What Parents Should Know About ChatGPT in Education

Experts break down the impact of ChatGPT in the classroom.

From the phone in our pockets to the “smart” technology in our homes, the use of artificial intelligence in everyday life is far from new. But as we continue to find new ways to leverage generative AI tools like ChatGPT, many are considering their potential impact in the classroom.

 “It’s been really only over the last year and a half I would say that (AI) seems to have permeated into the K-12 space in a way that has the potential to change how learning happens and how teaching happens,” says Liz Kolb, clinical associate professor of education technologies and teacher education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Before that, it was much more kind of this futuristic feeling that one day this was going to impact learning.”

ChatGPT, the chatbot released by OpenAI in November 2022, created arguably the most buzz in the education realm for its ability to provide eerily human-like responses to a wide variety of prompts. Users can ask it to write a short story or essay, summarize/simplify text, explain/clarify complex ideas, or engage with it on a seemingly limitless range of topics.

Steve Dembo, a computer science teacher and director of technology at a private gifted academy near Chicago, was among the few educators who jumped right into experimenting with ChatGPT with students amid widespread fear of its possible impact on academic integrity.

“From the very beginning when a lot of schools quite simply were blocking (ChatGPT) because they didn’t know what to do with it, we decided to sort of charge right at it,” Dembo says. “We did a series of experiments with students to try and evaluate really how helpful it was and where it would be helpful in their schoolwork. Would it make them a better student or not?”

Ultimately, he says, his students found they were most successful when using ChatGPT in a supportive role, rather than just asking the AI to do most of the work.

Still, many educators and administrators worry about the many ways the tool can be misused in the classroom, at times turning to plagiarism checkers like Turnitin and Grammarly, or — in a few extreme cases — banning ChatGPT on school networks entirely.

But these tools are only going to get more advanced with time, and just as with any academic tool, Kolb says, helping students find the right balance is key.

“It’s important to teach students how to use the tool so that they’re still learning their essential skills, but they’re able to use it as a support,” she says. “…It really comes down to educating the students who are wanting to use the tool in ways that won’t support them, and teaching them why that’s just not a good idea for their own academic wellness.”

A teaching aid worth exploring

While the technology that powers ChatGPT and other generative AI products is not new, the latest iterations of these tools are more capable, accessible and easy to use than ever before.

“The fact that an average user can interact with (ChatGPT) in plain language and get incredible results, that completely changes the dynamic,” Dembo says. “Prior to that, in order to get really good results that were pertinent to you, it involved coding. And not only did it involve coding, it involved complex coding.”

Educators who are taking a more open-minded approach to ChatGPT, and other large language models like Google’s Bard or Microsoft’s Bing, are already seeing their potential benefits when used in a supportive role.

From asking clarifying questions related to complex assignments to using it as a starting point in essay writing — when used appropriately — ChatGPT can provide a more personalized learning experience for students.

“Some students, especially those that might have more difficulty organizing their thoughts, they’re being allowed to use ChatGPT to generate an outline for their writing assignments,” Dembo says. “They still have to actually do the research and still do the writing, but at least it gets them past the blank page, and that has been incredibly helpful.”

ChatGPT can even help provide additional support for students who may not speak English as their first language.

“My favorite example is a student who was on a Zoom took the transcript from the Zoom, put it into ChatGPT and had it translated into his first language as a way to support his own learning,” says Andrea Zellner, a learning design consultant in southeast Michigan. “So when we’re thinking about accessibility, that’s really important.”

Of course, students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from using ChatGPT in a supporting role.

Matt Miller, a former teacher and author of the recent book, AI for Educators, has made it his mission to share the many benefits these tools can have for educators, including streamlining lesson planning, brainstorming creative activities for the classroom and reducing prep work.

“I’ve found that whenever they start to see some practical examples of how it can level up their teaching, how it can engage students, how it can help students to demonstrate their learning and to learn at higher levels; when they start to see kind of how it works, there’s a lot more buy-in,” Miller says. “Sometimes that’s all that it takes.”

Acknowledging its shortcomings

Even the developers of ChatGPT admit they have a long way to go in terms of perfecting the technology, and without proper education about its current shortcomings, the potential for improper use and misinformation remains a reasonable concern.

ChatGPT in particular has had notable issues with “hallucinating,” or making entirely false claims in response to users’ prompts, and there can be hidden biases or stereotypes reflected in its answers due to the nature of how the AI model trains itself.

“It’s fantastic for your creativity, it’s fantastic for creating a first draft, but when it comes to actual specific information — especially everything based on primary source material — it’s just right now not accurate enough to depend on it,” Dembo says.

Privacy and security issues also remain a concern, as ChatGPT trains on any user data it processes.

Some districts, like Chicago Public Schools, one of the nation’s largest school systems, are taking a more “wait and see” approach, choosing neither to ban nor encourage the use of AI tools for schoolwork while administrators determine the most practical, safe and responsible ways to utilize them.

 Looking ahead

Whether or not school administrators decide to incorporate ChatGPT into the classroom, most agree that the way in which educators approach student learning will have to change.

“If you are asking for an assessment of students where they could easily go to ChatGPT and it can provide an A+ answer, that’s something where as an instructor you may want to rethink (the lesson),” Kolb says.

That being said, similar to the development of the first iPhone or the early days of the Internet, it’s hard to fully comprehend the future impact these new technologies will have, or how they will change with time.

“The reality is that (AI) is going to exist, and it’s going to continue to evolve and become more and more mature as time goes on,” says Miller. “So instead of preserving the standards of today and looking through ‘today glasses,’ what we really need to do is look through our ‘tomorrow glasses’ and ask: How can we prepare kids for that world instead of the world today?”

Generated using ChatGPT, unedited result

What should parents know about ChatGPT?

As an AI language model, ChatGPT is a tool designed to help people with a wide range of tasks, from answering questions to generating creative writing. Here are some things parents should know about ChatGPT:

ChatGPT is not a person

It’s important to understand that ChatGPT is not a human being and does not have thoughts or feelings like a person would. It is a machine programmed to respond to inputs in a specific way.

ChatGPT can be a valuable learning tool

With its vast database of information and ability to generate human-like responses, ChatGPT can be a valuable learning tool for children. It can provide answers to questions they might have, help them with homework, and even generate creative writing prompts.

ChatGPT is not a replacement for human interaction

While ChatGPT can provide helpful responses, it is important to remember that it is not a replacement for human interaction. Children still need social interaction with peers and adults to develop communication skills and emotional intelligence.

ChatGPT has limitations

Although ChatGPT is a powerful tool, it does have limitations. It may not always provide accurate or complete information, and its responses may not always be appropriate for children. As with any technology, it’s important to use ChatGPT responsibly and in conjunction with other sources of information.

ChatGPT is constantly evolving

As an AI language model, ChatGPT is constantly evolving and improving. This means that its responses may change over time and may become more sophisticated and nuanced as it continues to learn and grow.

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