The well-founded concerns surrounding ChatGPT shouldn't distract us from considering how it might be useful.
By now, I've read so many articles and listened to so many podcasts that started with a this-was-actually-written-by-ChatGPT gotcha moment that I feel the need to state this upfront: I am in fact a human, typing on a Saturday morning, begging my daughters to do their chores while I struggle to start this piece—without the help of ChatGPT.
If you're not one of ChatGPT's 100+ million monthly users, you're missing out. After my daughters ignore me (they still haven't started those chores), it feels amazing when ChatGPT responds to almost any request with "Of course!" or "Sure!" Who doesn't like that?
Having taught with and about educational technology for the past 20 years, I completely understand educators' well-founded fears. Even Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, which created ChatGPT, admitted that he is "a little bit scared of this."Footnote1 ChatGPT can write most things, in most styles, and students are already using it to cheat.Footnote2 Test conversations have found inaccuracies, yet ChatGPT doesn't typically provide citations or indicate any uncertainty.Footnote3 It's the Cliff Clavin of web apps.
To give it a try, I asked ChatGPT to write a poem for an English class assignment. I immediately received an enthusiastic "Of course!" followed by a five-stanza poem. Afterward, I expressed a hope to ChatGPT that the poem would get me a good grade, and the tool assured me that it would since the poem showcased my "creativity" and "appreciation for sports." When I reminded ChatGPT that I didn't write the poem, it quickly apologized but assured me that the poem was in fact the result of my "imagination and critical thinking skills." Not only will students submit ChatGPT-generated works as their own, but ChatGPT will pat them on the back for doing so.
Most ChatGPT content detectors also wrongly assured me that the poem was in fact written by a human. The detector offered by OpenAI came close to uncovering my scheme but ultimately concluded the text to be "unclear if it is AI-generated."
Even with these pitfalls, I'm done freaking out about ChatGPT. There's no putting the ChatGPT genie back into its bottle, and I find recent bans to be shortsighted.Footnote4 Bing has already integrated ChatGPT into its search engine, and Microsoft is expected to soon integrate a similar generative AI into Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook.Footnote5 This development forced Alphabet, Google's parent company, to go into "code red" and release its generative AI ahead of schedule—a botched launch that dropped Alphabet's stock 9%, or about $100 billion in market cap.Footnote6
As educators, we can't launch into code red ourselves. In fact, I see good reason for us to be optimistic. ChatGPT can help us create lesson plans, improve writing prompts, identify resources and authors, generate examples for students to critique, and improve our emails, course announcements, and directions. For students, ChatGPT can provide on-demand tutoring, give formative feedback, and help with prewriting and brainstorming activities.
That said, I'm not naïve to the difficulties. Time will tell how generative AI tools positively and negatively impact education, but in the short term we can do a few things:
- Use ChatGPT: Our students are already using it, and so should we. We will quickly spot the negatives but should also work to find new possibilities for improving teaching and learning.
- Reassess Assessments: Let's be honest—too many of us default to the two-page essay or online text discussion board. Both are effective assessments but are frequently overused. Carefully look at the intended learning outcomes and consider whether better, more authentic assessments could be used instead. For instance, rather than always writing reflections, at times students can record video or audio reflections, a practice Rick West and I shared in a series of articles published in early 2021.Footnote7
- Focus on the Writing Process: We can focus more of our efforts on providing formative feedback during earlier stages of writing rather than waiting for the final product. If you are providing feedback in Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, check the "Version History" to easily see what was written or edited at any point in time. It's a great way to see students' thinking. The version history will also show whether text was created in the document or copied and pasted in all at once (a possible indicator of plagiarism).
- Set Expectations: Be crystal clear on how you want students to use (or not use) generative AI. Honor systems are surprisingly effective at deterring academic dishonesty.Footnote8
As the line between human- and machine-generated content blurs, we will need to carefully consider how generative AI will disrupt education, positively and negatively. For now, I'm going to take a break from thinking about it and help my daughters finish their chores. AI can't scrub those toilets—yet.
- Victor Ordonez, Taylor Dunn, and Eric Noll, "OpenAI CEO Sam Altman Says AI Will Reshape Society, Acknowledges Risks: 'A Little Bit Scared of This'," ABC News, March 16, 2023. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
- Eva Surovell, "ChatGPT Has Everyone Freaking Out about Cheating. It's Not the First Time." Chronicle of Higher Education, February 8, 2023. Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
- Shaun Conroy, "How Accurate Is Chat GPT in Generating Responses?" WePC, February 17, 2023. Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
- Kayla Jimenez, "'This Shouldn't Be a Surprise': The Education Community Shares Mixed Reactions to ChatGPT," USA TODAY, January 30, 2023. Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.
- Tom Warren, "Microsoft to Demo Its New ChatGPT-like AI in Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook Soon," The Verge, February 10, 2023. Jump back to footnote 5 in the text.
- Nico Grant and Cade Metz, "A New Chat Bot Is a 'Code Red' for Google's Search Business," New York Times, December 29, 2022. Jump back to footnote 6 in the text.
- Richard West and Jered Borup, "The Power of Asynchronous Video," EDUCAUSE Review, February 3, 2021. Jump back to footnote 7 in the text.
- Christian Miller, "Just How Dishonest Are Most Students?" New York Times, November 13, 2020. Jump back to footnote 8 in the text.
Jered Borup is an Associate Professor in the Division of Learning Technologies at George Mason University.
© 2023 Jered Borup. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 International License.