Profile face with cogs turning in foreground, woman with phone symbolising teacher using ChatGTP in the classroom in the background.

ChatGPT in the classroom: what you need to know

Alex MacCreadie

LearnWell is always pushing the boundaries of new technology and its application to schools and learning. Lately, we have been looking at AI and playing with ChatGPT.   How might we see ChatGPT in the classroom?  How can we be prepared and use it to our advantage?

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a new way for people to access and collate information from the internet.  The topic it researches is whatever the user chooses.  Users receive the information they want through a conversation with AI (Articifial Intelligence). If you use Alexa or Siri, you will be familiar with this concept. There are some differences with these virtual assistants and ChatGPT. Siri or Alexa are known as command-and-control systems so can't partipciate in a two-way conversation. You ask for something from Siri and it completes the task.  Ask for directions or dictate a text to be sent - Siri does it.

ChatGPT is different in that it will hold a conversation.  It will also learn and remember previous conversations and include this information in new conversations. ChatGPT will be able to produce nuanced and complex answers. That sounds complicated, but isn’t really. To give an example, Springboard asked Chat GPT to introduce itself. It also asked that ChatGPT give its answer within certain parameters.

Alexa or Siri couldn't complete this request as the instruction is too complex. 

Taking this conversation further, ChatGPT could meet the request rewrite this for a younger audience, or an American audience.

So, does ChatGPT compile accurate information?

ChatGPT has limitations and sometimes misses the mark. To get ChatGPT to produce an answer that meets the question's brief, the author needs to ask the right question. Badly worded questions produce bad answers. In other words, to get useful results from ChatGPT, you need to know both your subject and how to write.

That aside, given the right prompts ChatGPT can write a good quality essay.

You can see why educators are concerned.

Should we be worried about ChatGPT in the classroom?

Well, yes and no.

Up until now, many classes have relied on written answers to demonstrate learning.  Essays and short answer questions all require written answers. ChatGPT poses some threat to assessing these answers in a straightforward way.

However, as good as ChatGPT is, it is limited to writing that focuses on comprehension and accuracy. Unless the writer feeds ChatGPT information about context, opinion, and original thought, it will not write a particularly good essay. So, students using ChatGPT need to know their stuff.

ChatGPT as a classroom tool

ChatGPT is a tool.  It is similar to Grammarly, spellcheckers and other writing tools which are already accepted as part of the education landscape.

I have found ChatGPT to be beneficial when I see it as my personal editor.  I wrote something that I was not happy with, and I asked ChatGPT to rewrite it. Did I use ChatGPT's results word-for-word? No: it lacked context and my writer’s voice. It showed me some other ways to write my ideas, and this is something I have found valuable.

Ultimately, I need to know what good writing is and what is appropriate for my audience.  I need to think through the central ideas I want to get across in order to use ChatGPT effectively.  But when I do that, I have found it to increase my efficiency. This is the approach Microsoft (who have purchased a stake ChatGPT) have taken. ChatGPT will get embedded in their products as an assistant that writes and seeks information.

Whether you like it or not, you won’t be able to avoid it.

ChatGPT in the classroom

Students using ChatGPT will develop increased critical thinking skills.  The student's focus will move to revising and editing.  The quality of their written work becomes the main focus: what is good communication, what knowledge is important and how does it apply in context.  The cognitive load of writing reduces as the substance of their writing becomes the most important thing. This has its merits.

The ChatGPT revolution offers other benefits as well.  It will force teachers to think differently about assessment.  Maybe assessments can offer more flexibility if we think a little differently and don't default to the norm of written assessments.  The transactional nature of written assessments often disadvantages students.  Presentations and practical tasks may take on a new emphasis.

NZQA rules allow for multiple assessment formats and for internals. Teachers determine the assessment task. If the task focuses on knowledge, comprehension, and written accuracy, it will be vulnerable to AI and ChatGPT. However, when the task requires originality, specific contexts and critical thinking, it is less vulnerable to AI. It's a good thing if teaching these higher-order thinking skills becomes a focus to combat AI in assessment.  

How do I prepare for ChatGPT in the classroom?

If you are a teacher or a leader, try out ChatGPT.  See what it can do! Become familiar with AI and how to use it.  Type in some questions from your tasks and see what it will write. How would you mark the results?  Tweak the question and see if you can fool the AI.

Like any tool: using it poorly will yield poor results, but use it well and it could be a revolution.  Just think of what life would be like without our spellchecker or calculator!  

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