Traditional school environments were designed to encourage students to think for themselves and cultivate critical thinking skills, problem solving abilities, and originality of thought. But what happens when artificial intelligence makes it possible for students to get a robot to doing their thinking for them? Education Matters reports.
In academic circles, the impact that AI will have on the future of learning has become a good conversation starter. However, in the case of ChatGPT, an AI may very well be the one starting the conversation.
Developed by the American tech company OpenAI, ChatGPT is a free online software that has spiked in popularity in recent years because of its ability to quickly convert complex information, ideas, and languages into cohesive text that sounds like natural human speech.
According to the OpenAI website, the ChatGPT language model software has been trained by computing experts on a veritable encyclopaedia of knowledge and developed to carry ‘human-like’ conversations, answer complex questions, write poems and stories, and analyse ideas across a wide range of areas including science, history and current events.
It can also translate languages for people working across multiple languages, categorise that information by topic, and then interpret the tone or sentiment of the text as either positive, negative, or neutral.
Since the school year has commenced in 2023, schools have been abuzz with extensive discussion and debate surrounding whether ChatGPT indeed has any practical use in any learning environment, or whether regulators should take steps to ban its use in the classroom.
As students continue to embrace ChatGPT, many teachers are at a loss for how to proceed, struggling to decide whether they should follow suit and keep up with the trend, or act quickly to impose bans on the so-called cheat bots.
In early February, the Sydney Morning Herald published an article in which Open AI backed the use of their AI detection tools in schools and highlighted the role these tools could play for educators, albeit within the parameters of the limitations of the tools.
The article cited ethical concerns as the source of the continued division amongst educators over the use of AI detection tools for producing pieces of academic writing, with some schools initiating plans to return to traditional pen and paper assessments to avoid the implications of ChatGPT altogether.
And yet, for many the question still remains: Does AI have a role in education?
Professor George Siemens, who researches networks, analytics, and human and artificial cognition in education at the University of South Australia, surmises that throughout history the tools that humans have created have typically enabled the species to become more cognitively advanced.
“When information quantity increased, humanity created classification schemes, such as in the Library of Alexandria, and categorisation models to describe nature, such as the Linnean Taxonomy. Storing information has similarly advanced from cave drawings, to tablets, to scrolls, and now to the internet. Throughout this advancement, the focus has always been on humans using tools,” Professor Siemens says.
In the current generation he explains that this is starting to change as tools are now starting to use people.
“Our digital interactions are captured, coded, and used to train and refine increasingly sophisticated AI systems. We are in an almost co- equal relationship with AI and where our actions are shaped by AI. The implications of this are enormous for our schools and universities,” he says.
“Coding that used to take hours can now be done by ChatGPT in seconds. Similarly, a functional essay draft can be created almost immediately. For teachers, ChatGPT could create a lesson plan, a rubric, learning activities, and answer sheets.”
AI as a tool for self-directed learning
Ms Kieryn Bateman – Director of Learning at leading independent Sydney Girls School Loreto Normanhurst – acknowledges that AI detection tools can be used for positive learning outcomes, while having its limitations.
“We as a school community welcome these continuous advancements in AI, and whilst I do acknowledge the limitations of the current detection tools, I also think that it is important that we leverage this technology to strike a harmonious balance between exposing students to the potential of AI software in the classroom, whilst at the same time, mitigating potential risks around cheating and plagiarism,” she explains.
Ms Bateman furthered that AI technologies, such as ChatGPT, are powerful tools that should be harnessed by educators to facilitate better learning in the classroom, suggesting that positive outcomes can be achieved for an educational environment that embraces AI as a key learning tool, rather than positioning this technology as an enemy.
“When faced with any change, society often responds with fear and suspicion, which results in knee-jerk responses in policy and process,” she says.
“Educators and the associated governing bodies need to explore the power of such tools and develop processes that expose students to the capabilities of these technologies, whilst educating students about the pitfalls and risks of over-reliance on AI. If students learn to utilise AI to enhance their learning, they can springboard from these tools to unlock their creative potential.”
Finally, Ms Bateman emphasises the responsibility that educators have to provide a safe and supportive environment for students to engage critically with these tools.
“It is my fear that some schools and educators may respond to such technology in a draconian fashion, reverting to old-school and outdated methods of assessment to avoid the risk of plagiarism. This could set education back 100 years, something that this country and our future generations cannot afford. We need to respond with curiosity and a critical mindset to determine how to harness these tools for greater learning and creativity.”
A new era
Aside from the initially heightened and reactionary response to using AI teaching practices, Professor Siemens believes that there will be a second wave of responses that will be more thoughtful and intentional.
“For school systems, an emerging challenge will be to develop AI literacies. Asking questions like: What is AI? How do we use it in knowledge practices? How do we support its effective use? What do we do when AI completes some learning tasks better than humans? Defining and developing these literacies across all of society is the critical first task.”
Professor Siemens concludes: “For the first time in history humanity has a tool that can co-think with us. AI tools cause us to question which domains of learning and knowledge remain unique to us, and whether we have been acquiesced to a system that can produce and perform at levels that far exceed ours – if not in quality of output, then certainly in speed of production. The implications are still emerging, but it is becoming clear that they will be dramatic and transformative for us all.”
Ask a bot
Should ChatGPT be embraced or feared by teachers? Education Matters decided to go straight to the source. We asked the chatbot to weigh in on the pros and cons of allowing ChatGPT into the classroom. The answers it provided were remarkably detailed– not to mention humble!
EM: Do you think that ChatGPT is good tool for teachers?
ChatGPT: ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for teachers in a variety of ways:
- Quick Response: ChatGPT can provide instant answers to students’ questions, which can be especially helpful in a classroom setting where time is limited.
- 24/7 Availability: ChatGPT can be available 24/7, allowing students to ask questions and receive answers outside of regular class hours.
- Personalisation: ChatGPT can personalise responses based on the student’s question, making the learning experience more engaging and interactive.
- Scaling: ChatGPT can handle multiple students asking questions at once, allowing teachers to reach a larger audience.
- Supplementing Instruction: ChatGPT can provide additional information and resources to support a teacher’s lesson plan.
- Adaptability: ChatGPT can be programmed to cover a wide range of subjects and topics, making it a versatile tool for teachers in different disciplines.
Overall, ChatGPT can support teachers in creating an interactive and engaging learning experience for their students and can help to supplement and reinforce their lessons.
EM: What are the reasons why teachers may want to ban AI learning tools and ChatGPT in schools?
ChatGPT: There are a number of reasons why teachers may want to ban AI learning tools and ChatGPT in primary and secondary schools, including:
- Lack of Human Interaction: AI tools like ChatGPT lack the personal connection and emotional engagement that is crucial for building positive relationships between students and teachers.
- Accuracy Concerns: AI tools like ChatGPT are only as good as the data they are trained on. They may provide incorrect answers or perpetuate biases and misinformation.
- Limitations in Critical Thinking: AI tools like ChatGPT provide answers and solutions but do not promote critical thinking or problem-solving skills in students.
- Lack of Creative Thinking: AI tools like ChatGPT provide pre-programmed responses, which can limit students’ opportunities to express their own ideas and creativity.
- Privacy Concerns: The use of AI learning tools and ChatGPT may raise privacy concerns, as they often require personal information to be shared and may store student data.
- Ethical Concerns: The use of AI in education raises ethical concerns, such as the potential for AI to replace human teachers, or for AI to perpetuate harmful biases and discrimination.
In conclusion, while AI learning tools like ChatGPT can provide a wealth of information and resources for students, there are also concerns about the limitations and risks associated with their use in the classroom.
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