In the world of K–12 and higher education, the introduction of OpenAI’s ChatGPT has hit like a tsunami. Its ability to pen passable essays on the Emancipation Proclamation, whip up a book report on The Brothers Karamazov, or craft Springsteen-esque lyrics about climate change, has occasioned a decade’s worth of both enthusiastic encomiums and dire warnings in a matter of months.

Consider Intelligent.com’s recent survey of college students, released barely two months after the launch of ChatGPT. Fully 30 percent of four-year college students said they were already turning in some ChatGPT-penned assignments; one in thirty said ChatGPT was already doing all their written work. These are the earliest of adopters—it’s a safe bet their ranks will grow dramatically before long.

High school teachers and college faculty have long relied upon written assignments to ensure that that students are reading texts, mastering concepts, wrestling with big questions, and simply doing their work. Given that it’s tough to distinguish authentic student work from that penned by ChatGPT, this whole model is about to come toppling down. That’s not because ChatGPT’s stylings are splendid but because they tend to be mediocre, banal, and plodding in the same ways as most student work.

And, yet, a moment’s pause suggests the case for techno-optimism. After all, if a chatbot’s output can’t be distinguished from so much rote student work, it raises a lot of questions about just how thoughtful or necessary that work really is. This is all more than a little familiar. Back in the 1970s, there was great hand-wringing that the calculator would spell the death of numeracy; and now it’s just regarded as an unremarkable, time-saving tool that allows middle schoolers to spend less time on repetitious computations.

Well, who’s right—the optimists or the pessimists? The truth is, in a given school or college, it’ll depend mightily on the answer to three questions.

First, are students mastering the building blocks of knowledge? Consider the calculator: Once students had mastered computational skills, calculators could be an immense time-saver for high schoolers applying those skills to complicated functions or big numbers with lots of decimals. However, it was a much different story if second-graders were learning to push buttons rather than learn arithmetic, as that kept students from developing an essential understanding. It took longer than you’d have thought for us to settle on this sensible middle ground.

Second, are students learning how to structure and apply knowledge? Student writing should be an exercise in formulating one’s thinking—not just presenting content. Now, too often, that’s not the case. There are plenty of assignments in K–12 and college, alike, where students satisfy requirements by regurgitate a bunch of information. ChatGPT could make this worse, or it could offer an opportunity to help students focus less on cramming content onto a page and devote far more attention to clarity, coherence, and relevance.

Third, are students using chatbots in a way that allows them to avoid mastering essential skills? For instance, it’d be a big problem if a student seeking a driver’s license was able to turn in AI-generated work to satisfy the requirement. It means they’d be out on the road without ever having learned to drive. It’s a problem if chatbot-produced work means students are being certified to do work they don’t actually know how to do.

The case for optimism boils down to educators choosing to use this as an opportunity to ask about why they’re assigning so much rote, industrialized writing. After all, some students have long cheated their way through tedious assignments by relying on plagiarism, mindless rewrites of Wikipedia, or purchased papers. In some sense, ChatGPT just supersizes that kind of behavior—making it easier and more readily available.

This could be a chance to rethink what students are doing in order to emphasize high-value work. In lieu of mindless summations, students could offer oral presentations or engage iteratively with a teacher during the step-by-step of the writing process.

So, is ChatGPT a mortal threat to education, another overblown tech freak-out, or a wonderful tool that can liberate learners and teachers from drudgery? In truth, the techno-pessimists and the techno-optimists are both right. An endless flood of mass-produced banality is a chance to focus less on having students pump out more of it and instead build valuable knowledge and skills. Whether that will actually happen, though, is a question that ChatGPT can’t answer.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *