All you need to know about ChatGPT, an AI tool that has had a recent surge in popularity, from EdTech expert, Mark Anderson.

Artificial intelligence has made significant strides in recent times which has helped across many sectors, including education. For some years, we’ve seen how AI and machine learning have been contributing through certain products that help with developing personalised and supportive learning pathways for students. Most recently, we’ve seen a huge furore around chatbots that use natural language to respond to and have conversations with you. From the conversation, you can give the AI requests and, from that input, it can generate responses. One tool which has gained significant traction and popularity in education is ChatGPT.

ChatGPT was created by OpenAI, a company that has undertaken many different AI projects, including the relatively well-known DALL-E, which, from a text input, can generate images. Here’s an example created from the input: “Create an image of a technician using their computer to manage a network.”

The AI responds quickly and effectively and, while the middle image might look like a photograph, it is important to note that it is not! Just like the illustrations on the left and right, it is a computer-generated image.

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI that is trained to generate human-like text. It can be used for a variety of natural language processing tasks, such as language translation, text summarisation and question answering.

ChatGPT uses the same natural language interface as the DALL-E tool, where you can simply ask it questions to perform tasks. It’s free and you can register for an account with your school Microsoft or Google credentials. From here, you are presented with a dialog box outlining examples, capabilities and limitations of the tool.

You can then ask ChatGPT questions and even ask it to write things for you, such as the paragraph above which explains what ChatGPT is.

Screengrab of ChatGPT sharing example prompts, its capabilities and limitations.

What does this mean for teachers and students’ work?

Conversations and issues around plagiarism have always existed. Whether you’re concerned over whether a parent has helped a student with a project or that a student has simply copied and pasted their answers from a website, these problems won’t be going away any time soon.

With the increase in popularity of ChatGPT, we’ve seen some schools and districts, such as New York State, banning its use. Life (and technological advances) tend to happen in cycles though and so, for me, ChatGPT is reminiscent of YouTube which, back in its infancy was met with blanket banning in many schools and districts.

I’ve shared many times now that “ChatGPT is the Emperor’s New YouTube.”

However, as Benjamin Franklin is famously quoted as saying, “Out of adversity comes opportunity,” and this is where I think emerging technologies such as these sit. Plagiarism checkers exist and companies will do what they can to keep up, but they’ll always be fighting a losing battle, especially when you can already ask ChatGPT to write in a particular style – even like a pirate!

Prompt entered into ChatGPT - "Explain what Microsoft Office is in the style of a pirate." And the AIs response, "Ahoy mateys! Mircrosoft Office be a collection of software programs for yer computer, including Word for writin' documents, Excel for spreadsheets and data crunchin', PowerPoint for presentations, and more. 'Tis a valuable tool fer any landlubber or pirate lookin' to organize their treasure trove of information."

So what to do?

The first thing schools should consider is making sure that teachers are aware that this technology exists. The first thing my 11-year-old son said when I showed it to him was, “Wow!”. The second thing he said was, “Can I use this to do my homework for me?”.

One particular risk of children using it in that way is that it gives them (and their unwitting teachers) a false sense of security when it comes to their ability in different subjects. If having used it, they achieve good grades and their formative feedback recognises that they are making good progress, then it is likely that the first indication of there being an issue will be in their mocks or, even worse, in their exams.

Using solid practices such as Retrieval Practice in the classroom with plenty of low-stakes quizzing, is in itself a good safeguard against that false sense of security.

What opportunities can it bring?

Just like YouTube, other technologies such as calculators, smart watches and smart phones have had their controversy in their lifetime; there are plenty who still think calculators have no place in the Maths classroom. The thing we can learn from this, just like with YouTube, is to seek the benefits it can bring.

Rather than seeing it as a threat, let’s use these tools as scaffolds that help give students a leg up.

ChatGPT itself suggests that we explore asking learners to undertake activities that involve critical thinking and analysis or that involve opinion-based questions or those that involve creativity.

Can it help me and my workload?

Just as my son was excited about how this tool could help with his homework, teachers are excited about how it can help them with their work too. It can do so in many ways, although it’s all about how you carefully craft your request. In Computing, there’s a rule called GIGO: “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. It’s a reminder that the output of any computation is only as good as the input data on which it operates. Therefore, just as what we share with our learners about their use of these types of tools is important, we need to consider what we type in when we ask ChatGPT to create our schemes of work (yes, it can do that!), mark our exam papers (yes, it can do that too!) or create macro codes to create our PowerPoint presentations (yes, it can do that as well!).

Tech or no tech?

Technology is brilliant but it isn’t everything. Remember what we learned from the pandemic. It wasn’t more technology we yearned for when we were all under lockdown, it was human connection. So, whilst these tools are exciting, can reduce workload and improve access to high-quality resources, let’s remember the important quote from Koehler and Mishra about TPACK: “TPACK is truly meaningful, deeply skilled teaching with or without (because sometimes this can be the best choice) technology.”

Good use of technology is about making informed choices around our technological knowledge (TK) and how it fits in with our required Content Knowledge (CK) and our Pedagogical Knowledge (PK).

I’ll finish with this point. As with all technology, just because you can do something with technology, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Sometimes, it’s quicker to do the jobs ourselves and sometimes it’s even better to not use technology to do it at all.

Author

  • Mark Anderson

    Mark is a global speaker, EdTech expert, trainer, blogger, author and key note speaker, known as the ICT Evangelist. He has over 20 years of experience in the classroom. Mark is the head of education at NetSupport, an Independent Thinking associate, an MIE Expert and fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching. His latest book can be found at edtechplaybook.com.
    twitter icon LinkedIn icon Website icon