ChatGPT: Friend or Foe?

ChatGPT: Friend or Foe?
ChatGPT: Friend or Foe?

School Leadership//

September 14, 2023

On December 5, 2000, the Daily Mail newspaper ran a headline that seems humorous today: “Internet ‘may be just a passing fad as millions give up on it’.” This headline is humorous because it was so wrong even at the time it was published—the internet had between approximately 400 million users by 2000 and was growing rapidly.

In many ways, ChatGPT is akin to a “new internet.” The average person can’t fully grasp its capabilities, but it has started to change the fabric of our future. Many believe Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be around for the long haul, and they are willing to give it a go. ChatGPT online is one easy-to-use application of AI, and just two months after its launch, it already had reached 100 million users.

In schools across the country, students use ChatGPT to produce complete analytical essays, gather information on subjects, generate ideas, and so much more. It can write you a poem, in Shakespearean style, using iambic pentameter, deliberating the theme of a long-lost love.

Unsurprisingly, its rapid adoption among students is causing waves of reactions and ramifications in schools. Some institutions want to prohibit its use, while others choose to proceed with caution, but proceed nonetheless. The question remains: Will ChatGPT online become a tool for educators and students alike, or will it be a weapon employed by students and banned by teachers? Or perhaps it will be something in between.

Which path will your school choose?

Route 1: Discourage ChatGPT

Most liberal arts teachers can recount the moment they first learned about ChatGPT online. Most likely they were reading a student’s essay or short writing assignment, and they thought to themselves, “This doesn’t sound like the student’s voice … I wonder where they got this.”

However, after a quick Google search or plagiarism check, the teacher might not find anything online resembling the student’s submitted work. At our current juncture, ChatGPT seems to be an educator’s nightmare precisely because the answers it generates are unique.

According to Business Insider, the way AI works is by using a massive amount of information to predict the most accurate or most likely responses to questions. Do you want to know the answer to two plus two? ChatGPT can tell you it is four.

If you want to know what the river symbolizes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ChatGPT can predict a variety of likely responses.

As TikTok videos steadily infiltrate students’ phones with simple lessons on how to best use ChatGPT online to complete tasks, some institutions have scrambled to ban the technology altogether. According to an article published on Best Colleges, entire school districts in New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles have prohibited its use entirely.

As reported in the article, these districts have blocked ChatGPT because they fear students are bypassing the practice of basic skills like memorization and information recall, and advanced skills like connecting ideas and critical thinking. So, on one hand, the strict guidelines make sense: This technology is new, and although we don’t know exactly what it can do or what it will become, we do know students can use it to cut corners and hinder learning. When a student is plugging in a question and getting a perfectly respectable answer that they copy and turn in, learning is totally bypassed.

Route 2: Use ChatGPT Online as a Tool

Meanwhile, some educators have taken a more progressive, albeit still cautious, approach. Those who decide to employ ChatGPT in their classes are basing their decision on one central idea: ChatGPT online is not going away, so we should figure out how to use it to enhance rather than block their learning experience.

Teachers who encourage students to use the program can create a space where students not only learn more about innovative technology, but also expand an entire array of other skills. However, educators should be clear about how to use the technology to assist in student learning, not replace it.

ChatGPT can help students with first steps in an assignment or activity so they can get to the more profound work.

For example, consider a biology teacher who chooses to use AI in education and designs a lesson on local flora and fauna in the school’s area with an objective for students to identify organisms, organize them artistically, make predictions about how many there are and where they grow, and then document what they see. The teacher could ask their students to type into ChatGPT, “What types of flora and fauna exist in San Diego?”

Your school must decide how to handle this new, unprecedented technology. Whether ChatGPT online is banned in your school, used frequently by your students, or somewhere in between these options, make your decision with intention and reasoning. Ultimately, student learning should be at the center of your choice regarding ChatGPT.


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