It’s called ChatGPT.
But many educators are concerned that it can be “CheatGPT” as well.
The new artificial intelligence system, released late last year, is already causing heated debate on whether a program which can, in ChatGPT‘s own words “generate natural-sounding text” for term papers, is good for teachers and students, or if it simply a high-tech descendant of writing the answers to a test on the back of your hand
The reality, according to the staff of Evanston Township High School’s Instructional Technology Department, is both good and bad. But, the Tech Department says ChatGPT can be positive if teachers know how to adapt to and incorporate the online “chatbot” into their lesson plans.
Department Director David Chan sums it up this way, in the February issue of “Tech from the Terrace,” the ETHS EdTech Newsletter:
“… I suggest we focus on what ChatGPT can do for us. We need to recognize this as an opportunity to rethink, reimagine, and reinvent assessments making them so that only a human can answer them.”
In other words, whether teachers like ChatGPT or hate it, it’s here. Calling it only “good” or only “bad” is too simplistic, according to the ETHS experts.
“It just is,” says ETHS instructional technology specialist Melanie Marzen. Learn to live with it.
Not all school districts are taking that approach. The nation’s largest system, New York City, has banned ChatGPT from all in-school technology devices.
A spokesperson for New York schools, quoted by The Guardian, says the ban is “due to negative impacts on student learning, and concern regarding the safety and accuracy of contents.”
Those concerns are not dismissed in Evanston. But the approach here is more fine-tuned.
Chan says he has not seen a lot of teachers at ETHS “clamoring” to ban ChatGPT, although they certainly are interested in how to deal with yet another challenge for educators.
Tech specialist Mina Marien found a creative way to explain the pros and cons of ChatGPT.
Marien asked a series of questions to the chatbot, with the Q and A published in the EdTech newsletter.
“Who better to explain this tool than ChatGPT itself?,” Marien says.
“What is ChatGPT?,” she asked.
The bot’s response included the quote used at the beginning of this story, that it can “generate natural-sounding text,” as well as being “fine-tuned for various tasks such as question-answering, language translation, and text summarization.”
Chat also answered questions on how it can best be used in the classroom, why teachers should be excited about it, and, yes, the negatives of the system as well.
ChatGPT assembles responses from existing internet data bases, so a Chat-generated essay may sound excellent, or it may sound stilted, incomplete and inaccurate.
Marzen, the other tech specialist, grew up in a rural part of Iowa, and asked Chat to write an essay about “my life on the farm.”
What came back, Marzen says, were “generic, non-specific answers” which could have been anybody’s life on any farm, but in no way relevant to her own childhood.
There are ways to detect an AI-generated paper, but it’s yet another layer of dealing with the new technology.
Many teachers already know how their students write, so seeing something completely different, or perhaps that appears “cut-and-pasted” from the internet, could be a clue.
There are also cheating-detection sites, such as aiwritingcheck.org, which Marien says has an 80-90% accuracy rate.
The ETHS tech staff notes that individual teachers could ban ChatGPT for in-class assignments, but an overall schoolwide ban can easily be evaded using devices at home.
“Kids will always find a way around” any total prohibition, Marzen explans.
ChatGPT stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer, so it’s no wonder the developers came up with a catchier name.
Those developers are from an organization called OpenAI, which was co-founded by Tesla’s Elon Musk.
And, as with any successful high-tech idea, competition is likely.
Chan says that Google is working on a similar artificial intelligence system with the Shakespearean name “Bard.”
“To use, or not to use.” That may be the question.