When asked to introduce itself, Artificial Intelligence (AI) text generator ChatGPT had this to say: “I am ChatGPT, a large language model developed by OpenAI. I am trained to understand and respond to natural language inputs in a human-like manner. I can answer questions, have a conversation, generate text on a topic, and more. I am constantly learning and updating my knowledge base to provide accurate and helpful responses.” An AI chatbot that has garnered a reputation for “scarily accurate” output, ChatGPT raises questions regarding the future of our written world, be it in education, the workforce, or beyond.
Since its launch in November 2022, ChatGPT has cycled through the opinion columns of many newspapers. Indeed, the media frenzy around the chatbot is not difficult to understand. ChatGPT is known for the detail and quality of its answers, which worries some educators. For instance, feeding ChatGPT the prompt “write an essay analyzing themes of knowledge and fate in Moby Dick” produces a rough, but workable first draft of a typical English assignment. In educational settings, ChatGPT provokes questions over the future of educational goals and methods.
School districts have already begun grappling with ChatGPT. Most prominently, the New York City Public School District has banned the use of ChatGPT on school networks and for academic assignments, as of January 6. Citing concerns that the site would encourage plagiarism, districts claim that ChatGPT allows students to bypass developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential to education.
While our board shares these same reservations over the use of ChatGPT in schools, we believe that banning the service is not only ineffective, but also obscures potentially productive uses of the software. Similar to over-reliance on calculators or Google Translate, depending on ChatGPT to do the “heavy lifting” of learning weakens education. Doing complicated math problems by hand or wrestling with a difficult grammatical construction strengthens our foundational understanding of these topics. Similarly, writing essays teach us how to structure our arguments, exercise our critical thinking, and express ourselves in writing. The value of these essential skills cannot be replaced by ChatGPT.
However, much like we use calculators to check our work or streamline computations, ChatGPT can simplify learning processes, making it easier for students to prioritize their understanding of topics. Rather than struggling through dense Chemistry textbook passages, ChatGPT can paraphrase text, giving students a clearer idea of a passage’s overall message before they return to grappling with a concept’s nuances. For math, ChatGPT offers step-by-step explanations to complicated problems, affording students more effective study ahead of a test and aiding conceptual understanding. Dismissing ChatGPT outright prevents us from accessing more expansive educational possibilities.
Moreover, the rise of ChatGPT offers us a chance to evaluate our educational practices. It prompts us to ask: When would a student feel tempted to use ChatGPT? Why? In what instances is this use dishonest, and where is it productive? How can we rethink classroom engagement in light of AI? These questions encourage us to reflect on innovation within education, technological ethics, and how AI will shape the classrooms of the future.
Additionally, it is important to remember: ChatGPT is not an entirely new technology. GPT-3, the language ChatGPT is built off, has been around since 2020, and more broadly, our society is not unfamiliar with AI innovations. Whether it’s ChatGPT or similar technology, the trajectory of AI seems to suggest that these systems are here to stay. Like the advent of the internet, we can’t predict where the future of AI will lead us. But, we know that AI may shape our society in undeniable ways. As such, we must begin considering these issues early. Whether it be addressing ChatGPT in schools, challenging racial bias in AI, or considering how tech innovations can affect the workplace, ChatGPT’s rise prompts us to consider the role of AI in the future of education.