ChatGPT — an AI-powered chatbot that responds to questions in a detailed and natural way — is causing a stir in the education world.
Because it can write impressive essays, answer almost any question and complete classroom assignments in all subjects, some school officials, worried that it could lead to massive cheating, quickly banned ChatGPT.
But that approach does not address the real issue AI programs like ChatGPT introduce. The challenge — and opportunity — for educators is to learn how to use it thoughtfully, ramp up their media literacy curriculum and develop assignments that lead students to turn in original and creative work.
I asked ChatGPT to “write about the concerns and challenges of using ChatGPT in K-12 classrooms.”
The response: “The concerns and challenges of using ChatGPT in K-12 classrooms include the need for careful consideration of the quality and reliability of information provided, and the need for teacher training and support to effectively integrate the technology into the curriculum.”
Well said, but for many educators, that’s easier said than done. So what can teachers do? Here are three responses and their effects.
1. Ban it?
Some large school districts in cities such as New York, Seattle and Los Angeles are banning ChatGPT on school-owned devices and networks. They worry about students using it as an easy way to complete assignments. New York City Department of Education spokeswoman Jenna Lyle stated in The Hill that “it does not build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.”
Banning it, however, will not prevent students from using it, as they can gain access outside of school. Also, banning it does not address the academic and ethical issues that AI-generated writing produces.
2. Detect it?
Turnitin, Copyleaks, DetectGPT, GPTZero and other companies jumped on the concerns about widespread cheating and immediately began developing detection tools. OpenAI, the research company that developed ChatGPT, is working on creating an electronic watermark to make it easier to detect.
Meanwhile, some teachers have begun introducing students to the detection tools, demonstrating how accurate they can be and providing examples. Others are requiring students to actually use the detection tools, entering both AI and human generated text, and analyzing the accuracy of the results.
Learning about how ChatGPT works, with its limitations and inaccuracies, can demonstrate to students the imperfect nature of the tool. Also, the development of artificial intelligence applications of the future may be a career path that might intrigue your students.
3. Embrace it?
How can educators take advantage of the power of AI without compromising the learning goals they have for their students?
Unlike Googling information, ChatGPT puts together the information it finds in coherent sentences, poetry, outlines or other forms of expression. You can ask it to write in the “style of the Old Testament” or in a “humorous style.”
This creates opportunities to discuss different styles and genres. You can also work with ChatGPT by asking students what distinguishes ChatGPT writing from human writing.
Think about how you can design assignments so that ChatGPT becomes a helpful tool, while cultivating students’ ideas and individual expression.
Channeling Piaget and revisiting constructivism
Students cannot demonstrate higher order thinking skills, problem solving, analysis and creativity with mere factual recall.
You can challenge students to bring their own experiences, their personal opinions and their unique views of the world into their writing with assignments that go beyond information gathering and encourage students to construct knowledge. In the tradition of constructivist teaching, students may be asked to gather information, but the real learning takes place when they create something truly original.
An example: In the 1950s a student might have been asked to write a report on Ferdinand Magellan. They got out the Encyclopedia Britannica, looked up the explorer and transposed the encyclopedia’s words into a fourth grader’s prose.
A constructivist assignment would have been to “Compare the circumnavigation of the earth by Ferdinand Magellan and by John Glenn. What would they say to each other about navigation, taking risks, fundraising, danger and notoriety? Write a script and produce a podcast of their conversation, then talk about a risk that you have taken.”
You could ask ChatGPT to write a dialog between the two men and then use it as a jumping off point, asking students to evaluate the AI version, then write their own reflections on being a pioneer, referencing historians and historical artifacts.
One critical limitation of ChatGPT is that its responses will not include references to sources, an essential element of any research paper.
The importance of process
Teachers often require papers to be written in stages so that they can monitor the steps their students are taking, including the initial idea, a first draft, subsequent revisions and a final version. With research papers, sources are gathered as a bibliography is developed. Students benefit from the teacher’s coaching and instruction along the way. The emphasis is on the development of ideas and the process of continual improvement, rather than only on the final product.
This process cannot be imitated by ChatGPT.
Michelle Brown, founder and CEO of CommonLit, says it this way in T.H.E. Journal: "The shortcut of using ChatGPT to do the thinking for you is not one that children will so easily overcome. In K–12, it's the exercise of writing and the thinking that goes into organizing your thoughts that matters — not just the output."
Don't miss Maureen Yoder's session "23 for '23: Technologies, Resources and Trends to Amaze and Inspire" at ISTELive 23 in Philadelphia. Register today.
Maureen Brown Yoder, E.d.D, is a professor emerita at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a former classroom teacher. She coined the term “electronic constructivism” and has written and presented extensively on emerging technologies and how to thoughtfully and creatively integrate them into existing curricula.