Everyone seems to be talking about ChatGPT.
Along with other AI large language models such as Google’s Bard, this powerful disruptive technology is currently gathering increased media attention and generating both excitement and concern from the public.
Understandably, many education professionals are employing caution around the way that students and educators could use a technology with a dialogue format that can answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises and reject inappropriate requests.
It certainly has the potential to transform education in amazing ways.
One of the reasons this disruptive technology is ruffling feathers is that it takes us so much further forward, technology-wise, in such a short period of time.
Perhaps it’s worth thinking back to the time when search engines transformed the way we searched for information on the internet.
They democratised access to information in a truly ground-breaking and exciting way and nowadays we use Google, Bing, Yahoo! and others to find information on the worldwide web as a matter of course.
ChatGPT is capable of much more than simple information searching. It interacts with users in a conversational way and can learn to predict answers and even the users’ subsequent enquiries.
Inevitably, when technology offers such a huge step forward in potential uses, this massive potential leads to specific pitfalls too, many of which are probably not even being thought about yet.
Disruptive and dangerous?
Educators are understandably worried about how students may use this technology. For example, a user can request a 1,000-word essay on a specific subject, with suggested style, delivered in a few minutes.
When technology can save so much time, how will students, or indeed anyone, be able to resist using it?
Some of the concerns around the negative impact of ChatGPT on learning and education include:
- It enables plagiarism and cheating, with no attributable sources in the generated content that can be referenced and fact-checked.
- ChatGPT is so easy to use, reducing learner inclination to research a topic, to use their own judgement around sources and credibility and make their own independent and reasoned arguments.
- The content may contain inaccuracies that are difficult to check without attributable sources and students may take the path of least resistance, choosing to accept what it has produced.
- The process of getting their work written for them means they are not fully engaged with the subject and quite possibly won’t read, understand or learn what it contains. The production of essays could become a tick-box exercise.
- Teachers may not be able distinguish between ChatGPT-generated work and a student’s own as some of the content will appear to be accurate and of high quality. This will inevitably drag tutors into time-consuming checking processes to ascertain authorship.
- Large language models are not capable of new, original thought, they draw from what has already been input and uses this to form a best likelihood response. Dependence on ChatGPT may therefore shrink the debate around many subjects and encourage no novel thought.
- AI can’t provide expert opinion and new ideas, and the work it generates may lack personality and the individual ‘voice’ of the student.
- As with any quick-fix solution, there are concerns about student dependency. Once they start using AI to create their work students may start to rely on it all the time, and lack the confidence to submit their own ideas.
ChatGPT’s own creators suggest it should not be used for high stakes tasks, recognising that it is still prone to inventing or what they call ‘hallucinating’ facts.
They recommend it should be used in conjunction with human review and the provision of additional context. Used well, they argue that AI can transform education for the good.
- Tutors can encourage students to try using AI to create a structure for their essays, before then getting them to write them in class – by hand, not on laptops, to help them see the value in planning and structuring their essays more thoroughly.
- AI can also help teachers to create assessments and to evaluate their students’ work, providing feedback more quickly and automating one of the most time-consuming tasks that eats into their personal time – marking.
- AI can help create more personalised lesson plans and encourage more original thought by asking GPT to produce one side of an argument, for debate by students.
- It can help generate new ideas for lesson activities, serving as inspiration for classroom-based exercises.
- Tutors can use AI-generated content, ChatGPT and image-based AI models such as Midjourney and Firefly to spark debates about intellectual property and ethics of plagiarism and failure to attribute original works to their author or artist.
- Using ChatGPT may help students learn how to ask the right questions, which is an important part of developing critical thinking processes.
- It can help with planning functions, such as devising a revision plan prior to exams, or a study plan to help them structure their time over the duration of the course.
- AI, in the form of chatbots and automated FAQs and replies can provide an out of hours service, responding to students when tutors are not available and even acting as an personal at-home coach.
- ChatGPT can helps learners gain access to vast amounts of information quickly, giving them more time for critical thinking and coming up with their own opinions, thoughts and conclusions.
Helping schools and colleges:
- AI has the immense power to transform most business management processes, including those of education provider organisations.
- It can help reduce to costs across many business functions, by automating mundane and repetitive tasks, increasing productivity by enabling organisations to achieve more, with less.
- Conversational AI can improve customer service functions. Interactions with students, parents, employers and other partners and stakeholders can be enhanced by using 24/7 chatbot technology, saving valuable and time-limited human interaction for the more nuanced conversations that really require it.
- ChatGPT can make short work of producing relevant copy to sit alongside figures and tables in reports, helping ensure they look professional while taking the minimum of time to complete.
- AI is a powerful interpreter of data, that can enable better decision-making across the education provider organisation.
- Automating processes may reduce the number of admin staff needed, which is not necessarily a bad thing in the current skills shortage. More importantly it can free employees up for higher value tasks, giving them a better work experience and helping with staff retention.
A Brave New World
In conclusion, education providers will need to prioritise evaluating the pros and cons, and drafting of their own use policies around ChatGPT and other powerful AI technology.
They may decide to try to block access on school computers, but it is likely that creative young people will find a way around that.
AI is a relevant part of their future, so the best solutions will help them to learn how to use this technology to achieve the best outcomes.
Some organisations may be concerned with the sheer speed of change that conversational AI is driving, that could leave policy makers trailing in its wake and playing catch up with a powerful technology that is already ‘out of the box’.
The CEO of OpenAI, the developer of ChatGPT, Sam Altman has said that he hopes that the world can move slowly and adapt to the technology.
This will, he says, help his team develop the tool in safe ways, seeking potential mitigations and guidance for policymakers.
Students and education professionals will need to learn to use AI and ChatGPT safely, and effectively, understanding its limitations, appreciating the risks of inaccuracy and most of all, embracing the opportunities for positive change that they bring.
Young peoples’ futures will almost certainly rely on AI – and their jobs may well depend on it too, for example in helping to build a legal argument based on the precedents in previous case judgements, for making medical diagnoses, and for writing computer code that will, in turn, transform the way people work.
The advent of AI and ChatGPT will undoubtedly create new job roles and functions, much as the internet did for web designers and SEO experts.
We must not fear this change, but embrace it as the next great leap forward in technology that can make our lives better, if we choose it to.
By Ann Ramsay, Vice President, Advanced Education
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