Hammer and Nails

CHAT GPT: Friend or Foe?

April 28, 2023

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.

— William Shakespeare, The Tempest

By now, many of you will have heard about CHAT GPT and may be wondering what all the fuss is about. I was about to start writing this post about it, when I thought, “What if I asked CHAT GPT to write it for me?”  I logged in and posed the following task: Write a superintendent’s blog detailing what CHAT GPT is, and the advantages and disadvantages of using it in schools.  This was produced (within five seconds!):

Dear parents, students, and staff,

As the superintendent of our school district, I wanted to take some time to talk about a new tool that we are considering implementing in our schools: CHAT GPT.

CHAT GPT is a large language model trained by OpenAI, based on the GPT-3.5 architecture. Essentially, it is a computer program that is designed to process and understand natural language. This means that it can read and analyze written text, and then generate responses in a way that resembles human conversation.

There are many potential advantages to using CHAT GPT in our schools. For one, it could be an excellent resource for teachers and students alike. Students could use it as a tool for research, asking questions and getting instant responses that can help them with their assignments. Teachers could use it as a way to communicate with students more efficiently and provide personalized feedback. Additionally, CHAT GPT could help with language learning by providing students with an immersive and interactive environment where they can practice their language skills.

However, there are also some potential drawbacks to using CHAT GPT. One concern is that it could replace human interaction in some situations. While CHAT GPT is designed to mimic human conversation, it is still ultimately a computer program and may not be able to provide the same level of empathy and understanding that a human teacher or counselor can. Additionally, there is the risk that students may become overly reliant on CHAT GPT and not develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that come from working through challenges with human guidance.

Overall, we believe that CHAT GPT has the potential to be a valuable tool in our schools, but we must proceed with caution. We will be carefully evaluating the benefits and risks before making any decisions about implementing it in our classrooms. As always, our primary goal is to provide the best possible education for our students, and we will continue to explore new technologies and tools that can help us achieve that goal.

Thank you for your support and dedication to our schools.

Obviously, this sounds nothing like I would write (I am much more long-winded), however with a few subtle changes to diction, I could post it and most of you would be none the wiser (The scary part is that over time CHAT GPT can learn to write like me). 

If you carefully read the wording of my query you can begin to see the learning built into its algorithms. Because I identified the role as superintendent, it the opening salutation was to the three key constituents in a school district: parents, students and staff. It also quickly illustrated what CHAT GPT is and its potential for impacting teaching and learning. This was actually helpful for me, because I really did not want to have to explain what CHAT GPT is, but instead wanted to share some perspectives about how I think K-12 schools and universities should be responding to it. So I will cut right to the chase about three key things each of us should be doing right now with respect to CHAT GPT:

  • Learn about it: Before making any judgments about the utility of CHAT GPT, or joining the chorus of people seeking to ban AI in schools, it is important that we all learn more about this tool, what it can and cannot do, as well as the potential applications in educational environments. There are numerous places where you can gather this information. And as you can tell, you can just ask CHAT GPT itself. Find out what the letters G-P-T mean (I am not going to tell you). Find out how “accurate” it can be, and under what circumstances it is likely to “hallucinate” ( I am not going to tell you that either). Ask yourself how a tool such as this could help you in your professional and personal life. Find out where it is being effectively used in educational settings. Find out how it already being used in school districts. Learn about the careers students will taking on where they will be using artificial intelligence.
  • Try it yourself: I highly recommend that you get an account and ask CHAT GPT to do a few things that have been time consuming for you. For instance, try building a lesson plan for a specific unit of study for a specific grade with a diverse cluster of student needs. You might be surprised what it can create for you. And just as I have done here, you can adjust the query, and then see how much of it you wish to use. Consider where and when you want to share it with students and be unafraid to let them know how you are using it. Chances are that most of your students already know about it and are using it themselves.

    One of the most apt analogies I have encountered about CHAT GPT relates to the hammer and nail pictured above. Would you ever dream of telling a student that they have to get the nail into the board by just using their thumb and not the hammer? Would you ever drive the nail in with the hammer in front of the them and tell them that they could not use one? Or, would you engage them in discussion about the power of the hammer, how and when to use it, when not to use it, and how to evaluate their use of it?

  • Develop a (tentative) position. It will be helpful for all of us to engage in discussion about the utility of artificial intelligence in education. We have been talking about its arrival for a while and it is finally here. Let’s not run from it. I fear that if we do it will widen the growing gap that exists in our schools between the world of our students and the world in which they live.  Instead, I think a healthier disposition is for us to become curious about it and engage each other in serious dialogue about the ways AI might amplify our aspirations to develop global competencies among our students.  We should also engage in dialogue about how we mitigate the potential issues that will undoubtedly arise in the months ahead. The obvious challenge as mentioned above by CHAT GPT is plagiarism and diminishment of critical and creative thinking and problem solving. A good question for us to grapple with, then, is “How do we amplify critical and creative problem solving among students in a world where they have ubiquitous access to information?”

The quote at the top of this blog comes from Miranda when she first laid eyes on the humans coming ashore on their island. Her initial curiosity and naivete was to be tempered by her father who wisely needed to help her see all sides of the human condition. Similarly, we must be cautious and courageous as we seek to prepare our students for the brave new world ahead of them.