ChatGPT Adds Challenges to the Classroom

School is officially back in session. It is time, once again, to pack lunches, stuff backpacks and check folders for homework. But teachers and parents have a new concern when it comes to classroom assignments. How can they be certain that the students’ work is original and not the product of artificial intelligence programs that are readily available on the internet?

ChatGPT is one such program that is gaining widespread popularity among students and adults alike. Consequently, educators have had to scramble to address the issue and find proper ways to include its usage in the classroom.

What is ChatGPT?

“ChatGPT is an online search tool that uses natural language processing to create a humanlike conversational dialogue,” Professor of Teacher Education at Eastern Michigan University Michael McVey said.  “The language model can respond to questions and compose content that includes articles, essays, social media posts, emails  and even computer code. The dialogue feature becomes helpful when you begin refining the prompt you first submitted to ChatGPT.”

For example, a student can ask ChatGPT to write an essay on an assigned topic, tell the program what key points it should address, and even limit it to the exact word count.

Photo of Michael McVey.

“One of the more immediate concerns on the part of teachers is that students will use it to produce work that looks reasonably like they did it,” McVey said. “Teachers are concerned that students will use it to cut corners in their learning and rely too heavily on it in their writing.”

Teachers are now employing programs, such as Grammarly, to check for the originality of the work that their students are submitting. 

Using new tech in creative ways

McVey has seen his own students use ChatGPT in creative ways as well. 

“Its use seems to fall into three categories. First, some use it like a search engine and those students are generally disappointed by the results since they can be sometimes wildly inaccurate. Second, some have learned to modify their initial prompt to get a more helpful result. Third, some went back and forth with ChatGPT and engaged in a discussion to fine-tune their results.”

McVey is also the president of the school board for Saline Area Schools. His hope is that teachers will reexamine their assignments in light of this new technology, focusing more on creativity rather than solely content.

“The teacher is now in a position to focus on writing as a process and engage students more deeply in the editing process. If you ask ChatGPT to produce a story incorporating a set of essential elements, students can then use their writing skills to improve the clarity of the text, add descriptive features, and even flesh out larger themes. ChatGPT has produced, in effect, a lump of clay for students to apply and hone their writing skills.”

While this technology can be used as a shortcut for some, McVey also sees how it can become a useful addition in education.

“Teachers can use the tools to enhance their existing lessons, modify the writing for English Language Learners, find inspiration for its use in class, and discover new ways to engage students in everything from discussions and projects to the development of exciting new teaching strategies,” he said. “Students with disabilities are already seeing its potential to level the field and are already advocating for its use in schools.”

What parents and teachers should know

McVey would like to see parents having open and honest dialogue with their child about proper usage of this technology.

“I would like to see parents speak with their students about this tool and how easily it can make it appear that they are doing homework. Teachers, including myself, are currently reviewing the tasks they send home with students to see if ChatGPT will have an effect. The best approach, rather than outright removing it from the classroom, would be to lean into the tool and have a full discussion about its potential,”McVey said.

McVey feels that one day, these new online search tools will become commonplace in their usage.

“I was teaching back when handheld calculators were going to ruin a student’s ability to do arithmetic,” he said. “I believe, wholeheartedly, that we will be able to use this new technology to improve what is bland and mundane in education today and use it to personalize and enhance the teaching and learning that is taking place.”

“However we proceed with this tool, teachers and administrators will need training, reflection, and practice, as well as a little grace, as the inevitable missteps occur,” he said. 

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