This article is part of KIPP SoCal's "Teaching in a New World: The Road to Recovery" blog series, where we will continue to reimagine public education and explore new strategies to improve student outcomes for all of our KIPPsters.
By Carolyn Grass | Dean, KIPP Academy of Innovation
On January 3, 2023, just a few days after the turn of the New Year, while California was grappling with flooding, New York became the first to ban ChatGPT at their schools. Launched on November 30, 2022, it only took a little over a month for schools to be faced with its transformative power to not just find and curate information from the web, but to use the platform to create new original content. TikTok exploded with people documenting the way in which they could take advantage of this new tool. On a recent episode of The Daily, the interviewer reacts in awe when he is told, “It can write essays. It can come up with scripts for TV shows. It can answer math questions. It can even write code.” Mark Cuban, sitting on a panel discussing the implications of the recent changes at Twitter, dismissed the change and brought up ChatGPT. He felt his son was already trying to figure out how to use it to write his 8th-grade essays.
Not only do students want to use this technology, it appears that teachers are trying to use it to cut down their workloads as well. Some have tried using it to write lesson plans, grade essays, send parent emails, and write letters of recommendation. One teacher even described it as an excellent way to create a set of writing examples that the students can then evaluate.
As with any new technology, there are flaws in the system that are starting to be realized. According to reporting on The Daily and in Education Week, questions are starting to arise about bias, and often it can be wrong in the answers it gives. In addition, if what you are asking for doesn’t fit into the data it has been flooded with, it will be hard for AI to recognize it and understand the way it pushes boundaries. The lessons that it writes are also very generic and will not differentiate for your particular student population. One teacher even went as far as to call them “dated." Not to mention, it is now easier for students to potentially plagiarize AI for school assignments.
While all of these concerns are important, I think we are having the wrong conversations. It’s not about what ChatGPT can do, the better question to be asking ourselves is what jobs, what thinking are we able to do that no machine would ever be able to replicate? AI is here to stay, and we can’t stop it. Students and professionals alike will use it, and our job as educators is to better understand it ourselves and help our students grapple with it, even make this new universe of technology enhance the learning experience, rather than detract from it.
What makes humans irreplaceable is their ability to be curious and ask the right questions. We also have the ability to check for bias and detect nuance. We are empathetic and culturally sensitive, and we can be completely original, fueled by the creativity of what we imagine to be possible -- a space that ChatGPT cannot entertain.
As educators, we need to teach them how to safely utilize this new tool. In the same way, we teach them to make sure they check to see that their sources are credible, we should train our students to evaluate what they are given and weigh that against the technical expertise they have been trained on. It’s a great tool IF you know what you are looking for and how best to use it. It’s the same issue that we have with Google searches. We know that Google doesn’t always give you quite the right answer, but students will often still consider it to be valid without verifying or cross-referencing that information. These skills need to be explicitly taught, and we need to have direct conversations with students to help them navigate these new systems.
We cannot reject the engine of progress, but use it as a call to change how we might approach teaching and learning at both a systemic and pedagogical level. We can attach a set of values to student learning connected to what we actually value about how our children express themselves, imagine, think critically, push boundaries not yet defined by the world of content available on the internet. ChatGPT is not generating meaning, it is arranging word patterns, that while passable, and at times impressive, is not commensurate with the limits of creative thinking our KIPPsters can take their minds to. This new facet of AI should encourage us to think differently, and encourage us as educators to value the process, not just the end product, showing greater interest in learning, rather than performance.
To sum up, when you are internalizing your lessons, and preparing for your students, ask yourself, “Am I giving students an opportunity to evaluate answers? Am I giving them examples of what common pitfalls and misconceptions are on my topic that will help them develop critical thinking? Am I challenging them to think creatively, independently and imagine answers and solutions through new lenses? In essence, we need to let them practice critical thought, evaluation and reconsideration of their work as much as possible and develop those muscles they will be utilizing more of in a future where ChatGPT is the norm.
Want to take a deep dive? Here are some of the articles I came across in writing this article.
- Education Week: With ChatGPT, Teachers Can Plan Lessons, Write Emails, and More. What's the Catch?
- The Guardian: New York City schools ban AI chatbot that writes essays and answers prompts
- The New York Times: Don't Ban ChatGPT in Schools, Teach with it
- NYT's "The Daily": Did Artificial Intelligence Just Get Too Smart?
- The Atlantic: ChatGPT Will End High-School English
- The Biblioracle Recommends: Chat GPT Can't Kill Anything Worth Preserving
- Ed Tech: Chat GPT, Chatbots, and Artificial Intelligence in Education