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An optimistic outlook on ChatGPT’s impact on education

ChatGPT, an AI chatbot developed by OpenAI, has created a buzz in the education industry in recent months. Given the prevalence of written student assessments, it’s natural that some are worried about AI’s potential negative consequences. Dr. David Payne points out the positive outcomes incorporating AI into education can bring.

In short

Bringing the AI revolution to education

Artificial intelligence has been a specialized topic of study in universities for years. However, it was the release of ChatGPT that forced schools to confront how AI would impact how they teach. 

One of the most significant impacts ChatGPT can have is on education. It has the potential to revolutionize the learning experience as we know it. The natural language model behind the AI chatbot can write college-level essays on nearly any topic. The AI can answer questions, provide feedback to students, and explain complex concepts in a clear and concise manner. On the one hand, cheating on homework assignments has gotten a whole lot easier. While on the other hand, it means all students now have access to a private tutor regardless of their family’s income. This can be particularly helpful for students uncomfortable asking questions in class.

Dr. Payne, a higher education consultant and former professor at SUNY Binghamton, considers ChatGPT a tool that can augment and enhance the learning experience rather than replace it. He notes that ChatGPT is not the end-all-be-all in education. What it can be is a valuable tool to help learners master concepts and improve their skills.

ChatGPT can also help teachers streamline their work. It can assist in developing lesson plans and grading assignments, saving time and reducing teachers’ workloads. In the future, it could offer insights into the thought processes of the students using it so teachers can adapt their teaching strategies to support students better. Still, many in the education industry need to recognize the positive potential. 

University reactions to ChatGPT

There is no way to put the genie back in its bottle when it comes to technological development. All that we can do is choose how to respond. Dr. Payne Identifies three prominent approaches universities are taking in response to the release of ChatGPT. 

The most conservative is the reactionary approach to artificial intelligence in education. These are those who insist that assessments and projects must remain free from the influence of AI. Dr. Payne says, “I think those reactions are analogous to when inexpensive calculators became available, and people in math and technical fields were aghast that people would be using those, rather than doing the calculations in their heads and on paper.” (01:32) While the reactionary approach is understandable, it is impossible to maintain. Even OpenAI avoids guaranteeing its AI text classifier tool can detect AI-generated content. 

The second approach is for those that are interested in adapting to the use of AI tools. These educators recognize that ChatGPT and other AI tools like it are everywhere, but they have their limitations. For example, this approach could mean revising questions to be more specific and contemporary because ChatGPT only has information up to 2021. 

Finally, there is the most progressive approach educators can take. “Those responses I would categorize as coming from people who realized that these AI tools are not only going to affect education, they’re going to affect the workplace and the work environment,” Dr. Payne says. “Those faculty in those institutions I think, are trying to ask themselves, ‘What do we need to train and educate our learners about so that they are prepared to enter a workplace that will be replete with AI Tools in ways that are almost impossible for people to fully wrap their heads around at this point in time?’”(02:33)

Of the three, Dr. Payne favors the third and expects time will show it was the correct approach. Artificial intelligence is not a magic system; it requires human creativity and innovation. Schools that provide learners with the knowledge and skill set to use the tools better will receive positive feedback from graduates and employers. In little time, the reactionary approach will die off, as they tend to do when people get used to new technology. 

Addressing the concerns regarding AI

Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool that has the potential to transform education, but it also raises concerns about equity and bias. Dr. Payne acknowledges that there is a danger AI will create a significant gap between those who have access to AI tools and those who do not. However, he is optimistic that the producers of AI systems will have a stake in helping learners become familiar with what AI can do. 

One way that AI producers can help address concerns about equity is by providing free or low-cost versions of their software. OpenAI launched ChatGPT as a free service and recently introduced a paid tier. It’s safe to say that the open-source community will provide a rival that remains free in the way Stable Diffusion countered OpenAI’s DALL-E for image generation.

It is also essential to recognize that AI is not infallible. Natural language models are incapable of understanding what they write. They generate their responses based on probabilities that words belong together. AI learning models are only as good as the data used to train them. If the data used in the training set is biased, then the system’s output will show that bias too. OpenAI has focused on promoting fairness and transparency in its AI models. Ultimately it will be on the users and politicians to ensure AI doesn’t perpetuate our biases.  

The future of assessments

It is safe to assume that at least part of all assignments written at home will be AI-generated. 

While ChatGPT can generate text and answer questions, it is not a substitute for critical thinking or independent thought. Those skills are, for now, uniquely human. Instead of focusing purely on the output, like a thesis paper, moving forward, assessments should emphasize the thought process behind the work. 

Dr. Payne notes that educators are making inferences about what people can do in the future, “and those are based on the evidence that we collect from individuals throughout their learning careers.” (07:58) Students’ usage of AI tools offers an opportunity to gather accurate and insightful data on their thinking skills. At least if the AI developers and educators work together to integrate into the learning process.

ChatGPT has the potential to revolutionize the learning experience. Access to it and other AI tools can better prepare students for the future, increase efficiency, and bridge gaps in educational opportunities. Educators and students must be willing to adapt to new tools and strategies to enhance learning and improve outcomes. As the world continues to evolve, those who are able to strike a balance between innovation and responsibility will be best positioned to succeed.

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