ChatGPT and Education
This post is a continuation of a previous topic in our series on “How to Benefit Most from our Evaluation Service“. Last post dealt with the uncomfortable head and heart issue of student cheating and dishonesty, rare though it is, in assignments and tests for high school courses. This post will address a similar issue with a new online tool called ChatGPT.
Without sounding like I’ve been reading too many science fiction novels lately, I believe it is no understatement to say that ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI) engines will change our world in big ways. Other smarter commentators (see resources below) have speculated on the far-reaching consequences or dangers of this powerful computer technology for business, labour, politics, industry, education, and beyond.
For the moment, imagine you are back in high school English class and have been assigned a 3-page character analysis of Prince Hamlet. You really had a hard time with the Shakespearean language and you feel the crunch of the due date. On top of that, your parents said you need to finish the assignment by Thursday or you can’t go to the ice cream social. You probably just knuckled down, slugged through the work, reviewed class notes, re-read select scenes from your paperback script, and perhaps consulted some of the introductory material in the front. Not your favourite but you got it done.
Fast-forward to 2023……why not go to https://chat.openai.com/ and type your greatest wish into the box: “Write a 1000-word character analysis of Prince Hamlet for grade 11.” Within about ten seconds (I’m serious), you have a shiny new essay, paragraph by paragraph, including a few quotations, and best of all, it can be written in the approximate style of a grade 11 student. Cut and paste. Add a title page and your name. Done. Oh, and I did I mention this essay will pass any plagiarism checker? ChatGPT composed the original essay from scratch.
If you didn’t know this was possible yet, you need to know this now! Because your son or daughter may come to know about this first (kids are often more tech-savvy) and it could be a problem for their schoolwork.
Let me take a step back for a moment because I don’t want this article to sound like an unpleasant, suspicious, incriminating tirade.
No one’s a luddite here nor are we schoolwork police! Technology isn’t bad in itself as we are called to have dominion over nature and extend our capabilities for building and creating. ChatGPT and other AI technologies have amazing potential to perform very complex tasks from gathering and sorting large amounts of information to making binary decisions on the basis of hundreds or thousands of variables. AI is likely employed in more everyday applications than we know, and it can provide helpful advice as a starting point on certain decisions in life and work. Some tasks in teaching and learning might also be enhanced through these tools, although that itself will be a steep learning curve. And ChatGPT is admittedly a fun tool to play around with too (write a limerick about horses and your favourite politician).
But when it comes to schoolwork, the power and cunning of ChatGPT is an overwhelming temptation for a small minority of students. Sadly, we’ve already discovered a few situations where multiple assessments were generated substantially or completely through this technology. At first, they appear to be exceptionally well-written pieces garnering good grades. Only later do we realize this can’t be the student’s own work….it’s too smooth, sterile, and impersonal. As ChatGPT gets smarter and the tool provides more customization, it will become more capable at generating student work which contains a small percentage of technical errors and writing tendencies common to grade level, thus becoming more evasive to detection.
Therefore, I would encourage parents to test ChatGPT to see its raw capabilities. Some types of questions will generate responses that are intelligent, informed, and frighteningly real. Consider asking for a prayer or devotional concerning a passage of Scripture or some theological topic. It could write a sermon with objectively sound theology, or a personal letter with advice or exhortation. Apparently the tool can also adapt its outputs to conform to a particular personal writing style or format. This stuff is powerful and perplexing and dangerous…….and soulless.
I certainly recognize there may be appropriate and creative ways to use ChatGPT as a tool for gathering rough information and initial sources, raising interesting questions, generating raw ideas, and otherwise spurring on a project for an engaged and responsible student. The possibilities may be endless when we consider various disciplines, applications, and approaches to academic work. There are also inappropriate, careless, or lazy ways to use the tool that subtract from thinking and learning, so flat out dishonesty is not the only concern.
The point of all of this is to be informed and aware of what is out there, and to consider whether this issue might be a concern or temptation for your high school student. Above all, know your children and how they are handling their school work. Check in on them, support their efforts, and help them with the proper stages of written work. See the suggestions offered in our previous post as well. In the end, our education goals remain the same: to help foster Christian education in the home, that young people may think on the true, the good, and the beautiful. We want to help students communicate skillfully and beautifully in truth and love in order to glorify God and serve others.
I welcome all questions or comments, and any interaction on this topic.
Other Resources (links included give a sampling of articles and discussion on this general topic; content linked is not necessarily endorsed by Tree of Life but given for research)