How schools can strike the right balance with ChatGPT

How schools can strike the right balance with ChatGPT

Since its release on November 30 last year, Artificial Intelligence tool ChatGPT has sparked a renewed debate over whether it’s a good idea to allow this technology in classrooms at a time when teachers are trying to improve students’ critical thinking skills and creativity.

ChatGPT, the brainchild of OpenAI, uses AI to understand and respond to human language. It can be used for tasks such as answering questions, generating and rewording text, and even writing code. Perhaps most worryingly, the responses that the chatbot generates can be so humanlike that they can fool any teacher or university professor.

While Queensland has now joined NSW and Tasmania in banning the use of ChatGPT in state school classrooms, other states are giving their students the green light to use the controversial chatbot for educational purposes.

In South Australia, Catholic schools recently joined government schools in allowing students access to the technology, except for online exams and other tests.

The state’s Education Minister, Blair Boyer, said AI was "here to stay", adding that the idea of a blanket ban amounts to “burying our heads in the sand”.

For the time being Victoria’s education department is allowing students to use the technologies but is continuing to “review the risks and consider appropriate actions” if needed.

Striking the right balance

Professor Matt Bower, Interim Dean of Macquarie University’s School of Education and a specialist in using technology in learning, said educators need to clearly identify for each task whether or not they want to develop and assess student ability to perform with or without the assistance of AI.

“We still need humans to learn and know fundamental knowledge and skills - without that, how will humans be able to spot problems with AI outputs, or work creatively with AI? Good analogies here are calculators and spellcheckers,” Professor Bower told The Educator.

“Students still benefit from learning how to perform arithmetic and spell correctly without technology, but then are encouraged to use technological assistance when solving bigger problems.”

In cases where teachers want to assess whether students have learnt more foundational knowledge and skills, Professor Bower said assessment processes will need to be designed so that they can assure students are not using technology such as AI.

“On the other hand, there may be a wide range of higher-order tasks where the use of AI is permitted and even encouraged,” he said.

“Designing authentic tasks that are highly personalised and contextualised, and perhaps involve multimedia elements, will mean that students can only use tools like ChatGPT as a starting point. Teachers may choose to use AI as a prompt for discussion and collective critique by students, that students then need to build upon."

'Leaders should rely on professional wisdom'

Pasi Sahlberg is the Professor of Education at the Southern Cross University’s Faculty of Education. He says that while some school systems have already blocked students’ access to ChatGPT at school, many teachers and principals celebrate its potential to transform teaching and learning in school to something better.

"What we have seen so far is an infant version of machine learning and AI. We can only guess what its next generation version and competitors trying to knock it out will be able to do," Professor Sahlberg told The Educator.

"Since we can’t rely on research yet to decide what to do, education leaders should more than before rely on professional wisdom in schools when looking for smart responses to what to do with ChatGPT."

Professor Sahlberg said leaders can then develop a strategic plan for integrating ChatGPT and other AI into teaching and learning practices including clear goals and objectives for implementation.

"Leaders could provide immediately professional learning opportunities, rather than simple restrictions, to schools to learn about AI and how to use it to improve student learning and wellbeing," he said.

"Another important step is addressing ethical, health and privacy concerns by educating students, teachers and parents about these issues, and then monitor the impact of digital technologies and AI-based instruction to make adjustments as needed."

Professor Sahlberg agrees with Professor Bower in that ChatGPT should not be banned from schools.

"Rather than seeing technology and AI as a problem to be blocked from schools, engage young people to see it as part of the solution how to make teaching and learning more engaging, interesting, creative and effective."

Critical thinking must come first

Professor Bower said teachers need to help students develop the critical thinking capabilities to evaluate AI output, and the values to use it in ethical and purposeful ways.

“For instance, students should be encouraged to clearly acknowledge how they have used AI to derive their solutions, and be thinking about how they can use AI for greater good,” he said.

“Many are yet to fully apprehend how in the future AI will be able to support learning and teaching by providing personalised tuition, customised teaching resources, assessment rubrics, pedagogical advice, not to mention help with assessment design and marking.”

Professor Bower says one thing to keep in mind as this technology evolves at a dizzying pace is that we are now “entering an age of increased educational opportunity”.

“We just need to be flexible and thoughtful about how we manage the transition.”