How Will AI Like ChatGPT Change Education for Our Children?

Kids and teens are flocking to AI technology like ChatGPT, but what does that mean when it comes to schoolwork? One thing is for sure: AI is here to stay.

By Allison Slater Tate

The article you are about to read was written by a human.

Or was it?

Could you tell? Does it matter?

These are some of the questions teachers, professors, and college deans have been asking themselves since November, when new technology called ChatGPT (short for chat generative pre-trained transformer, in case it ever comes up in a trivia game) debuted.

ChatGPT is a text-generating bot made by artificial intelligence lab Open AI, and it has quickly fascinated and terrified those who have tested it to see what it can do. Need a version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” written in the style of the Broadway musical Hamilton? Or a 500-word college essay explaining why a high school senior would want to attend the University of Pennsylvania? ChatGPT can produce surprisingly impressive versions of either in 30 seconds or less. It is a brave new world.

Within days of the bot’s launch, some were declaring the college essay “dead” and questioning the future of education when students can access a tool like ChatGPT, which has been compared to a calculator for writing, and lean on it to complete their homework assignments. The New York Times reported that the public school systems in New York and Seattle already banned ChatGPT from student use entirely.

Then, in just as short a time, programmers—some still in college themselves—began developing apps that could detect text generated by AI, and the University of California released an announcement that they would be contacting students whose Personal Insight Questions—the UC system’s version of the college essay—didn’t pass a very technologically advanced version of a sniff test.

What AI Technology Means for Education

So now what? Will AI tools like ChatGPT affect the future of education, and how? Educators say AI will change education, but exactly how is still unclear.

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“We have to learn to use it, because it’s not going away,” says Lillian Gilbert, an AP English teacher at Jupiter High School in Jupiter, Florida. “I do not see ChatGPT as ‘evil.’ It’s inevitable. I remember when I had to go to the library and use books for research, but now, I can Google the info on my computer. Or when I used a beeper before the cell phone. The world is evolving.”

Gilbert has already used ChatGPT in her classroom by having her students analyze its responses to argumentative prompts and explain where the answer generated by AI was weak and needed elaboration. “I do think it can be an incredible learning tool,” she says.

Embracing AI products like ChatGPT is essential for teachers like her, Gilbert believes. “I do understand the concerns with it,” she says. “However, in the world of education, we need to learn how to adapt, and that is what teachers are used to doing and doing well. It means we need to be inventive, the same way we needed to be when the pandemic occurred, re-evaluating what we emphasize in the classroom, allowing students to struggle without penalizing them, helping our students grow as critical thinkers.”

How AI Technology Can Benefit Students

Though the biggest fear surrounding ChatGPT has been with academic dishonesty, the definition of “cheating” is not always as clear as we might think, says Jonathan Meer, Ph.D., professor and director of undergraduate programs in economics at Texas A&M.

Dr. Meer, who has been following the developments of ChatGPT closely as part of his work studying the economics of education, already caught a student trying to use the bot to complete his weekly economics homework, which he considered an inappropriate use of the tool. However, he also sees that the technology could be used appropriately by some students, with the approval and guidance of their professors.

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“Where is the line between having a friend read over your essay and give you suggestions, going to the writing center and having a tutor show you how to reorganize a paragraph, having Grammarly installed on your computer, or using GPT?” he asks. “There’s no bright line rule here. It’s really context-specific.”

Dr. Meer, himself the father of two school-age children, says he can see ChatGPT and products like it meaning different things for different points in a child’s education. “You can’t let a third grader use this when they are learning to write an essay,” he says. “Can a Ph.D. student use it to write a paper? I don’t see why not.”

ChatGPT can be used as a complement or a substitute to students’ work, Dr. Meer says, and educators will have to get creative about how they structure their assignments knowing it exists. “It does mean more work for instructors, which is a problem. It’s rethinking things,” he says.

Joel Samuels, J.D., who serves as both a professor of law and the dean of the college of arts and sciences at the University of South Carolina, says the advent of products like ChatGPT is presenting an opportunity for both educators and parents to discuss and “openly critique” technology like this and its implications with our children.

“You can be passive when you’re reading a book or watching a movie with your child—in which case, you let the book or TV show set the narrative—or you can use that moment as an opportunity to connect with them,” he says. “You can ask, ‘Why do you think that character was smoking?’ Or, ‘Why do you think they reacted that way?’ In the same way, I think this is an opportunity to engage with children about technology every bit as we can or would or should about media or other areas.”

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Gilbert also sees ChatGPT as a chance for parents to talk to their children about what is important and the true purpose of education. “As parents, we need to teach them about the morality of it and the consequences that arise when they are not analytical thinkers. We do not want to end up mirroring the humans in Wall-E,” she says. “Recently, I had to have a frank conversation with my middle-school aged son, who is lightyears more advanced in the realm of technology than I am. He wanted to use ChatGPT to draft a speech. Being open about integrity, academic or otherwise, is important in developing character for our children.”

Whether we like it or not, “It is here to stay and it will only become better with time,” Gilbert adds. So the bottom line? “Teach children about honesty and consequences and how to use it responsibly.”

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