Published Feb. 2, 2023
By RILEY PALSHAW
With the emergence of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot released Nov. 30 by a San Francisco based company, Carmel High School’s teachers have had mixed reactions about whether AI is a tool that can be implemented into classrooms to benefit student learning or the cause of a major disruption in education worldwide now that students can eliminate assignments in a matter of seconds.
Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, commonly known as ChatGPT, is a chatbot that’s been trained by OpenAI to reproduce writing styles off the internet, and although it’s not the first artificial intelligence of its kind, its state-of-the-art proficiency has made quite a splash.
“Everyone was impressed at how much more advanced this one was than previous artificial intelligence we’ve been introduced to,” says Colin Matheson, Carmel Unified School District’s curriculum, assessment and instruction coordinator. “This is a leap forward from what we’ve seen before.”
Say, for instance, you’re seeking to write a 500-word summary of the Korean War. Well, if you simply input “write a 500-word summary of the Korean War” into its chat bar, in a matter of seconds ChatGPT spits out a piece of writing that is wholly original, not plagiarized, not copied from Wikipedia, but a synthesis of information pulled from the internet.
What if you want it to write a sonnet for your sophomore English class? By typing “write a sonnet using iambic pentameter and a Shakespearean rhyme scheme,” ChatGPT will quickly craft a 14-line poem of original work.
ChatGPT is capable of creating and fixing code, writing essays, answering questions, solving math problems, summarizing information, writing emails and press releases and even creating artwork, posing a large threat to education and how things have traditionally operated in the classroom. Already, CHS teachers, specifically those who instruct writing-based courses like English or history, have played around with how well students could complete their writing assignments without ever having to write a sentence themselves.
“It can do everything that I ask my MPC U.S. History students to do in writing at a passable level for sure,” says history instructor Marc Stafford. “The essays and short answer responses that it can write are definitely passable, probably even A’s and B’s.”
This realization that artificial intelligence can produce acceptable results on class assignments and assessments has rattled some CHS teachers, especially those who believe that students are not only being academically dishonest by using ChatGPT to produce writing, as the work is not their own, but students are also losing valuable skills that they gain through the writing process.
“Being able to communicate one’s own thoughts and ideas clearly in writing not only demonstrates understanding,” expresses history teacher Bruce Dini, “but the process of writing–asking questions, creating an outline, finding sources, writing, rewriting, editing–all are important steps that, with practice, help develop critical thinking and reasoning skills that are valuable well beyond the classroom. Students who use these programs to circumvent the writing process are really cheating themselves in the long run. And in the short run, they risk running afoul of academic integrity standards that could include plagiarism.”
CHS teachers note that many students tend to just strive for completion, which is why a program that can quickly complete homework assignments would be appealing to students and a strong temptation to use. But one of the main points teachers stress is that the goal for education isn’t for students to produce work, but rather for students to challenge their minds and gain new capabilities.
“The real question students need to ask is, ‘Do I want an education or do I want to become a skilled cheater without an education?’” says sophomore English teacher Dale DePalatis. “If you don’t use your brain, come up with your own ideas and learn to articulate your viewpoint, you will never develop the kind of skills that will be beneficial to you in life.”
Although this might be many educators’ initial reactions to ChatGPT, other CHS teachers think that artificial intelligence could also be used as a learning tool of sorts.
“While I think that the knee-jerk tendency might be to ban it or try to circumvent it by reverting to paper and pencil,” says English teacher Barbara McBride, “I think a healthier approach is to accept the technology and try to leverage it in the classroom.”
Teachers are used to new technology emerging and often have to reevaluate the way they teach to incorporate rising educational methods, so the thought is that the same could be done with ChatGPT.
“It will be similar to how it felt to add calculators or Google Translate,” says Suzanne Marden, the world language department chair. “As tech tools continue to evolve, we, as educators and students, as learners, are going to have to learn to evolve and navigate them.”
Well, what does ChatGPT think of all of this?
When asked “how should teachers respond to students who use AI tools in their schoolwork,” its original response was that “teachers should approach students who use AI tools in their schoolwork with an open mind and a willingness to learn about the technology. They should be aware that these tools can be used to enhance the learning experience, but they should also be aware that the use of AI tools may raise some ethical and academic integrity concerns.”
The AI also offered ideas of how teachers could use it, suggesting that teachers could simply ask students to cite ChatGPT like they would any other source or by using it as a teaching aid to help students enhance their understanding of the subject matter.
But even with ChatGPT-crafted advice about how to handle AI in education, it still remains uncertain what the right approach is to such an advanced technological development.
“I keep going back to the movie ‘Wall-E,’ keeping people unhealthy, plugged in, anesthetized by the modern concepts of progress and that particular existence seems lazy, pointless and lacking purpose and value for oneself and for the greater population,” says Marden. “Is ChatGPT just another tool to reconstruct how humans thrive in our society, or is it another tool to create thoughtless human beings who are easily manipulated?”
This is something educators will have to sort out as they experiment with AI in the classroom.