How AI Chatbots Like ChatGPT Can Transform Education

How AI Chatbots Like ChatGPT Can Transform Education

ChatGPT presents us with an opportunity to imagine a new world that is in sync with the wisdom of the past, the zeitgeist of the present and the needs of the future

Even as this article is being written, new developments in the design and application of generative AI technologies are underway. Since its launch in November 2022, ChatGPT has sparked a debate on whether it is good or bad for education. With the launch of GPT-4, a multimodal artificial intelligence model capable of generating longer responses (over 25,000 words) with greater factual accuracy, it is imperative to examine the opportunities and threats it poses to students, educators and educational institutions alike.

While the tool can be used for everything from writing an email to creating a Spotify playlist, some possible uses in education include summarising texts, organising and synthesising research, composing academic essays, creating poetry or prose, solving mathematical problems and generating code. The applications are endless and raise three big questions: How will we continue to monitor and penalise plagiarism, how will we assess and evaluate student performance and how will this impact students’ ability to solve problems and think critically.

In January 2023, noted linguist and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky described ChatGPT as ‘high-tech plagiarism’. While some educators and organisations have instituted a ban on the use of AI, spearheading a resurgence of the pen-and-paper model, others have been pushed to invest in and adopt plagiarism software that can spot the use of ChatGPT. Earlier this year, OpenAI announced the launch of an AI classifier to distinguish AI-written and human-written text. Admittedly, the classifier is not fully reliable. Apart from classifying human-written texts as AI-written, the classifier correctly identified only 26 per cent of AI-written content. Its infrastructure crumbles in the face of short responses (below 1000 characters). The software performs ‘significantly worse’ in languages other than English and is unreliable when it comes to predictable text, such as a list of ‘the first 1000 prime numbers’.

While he disregards ChatGPT as ‘high-tech plagiarism’, Chomsky also refocusses our attention towards investigating the underlying issues that motivate students to cheat. Dissatisfaction with the education system has been simmering for a while now. Furthermore, the recent shift to a virtual/hybrid mode of learning, necessitated by the pandemic, has pushed educators to imagine an alternative model within tech-enabled environments. Thus, ChatGPT does not present a novel concern; it has only accentuated the debate on AI and its effect on education. 

Discarding the reactionary approach of terminating the use of AI in the classroom, John Villasenor, Professor of Electrical Engineering at UCLA, presented a fresh perspective on the use of AI in education. In an article titled, ‘How ChatGPT Can Improve Education, Not Threaten It’, Professor Villasenor explains how he reassessed his pedagogy of teaching writing to incorporate AI. In a world where technology is advancing at a rapid pace, students need to be trained to use AI in a responsible and ethical manner. As such, their intelligence and creativity will lie in their ability to ask accurate questions, assess the quality of AI responses, identify biases and limitations and compose a coherent piece.

The advancement of AI has opened a portal for us to authentically examine, investigate and redesign our existing education system – specifically classroom pedagogy and methods of assessment and evaluation. ChatGPT presents us with an opportunity to imagine a new world that is in sync with the wisdom of the past, the zeitgeist of the present and the needs of the future. Will we circumvent the portal through short-term and poorly designed solutions or will we enter the portal to come out stronger on the other side? Only time will tell.

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