While AI tools like ChatGPT have potential to transform education, one fundamental challenge is their lack of reliability. How can a chatbot which sometimes is wrong be part of schooling?
The first time a student asks ChatGPT a question and gets back a well-written answer, the possibilities seem endless. That is until the response is simply inaccurate. Such outcomes stem from the AI being a “generative pre-trained transformer,” or GPT, where the training is about learning how to generate correctly written text and not about understanding the underlying subject.
Rather than viewing ChatGPT as an oracle replacing the student-teacher relationship, it is better to view it as a teaching assistant — able to do a great deal of routine legwork but in need of review, and sometimes corrections, by a human.
One notable example of relying on AI is the International Baccalaureate’s recent decision to allow students to cite ChatGPT in their essays. There are concerns over this policy, namely some of the hazards in treating these well-written answers as a reliable source — inappropriate content, a lack of understanding of context, a general lack of veracity.
While these limitations are significant for educators teaching or for students writing papers, they are much less problematic for teachers working with teaching or research assistants. Anyone in these roles knows the hazards of depending on such work without review, even while appreciating the benefits of an assistant.
A recent post from the Loyola University Maryland School of Education reflects this perspective. It identifies tasks such as generating lesson plans, providing student feedback, or creating quizzes or tests, as ready-made for ChatGPT. These tasks that might have been traditionally handed to a teaching assistant can now be outsourced to AI.
Another potential use is in having the AI extrapolate notes into longer-form expositions. For example, when providing feedback on a student’s work, an instructor might jot down general observations and a few specific points and then hand things over to the AI to turn the notes into a more formal set of comments or even a more detailed progress report for parents. While a teacher will need to review the result before distribution, this is no different than how things stand with the responsible use of human assistants.
Khan Academy and the Khanmigo project provide a third example of how ChatGPT can be used as a teaching assistant. Created in collaboration with Open AI, Khan Academy describes Khanmigo as being able to help students as a virtual tutor or debate partner or to help teachers with administrative tasks such as generating lesson plans.
Each of these teaching-assistant approaches have potential to benefit students precisely because they are not being presented as unimpeachable sources, but instead are using the AI as a tool to enhance teacher efficacy.
Regarding the possibility of replacing teachers, there are two things that ChatGPT will not be able to do anytime soon. The first is to establish the emotional connection with students that is the hallmark of great teaching. The second is to serve as the teacher of record on transcripts.
This system of transcripts and the corresponding letters of recommendation produced by teachers who have worked with students in a defined way is the currency on which educational institutions trade. At the end of the day, a key component of an education is not the acquisition of the knowledge being taught, but the formal record that a given student has been taught by a particular person, at a particular time, in a particular place, and with a particular outcome.
Even if ChatGPT provides new methods for knowledge acquisition, it will be a long time before it displaces the established transcript/recommendation system. For this reason, if no other, teachers should not worry about their new AI assistant putting them out of a job anytime soon.
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