of instructors. One year since the release of this technology, SFU instructors share the approaches they are taking.

Allowed for assignments as long as you’re upfront

For School of Sustainable Engineering professor Zafar Adeel, his approach has been to allow students to use generative AI as long as they are transparent, which led to surprising results.  

“I told my class they were allowed to use ChatGPT for take-home assignments and that they would not be penalized as long as they identified how they are using it. I saw a couple of trends. One was that, overall, relatively few people used ChatGPT or admitted to using it. Another trend I noticed was that there were one or two students who were using ChatGPT a lot more innovatively. They weren't just plugging in the assignment problem, and copying and pasting the answer, but they were asking more probing questions and generating more in-depth responses, which I thought was quite interesting.” 

Adeel notes that part of the reason his students may be less motivated to use this tool is that the majority of their grades are determined by work that takes place in class through quizzes or contexts in which they cannot readily access these tools.

It’s not okay and this is why

Psychology lecturer Iris Gordon explains that she sees ChatGPT as a threat to the core skills she is trying to equip her students with and so, while banning its use, does so in a way that aims to empower students in their learning. 

“I have completely disbarred the use of ChatGPT because it undermines everything I want my students to learn. For example, in my 100-level courses what I need my students to gain is the ability to locate academic references, read and interpret academic articles, format APA style, and importantly how to manage their time and meet expectations. The key for me is that I am completely transparent with them, I explain to them at the beginning of the semester what I want them to learn in my course and how using this tool will interfere with that. I think in doing so it actually helps them take a more empowered role in their own learning, and at the end of the day that’s what this is all about.” 

Designing online assessments in the age of ChatGPT

For archaeology instructor Laurie Nixon-Darcus, who teaches online courses that serve as breadth requirements for students in other disciplines, her biggest concern is designing ChatGPT-resistant assessments. 

“Many students are taking my courses to fill breadth requirements, so I understand how some might be looking for ways to cut corners with all the other challenges in their lives. ChatGPT is one tool they are going to use to do that. In the past, I had a few cases where I was quite positive that students had used ChatGPT to complete online assessments and after testing their knowledge with oral exams, there was little ability to absolutely prove or disprove use. What I plan to do moving forward is remove as many of the open-ended questions as I can and focus more on multiple choice. The advantage of multiple choice is that there can be subtle differences between the response options that determine which is or is not correct, but which ChatGPT cannot differentiate between. I am also hoping to work with the Centre for Educational Excellence to explore other assessment design options.”

You can find sample statements regarding the use of generative AI in your course on the Academic Integrity Office's Syllabus Statements page.   

If you would like to discuss and share ideas on how you are responding to generative AI in your teaching, join SFU’s AI Community of Practice for teaching and learning. Contact CEE educational developer Megan Robertson ( to access the Canvas space. The next meeting takes place January 30 at 3:00 p.m..