ITLC-Lilly Conferences on Evidence-Based Teaching
ChatGPT is a potential game-changer in an ever-changing educational space.
Evolving Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Student Learning, Assessment
What Is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT has caused quite a stir in education, and for good reason. For those of you who have not yet heard of ChatGPT, it’s simple enough; you ask a question and ChatGPT responds. Ask ChatGPT to write a paragraph about metacognition, solve a math problem, or summarize a book chapter, and it scours the web and responds to your request. That is not much different from what most have come to expect and accept from Siri, Alexa, and Google. Where this new technology gets interesting is that you can ask ChatGPT to write a poem using specific elements and format requirements you provide, solve story problems, or write a paper. Yes, you can ask ChatGPT to write you an original paper about metacognition, with in-text citations and a reference section if you prefer. You can take a look at the first draft and ask ChatGPT to elaborate on a given section or add something that was previously excluded. The really interesting thing is that this AI does a pretty good job, and the material is newly “authored” material. This is a game changer, but it need not cause a panic. Actually, quite the contrary.
Photo by Jonathan Kemper
Admitting Concerns, not Defeat
Concerns regarding learning and knowledge at the hands of technology have always existed. A few thousand years ago, Socrates (469–399 BCE) argued that writing things down would weaken the mind. It is a good thing that his student Plato wrote that down. Just a few hundred years ago, Samuel Johnson predicted that with the ready availability of books, teachers would no longer be necessary (Boswell, 1791/1904). He reasoned that information previously inaccessible to the average person could be read by anyone buying a book on the topic, thereby negating the need for educators. But faculty were not replaced; they found a way to use books to enhance learning. Not that long ago, the internet burst onto the scene. Given that information previously inaccessible to the average person could be quickly acquired through a personal computer, many reasoned it would negate the need for educators. But faculty were not replaced; they found ways to use the internet to enhance learning. In 1997, Deep Blue beat a world champion chess player (Chess.com, 2018), and Watson beat Ken Jennings in 2011 (Markoff, 2011). But people still play chess. In the past decade, Salman Khan launched a series of instructional videos, and YouTube became a universal “go to” for, well, just about anything that needs to be learned. Educational tools now help students in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago. At this moment, students take courses while sitting in their living room, and those in virtual and face-to-face classrooms have laptops and smart devices that allow them to fact-check faculty as they teach. With each development, faculty find ways to leverage new technology to enhance learning.
Yes, ChatGPT is going to make us rethink higher education in many ways, but so have the advances noted above, and so many others. We have to acknowledge that these technologies have made it easier and easier for students to engage in academic dishonesty. ChatGPT has, on the surface, done nothing more than make it easier and less expensive for a student to turn in a paper they didn’t write. The point is that if a dishonest student intends to turn in a paper they didn’t write, they have long had options.
To address these worries, I asked ChatGPT what concerns faculty may have with ChatGPT. It responded:
Faculty members may be concerned about ChatGPT or other AI language models
for various reasons, including:
Accuracy and bias: AI models may not always produce accurate or unbiased information, which could impact the quality of education and research.
Ethical considerations: There may be ethical concerns around the use of AI in education and research, such as privacy and the potential for AI to reinforce existing biases and discrimination.
Job displacement: Some faculty members may be concerned about the potential for AI to replace human teachers or researchers, leading to job loss and decreased job security.
Quality control: Faculty members may be concerned about the need to constantly monitor the output of AI models to ensure accuracy and ethical compliance.
Overall, faculty members may have concerns about ChatGPT and other AI models because they want to ensure the quality and integrity of education and research, and to avoid potential negative consequences.
Not a terrible answer, and I found it amusing that the AI said “human teachers.” Yes, there are legitimate concerns based on our current traditional educational setup, but the good news, to me, is that we are getting closer to abandoning the stale model of education in which students are required to document passing courses by doing well on one or a few high-stakes assignments. That places pressure on students to score well rather than learn to write better. Students rarely cheat on low-stakes assignments, drafts of papers, and classroom engagement. They could, but there is no value in doing so. The focus in those cases is on learning and, given that assumption, cheating actually hinders the process.
Our task, then, is to figure out how to use ChatGPT (and similar systems that will follow) to enhance student learning. As instructors, we have done this for as long as our jobs have been to educate learners. The ready availability of books turned out to be quite beneficial, and I cannot imagine teaching at present without the internet. I am convinced that in a few years we will have a hard time imagining how faculty taught without computer-generated text and solutions to problems.
Here are some areas where I think ChatGPT might help students become better writers:
Those who struggle starting with a blank screen can have a computer generate the first paragraph to get rolling. How many brilliant authors might have produced more had the “blank screen” issue not existed?
Students can use a program to pull a few sources to get a sense of an area and write from that point.
Individuals can get unique solutions to problems and have a better sense of how to solve similar problems in the future.
Writing bots can create text as teaching tools to discuss the difference between machine- and human-generated art.
I went back to ChatGPT to get its take on possible benefits. Many suggestions were about providing feedback to students to improve their writing. One of my favorite suggestions was:
ChatGPT can be used to enhance writing instruction by offering writing
prompts and generating sample writing pieces to serve as examples for
students. By working with ChatGPT, students can also become familiar
with the language and terminology used in writing, which can help them
to develop a stronger understanding of the writing process.
Let’s consider this an opportunity to enhance learning through an amazing new technology. In my lifetime alone, I have heard that using a calculator would keep students from learning math, computers would make students lazy writers, the internet would make people lazy thinkers, Khan Academy and YouTube would teach students incorrectly, and Zoom would prohibit students from feeling part of a community. Yes, these concerns can happen and, sadly, sometimes do. But just as easily, each of the items noted has allowed for more inclusion, provided more equity, and advanced learning. We have an amazing new technology that holds great opportunities. Our job, as it has been so many times in the past, is to figure out how to use this technology to advance learning.
What technologies have you encountered that required you to rethink your teaching practices? To what extent have those technologies enhanced learning?
Based on the ChatGPT excerpts shown here, how might students be helped to use, and not abuse, this new tool?
Give ChatGPT a try. Ask it a question you might normally ask your students. Don’t focus solely on the correctness of the response, but rather how you might incorporate it into one of your current practices.