Teaching and Learning

Education’s encounter with Artificial Intelligence

The whole world in their hands? Educationalists are considering how they might embrace AI as closely as their students are. (Image source: Adolfo Eliziat)

ChatGPT is here to stay – so how might we embrace it?

Their hands rose tentatively at first.

But the secret was out: some of my students had already come across the artificial intelligence app Chat GPT, and a couple of them were even willing to admit using it to help with their studies (not in my subject, of course!.

If you are a secondary school teacher and you haven’t tried it yet, then I advise you to “wake up and smell the AI”.

Since its launch at the end of last year, educationalists have been wondering about how their practice might be impacted by this free, online, Artificial Intelligence application.  For those who aren’t aware of it, it allows you to type in a question and within seconds it produces a tailor-made answer.  Several teachers have reflected on how it might help teachers work (more on that later). But how will it affect the tasks that we set our students, and what might the longer-term implications of this technology be?

Sober analysis

The initial frenzy of speculation about ChatGPT has now subsided as teachers and school leaders have embarked on more sober analysis of its implications.  This has been assisted by the fact that the ChatGPT application was been overwhelmed by in January and was offline for much of the month.  It is currently being eased back into operation so it can cope with users of all shades and stripes (including, yes, numerous students).  And the tone among educators has already shifted.

Yes, there has been an acceptance that we will have to move away from setting students recap and past exam paper questions to complete at home.  But this should have been the direction of travel for years, thanks to the increased sophistication of online search engines and the common practice of students sharing responses with each other, not only in person, but also via social media.

And yes, the current model of coursework, let alone qualifications which are largely or wholly based on written reports, such as Extended Project Qualifications, will have to be significantly rethought.  Examination boards will need to grapple with increased urgency whether they can reform their qualifications, perhaps moving towards intensive ‘in-house’ write-ups of geography and history investigations.

Workarounds and opportunities

But there are several other workarounds, and indeed opportunities, that teachers and schools can employ in the light of ChatGPT.  Some involve meeting its challenges and circumventing the risks of plagiarism. These include:

  • Adopting ‘flipped learning’ more wholeheartedly. Its benefits are already well known, but this might be the time to embrace it. Flipped learning involves asking the students to research, consolidate, and tackle simpler tasks at home, freeing up class time for higher value-added and/or interpersonal tasks such as evaluation, discussion, and decision-making.
Flipped learning frees up classroom time for more active learning opportunities (Image source: Teachers with Apps)
  • Setting tasks which are bounded by local and up-to-date limits. This is because ChatGPT is, at the moment, fed by data which was online in 2021.  For example, these four tasks stump it:
    • “Write up today’s experiment”
    • “What three things did you learn from today’s lesson?”
    • “What were the geopolitical challenges of 2022?”
    • “To what extent is Ilkley economically inclusive?”
  • Changing the format:
    • Holding more discussions – for example, Harkness discussions – and consider setting oral assessments
    • Trying alternative formats for work, such as sketching, photos, paired work, and videos
    • Running students’ answers through an AI detection software – the pre-eminent one is Edward Xian’s ‘GPT Zero’, which gives a ‘perplexity score’ – the higher the score, the more likely it is that text has been written by a human; GPT-2 Output Detector is another.In OpenAI (the creators of ChatGPT) also say that they are planning to run a ‘watermarking’ scheme so that AI-generated answers can be flagged up to consumers.

Additionally, as commentators such as Daisy Christodoulou and Evan Dunne have pointed out, we can also use ChatGPT to help us with a variety of our everyday tasks, and to enhance our teaching.  We can use it to help us to mark, set quizzes, and write lesson plans and assemblies, and so on.

We can also encourage students to critique answers generated by ChatGPT, and discuss how they might be improved. Might we even see a return to examination boards adding the word ‘flair’ to their mark schemes for longer answers?  This is something that a chatbot cannot easily demonstrate – yet!

The human side of education

Image from the Eco-Capabilities project (Image source: Nicola Walshe, via EcoCapabilities)

Let’s take a step back for a moment, though, and look at how the wider educational landscape may be shaped by this app, and by its later iterations – not to mention the products of competitors like Google’s DeepMind.

Like it or not, AI will probably end up taking some of the control away from how we help students encounter knowledge about the world. In response, educators should take the opportunity to develop – and shout about – the human side of what we do.  What a world of opportunity this could open up!  We could develop into an army of well-respected teacher-facilitators, ushering in the next generation of critical thinkers.

We could also open curriculum breathing space, freeing up time from unrelenting knowledge transmission, and directing our energies into developing more rounded young people.  They could be given more time to pursue the arts, sports, and outdoor learning, and to develop ‘eco-capabilities’ to reconnect with nature.

Let’s be bold as we contemplate how we might harness ChatGPT’s powers, not only to make teaching more efficient and relevant for our students, but also how we might work towards a more humane, caring, and sustainable future for everyone.

This post was developed alongside a presentation given to staff at Bradford Grammar School on 18 January 2023.