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ChatGPT in Schools

Jennifer Duffy

ChatGPT (a language based tool fueled by artificial intelligence) is the reason behind many heated discussions in schools these days.  When it comes to this new tool, educators tend to fall into one of three general camps:

Camp 1:  We LOVE ChatGPT!  This group embraces the new technology and wants to integrate the tool into their everyday planning and lessons.

Camp 2:  BAN ChatGPT!  This group wants to eliminate the new technology from schools and prohibit students from using the tool when completing their homework.

Camp 3:  What is ChatGPT?  This group has not felt the impact of ChatGPT in schools…yet.

In this blog post, we will discuss all three camps and provide an overview related to the reasons behind each camps’ perspective.  Let’s work backwards starting in Camp 3:  What is ChatGPT?

Camp 3: What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a chatbot that was developed by the company, OpenAI.  It uses artificial intelligence to respond to prompts and questions in a unique and very human-like manner.  Users can ask ChatGPT a huge variety of questions such as, “How do I get started with applying for student loans?”.   If you were to Google this question, you would most likely get several links to websites in which you can find the answer.  The difference with ChatGPT is that it will actually give you the answer, not links.

Perhaps the best way to explain the power of ChatGPT is with a real-life example.  In researching for this blog post, I felt it most appropriate to use the tool for myself.  In this screencast, you can watch my process.  I start with the prompt, “​​Write a blog post about using ChatGPT in schools. Include examples of how ChatGPT can help students and teachers.”  After reading the generated blog post, I gave the follow-up prompt, “rewrite the blog post with a lower reading level”.  The tool takes a moment, but then quickly generates a revised article.  I found the process really cool and exciting, but I must admit, it’s a bit scary.  

I was next faced with the question, “What do I do with this article?”.  I actually really liked how the blog post was structured.  ChatGPT gave me some ideas that helped me create my own draft.  I felt all of the emotions - enthusiasm (“this is amazing, I should use this for EVERYTHING!”), fear (“am I a fraud if I actually use this tool?”),  and even terror (“is this the end of humanity?”).

Another concern related to ChatGPT is its limitations.  ChatGPT doesn’t advertise itself as perfect.  OpenAI is very clear on its landing page that ChatGPT has 3 major limitations:

  1. May occasionally generate incorrect information - ChatGPT pulls information from various internet sources.  Although the software is designed to weed out misinformation, there are many instances in which incorrect information has made its way into its responses.
  2. May occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content - ChatGPT is designed to decline responding to questions or prompts that put dangerous information into the hands of its users.  The system isn't perfect, though.  I have seen examples in which the user creates a cleverly worded prompt to “trick” ChatGPT into giving them the risky information related to weapon creation, etc.
  3. Limited knowledge of world and events after 2021 - OpenAI has been working on this chatbot for years and it is built on the language and information already present on the internet.  Although the tool is constantly evolving, the bulk of its  information bank is from before 2021.

ChatGPT has caused a lot of anxiety and fear.  How do we react to such a powerful and innovative tool?  To some, blocking the tool is the only answer.  Others, however, are accepting its existence and wondering…. What do we do to empower our students to utilize this tool appropriately and ethically?

  • Camp 2:  Ban ChatGPT!

    When ChatGPT first made its debut, many school districts immediately blocked the site.  This is completely understandable as students can simply copy and paste their essay questions into the service and be given a perfectly good response in less than 5 minutes.  For example, a user can enter the prompt, “Write a 5 paragraph essay explaining the theme of the Odyssey by Homer.  Include quotes from the text” and receive a very impressive answer.

    The chatbot goes beyond essay writing and can provide the answer to math questions and even show the process it took to get the answer.  Virtually all multiple choice test questions can be copied and pasted into ChatGPT.  Some consider this a whole new level of cheating.

    With regards to essay writing, schools have relied on plagiarism checking tools for years.  These tools automatically review the students’ written responses and look for matches on the internet.  If the student’s exact wording is used elsewhere, the teacher will receive an alert saying that the essay may have been plagiarized.   These plagiarism checkers don’t work for ChatGPT because each response is unique and won’t trigger an “exact match” alert.  This leaves educators feeling anxious as there is no way to actually prove if a student used ChatGPT or if the student wrote the assignment independently.

Camp 1:  We love ChatGPT!

Blocking a website sounds easy enough, but it actually is very complicated.  Let’s imagine you teach high school English in a district that has banned ChatGPT.  You assign an essay that has students share their understanding of a novel your class has just completed.  Since the school blocked ChatGPT, you don’t have to worry about kids cheating and having chatbots write the essay instead.  You start to notice a couple of things.  Students leave the room and suddenly come back with great answers (perhaps they used their cell phone to bypass the school internet and access Chat GPT).  You also notice that the next day, students with home internet have come back with their essay completed while students without resources are still struggling to write their essay.  You start to realize that your students with access to technological resources are finding a way to access ChatGPT, while students reliant on school for internet do not have the same privilege or access.  You start to feel like many other educators in the country;  blocking ChatGPT at school is creating inequities among your students.

Additionally, policing students can create adversarial relationships between teachers and students.  Teacher:Student relationships are one of the most important indicators of student success.  Adding the constant struggle of trying to catch kids using ChatGPT makes it very challenging to maintain a positive relationship with students.

To avoid this struggle, some educators advocate for the integration of tools like ChatGPT into their everyday lesson planning and assignments.  Using search queries such as “ChatGPT in the classroom” results in endless ideas for educators looking to embrace AI.  Ideas range from ways to make a teacher’s life more efficient to ideas for helping students learn how to use the tool appropriately and ethically.

  • Teacher Tip #1:  Use ChatGPT to generate ideas for supplemental activities for students that are struggling. You can even enter Common Core Standards, for example, “What are some ideas for teaching students how to master Common Core Reading Standard RL3.2?”  You can follow up by saying, “Tell me more about ideas #4”.
  • Teacher Tip #2 - Use ChatGPT to write assessments.  You can copy and paste an article into ChatGPT and ask it to create multiple choice questions.  A couple warnings here,  first of all, not all of the questions will be great.  It’s not a perfect tool and you may find yourself only using some of the questions.  Secondly, if you use ChatGPT to write the questions, they will be basic enough for students to use ChatGPT to answer the questions.  

To be honest, I see rationale for all three camps.   I think ChatGPT is incredibly incomprehensible, frightening, and thrilling all at the same time.   I also have a history in educational technology, and this situation reminds me of discussions we’ve had related to calculators, spell check, voice-to-text, and word prediction programs.  In all of those situations, we were all really concerned about the problems and the “cheating” that these tools would enable.  After a while, though, the fear started to fade and people realized that these tools can actually help us save time and allow us to put our efforts into more creative or important issues.  

The main difference with ChatGPT is that it is going to get better.  Currently, artificial intelligence is the worst it will ever be.  It will continue to grow and be more accurate and usable.  What does that mean for our schools and for the people in them?  Do we continue to block it and refuse to acknowledge its existence or do we pivot and figure out a way to help our students find success in the real world?

  • Teacher Tip #3 - Model how to use ChatGPT for your class.  As a class, come up with a prompt to enter.  Watch how it generates a response.  Continue the lesson by providing follow up prompts such as “rewrite the essay with a more formal tone” or “add humor to this essay”.  Classes can even go a step further by editing or grading the essay.  How would it score on your class rubric?  What changes would you make?
  • Teacher Tip #4 - Empower students to use ChatGPT for the first part of the writing process.  Most students will tell you that the hardest part of writing an essay is getting started and organized.   To support students in the beginning stages of writing, consider allowing your class to use ChatGPT to create an outline.  Once students have the initial organization done, students can write the bulk of the essay by hand in class.  This way, you are still allowing them to experience the productive struggle involved in the writing process, and adding the gift of using technology to overcome barriers.

References:

Heaven, W. D. (2023, April 7). CHATGPT is going to change education, not destroy it. MIT Technology Review. 

Miller, M. (2023, June 8). CHATGPT, Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence in Education. Ditch That Textbook. https://ditchthattextbook.com/ai/#t-1671292150912 

OpenAI. (2023). ChatGPT: Conversational AI Language Model. Retrieved from https://chat.openai.com/

Roose, K. (2023, January 12). Don’t ban ChatGPT in schools. teach with it. The New York Times.