ChatGPT isn’t going away, teachers have an opportunity to shape how we use it

Photo by Niamh Brennan

For many students, ChatGPT is a tool that helps with writer’s block, aids them in brainstorming or helps with properly formatting an email. However, many professors make it explicitly clear that any use of the new tool will be penalized. 

Though blatant plagiarism of the AI responses will not result in learning, implementing ChatGPT solely as a helpful tool can promote critical thinking and maximize an individual’s educational experience. 

While ChatGPT has brought with it convenience and time-saving techniques, teachers are right for having more than a few qualms with the technology. 

From research that has shown prejudices in the feedback given, including worries about inaccurate information and plagiarism, there’s no question that ChatGPT can be harmful if not used correctly. However, teachers have an opportunity to warn of these dangers in an effective way. 

Rather than an ominous warning at the beginning of the course regarding the usage of this AI, teachers could take a moment to pause and discuss their concerns with students. Schools could go as far as having an optional elective that teaches students how to implement this technology in an ethical way, and also where it’s going to fall short when compared to the human mind. 

As with anything, if you tell someone not to do something, they’re just going to want to do it more. Banning ChatGPT from classrooms isn’t going to discourage students from using it. A Time magazine article discussed how teacher Sarah Millard utilized ChatGPT to create an essay and then proceeded to have her students find the errors in the writing. “‘My students have never been so engaged in writing,’” Millard said. “‘They wanted to beat the computer.’”

Teachers across the globe have an extremely unique opportunity. Students look to their teachers for guidance in their academics and in life, and ignoring this technology is not going to make it go away. 

Casey Kennington, associate professor of computer science at Boise State, discussed his perspective on the future of AI in education, as well as the concerns many teachers feel regarding the new technology. 

“This is stuff that a lot of us have lost sleep over,” Kennington said. “During the pandemic, we had to suddenly go online and a bunch of people were like oh, I don’t know if I can teach online. …That was a pain because you’re getting into your routine. I’ve got this class, it’s great, I’ve been teaching it for years and now suddenly have to change it, and now we’re back doing that just a few years later, but very different stakes and very different consequences.”

As far as whether or not to implement this technology, Kennington feels the first step is simply not to ignore it. 

“The short answer that I hear from everybody and I tend to agree with is you can’t ignore it. Some universities are ignoring it, and that’s unfortunate. I do think they’re going to fall behind,” Kennington said. “Some universities are going a little bit too far, in that they look at the world right now and they see oh AI, that’s it, that’s the future. Cut everything but some of the STEM programs because those are moneymakers, I guess some universities are kind of going on that extreme.”

Although teachers have reason to be wary of ChatGPT and other AI, Kennington discussed why it’s also essential to implement it into the curriculum.

“I can understand why faculty or some of your instructors might say don’t use it as plagiarism, and they’re absolutely right,” Kennington said. “But I hope that everyone can at least go through one class where they say, we’re going to have at least one assignment where you’re going to use it and you’re going to critique it.” 

Kennington points out that having students interact and engage with the technology is vital to ensuring it doesn’t become a problem for professors.

“If a student just uses it and doesn’t doesn’t look at any of his output and turns that in, that’s clearly plagiarism,” Kennington said. “But if they use it as a tool to kind of develop their thoughts and in our case code, and they get it running and they say oh, this isn’t working or that’s not working, it’s not outputting the right thing and they fix it themselves, there’s a deeper understanding.”

It’s time to put the calculator analogy to rest once and for all, Kennington discussed the difference between two tools that have been viewed as a crutch in education. 

According to Kennington, writing differs from math because it requires more abstract thinking. While the calculator assists in the process of solving problems, technology like ChatGPT is actually doing the thinking for you. 

Kennington revealed what the future will look like for professors at BSU now that services like ChatGPT are becoming more and more mainstream.

“Boise State is soon-ish going to ask departments to come up with a plan to figure out how is your department responding to it. They could come back and say, we’re not going to do anything but they need to give a rationale for it,” Kennington said. “I think that’s good that the university is kind of taking a little bit top down like at least departments need to tell us what they’re going to do or not do about this because we want everyone to be prepared and want everyone at the table as much as possible and not getting left behind.”

ChatGPT and other AI systems are not going to be flawlessly implemented into education and everyday life overnight. In fact, the process will be slow and while simultaneously feeling overwhelming for many individuals. What’s important is that professors and society don’t ignore it but rather gain an understanding of how it could be useful as well as where it inevitably pales in comparison to the human mind.

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