ChatGPT The New Horizon

By Sal Haque 2023-07-06 15:46:55

The influence of new technology on education.

Okay...I know. This is like the eighth article you’ve read about ChatGPT. You just finished a conversation about ChatGPT, ten minutes ago. You’ve discussed at length, how awesome and problematic this software is. The game has changed and you know it, cause you’ve been told ten million times.


I too have heard about the end-all and be-all of ChatGPT. “It will put milions out of work”, “it’s low-key sentient and will rise-up against its human oppressors”, “it will unleash an army of delivery drones, relentlessly playing reggaeton”. The game has changed, the GAME HAS CHANGED! Terrifying stuff.


But as a teacher, I love ChatGPT. Its ability to create diverse and specific content is pretty awesome. I can generate a reading comprehension assignment with higher-order questions, and targeted vocabulary in fifteen seconds. That’s nuts. So yeah, the game has actually changed. At least for me. But even at home, if I want my kid to do some extra work, I can ask ChatGPT to create a short reading about “Shanghai Skateboarding” with multiple choice questions. Similarly, I can get a targeted math worksheet in seconds. Will this new ability to generate quick and effective content put teachers out of work? Probably not. Definitely not. ChatGPT still can’t manage a bunch of pubescent twelve-year-old kids with annoying TikTok slang and florescent basketball shoes. When it can though...touché ChatGPT, I look forward to seeing you work. But more so, ChatGPT can’t inspire. At least not yet, and that’s a big part of what good teachers do. I know that sounds cliché, but generating content, and making content relatable, are two different things.


One of the primary concerns for ChatGPT in academics is plagiarism. But honestly, similar fears were evident with the transition from print to internet resources in the late 90s and early 2000s. Professors and teachers were becoming wary of internet plagiarism and appropriate sourcing. They were worried the research wouldn’t be sound. In the days of libraries, writing an essay required searching databases for relevant books and then searching books for relevant information, hopefully current information. It was a pretty intense process. The dewy decimal system was no joke, and writing a bibliography that included periodicals was a delicate process. The internet significantly sped that up. What used to take weeks to research, now only took days or perhaps even hours. With ChatGPT that process could become obsolete. With AI-based software you don’t really search, you ask ChatGPT to search its 2021 database for you, which it does surprisingly well. You can even ask it for sources, which you can double check. It’s clearly a powerful tool to access information, and that’s pretty cool. But with new tech comes its own range of concerns, and with tech of this magnitude, concerns in academics are fair. I can imagine a world where teachers generate lessons with ChatGPT, and students generate answers with ChatGPT, both getting lazy and dumb in the process. But honestly, I don’t think that’s going to happen.


Will ChatGPT make cheating easier? Definitely. But does that mean a lot more kids will cheat? Not necessarily. Much like the early days of Internet sourcing and research, schools and universities will probably adapt harsher deterrents. What those will be, it may be too early to tell. But it should be interesting to see what pans out. Already, schools are investigating ways to trace back potential plagiarism on ChatGPT, and more than concern, the process seems to evoke curiosity, and that’s kind of cool.


But perhaps plagiarism shouldn’t be the focus. The whole point of cheating is to get your work done fast and effortlessly. Maybe the best way to combat that is by showing our children that research is cool and worth putting time into. Research isn’t just limited to academics, but also personal interest. We need to show our kids that being well-informed is something we need to strive for, and forming fact-based opinions is the difference between a good opinion and simply an opinion. And yes, ChatGPT makes cheating easier, but it also makes learning really cool stuff easier as well. In my experience, people who want to cheat will always find ways to cheat, and much like the internet, much of how ChatGPT is used may be out of our control. But what we can do is try to emphasize the importance of sound research and teach them to respect the process. Teach them about credibility and bias. Teach them to stay up to date. Teach them to see the world through different perspectives. Teach them to read, and take their time. We must show them research is cool, being informed is awesome, and to enjoy the satisfaction of finding good information.


Easier said than done. I know. That’s also why it’s important to start early.


Build your bookshelf, go old-school and work your way through an index. That process begins with your first DK dinosaur books, or animal encyclopedia. Indexes are cool. They show kids a very direct path to information, it’s essentially their first introduction to keyword searching. It also sets them on the path of seek- and-you-shall-find, with the index giving way to targeted internet searches. It shows them that any interest can be researched, and books, internet and ChatGPT are all just tools to help us do that.


So yeah, I guess the game has changed, or rather, evolved. Same game, better equipment. It used to be that a sense of wonder could only take you so far. Now the answers to so many questions are literally at our finger tips, fifteen seconds away.


That said, we’re only a few months deep in this thing. There will clearly be downsides. There always are. I’m curious to see how the sneakier side of ChatGPT manifests. I’m even more curious to see how academic institutions handle that, and what kind of sourcing standards are consolidated. It’s too early to really tell how things like misinformation, bias, extremism, and fake news are filtered into seemingly reliable content. But it should be interesting to see what type of regulations will be required to keep that stuff out of academia. As a teacher, I don’t yet have a solution. I’m not even sure where regulation will come from. It could be the classroom, maybe the school, perhaps even the state. I feel like all that stuff is on the way. But I’m still way more excited about the access to information than I am concerned about cheating. I’m also stoked about being able to create targeted content for students, for literally anything. It’s also just cool that there’s something beyond the Internet. For the old-school cats out there who once stamped cards at the library, unplugged their landlines for dial-up modems, and bought their first iPhone, this is a pretty cool step forward. And if ChatGPT does become our AI overlord, with some i-Robot-Spielbergian, I’m in. I’m just excited to see what comes next.