ChatGPT – can it be a positive tool in the classroom?

By Vicky, posted
ChatGPT has featured heavily in the media, both in terms of educational literature and social media.  It is an artificial (AI) chatbot, developed by OpenAI and launched in November 2022.  Amongst its skills are: writing texts of varying length, explaining topics or translating text.  You can ‘train it’ to improve its effectiveness, based on your own preferences and likes/dislikes.
At first glance, this feels like it could be a complete nightmare for teachers!  A plethora of plagiarism from learners in terms of coursework could be the fear.  However, it could also cut down planning and report writing time... as with any educational tool there are obviously advantages and disadvantages; let’s have a look at these before writing off what could be a very useful tool.

What can you do with ChatGPT?

It can be used for (amongst other things): summarising texts, explaining topics, coding, idea generation, translation, role-play, proofreading/editing, filtering/organising search results, writing emails/cover letters...and apparently relationship advice (this one feels a little less useful)!  This could save time and have a massive impact in a classroom with learners of any age or ability.  

What are the concerns?

Some educators have been very concerned that learners will simply use ChatGPT to write assignments for them, thus cheat.  This clearly would pose a huge problem in terms of learning and development.  They are also concerned that responses will become formulaic, or possibly biased/stereotyped, due to the data being used.  As it is currently limited to internet data prior to 2021, it has inherited some of the institutional racism that goes deep into the worldwide web.  It is not able to reflect on or critique this data, which can be a danger.  There have also been instances with social media misuse, for example the ‘My AI’ bot on Snapchat, which has encouraged harmful behaviours.  There could be concerns that teachers would use this for all of their planning, which would not be personalised or perhaps all relevant or interesting to learners.

What are the positives?

The weakest part of ChatGPT has been found to be its content generation.  For example, in an Evening Standard article (February 2023), when asked to give inspirational quotes from living people, ChatGPT chose a man who died in 1956.  It is clear that we can’t rely on it to replace humans – it needs checking and verifying very closely – which is a good thing!  It is absolutely not about replacing teachers.

ChatGPT is excellent as a tool for homework and revision to prompt learners to research in more depth and to challenge perspectives and ideas. Revision quizzes are easy to make with this – facts will need to be checked, but this could be a useful part of revision!  They could also use it to create plans, outlines and frameworks – then put it to one side to write the assignment.  

Some teachers will spend a long time creating extracts of text for learners to annotate or to demonstrate key aspects of content.  ChatGPT could really save time here; giving it the instruction ‘write a short paragraph showing personification’ will produce exactly what’s needed in the time taken for you to think of the subject!  As with all of these ideas, you would then need to read the passage and change anything you didn’t like.

Teacher reports also can be written using ChatGPT.  This is similar to the statement banks used in many educational settings and once again, needs to be checked thoroughly and added to with the teacher’s knowledge of that learner.

The same goes for planning – imagine being able to ask ChatGPT to plan 6 lessons worth of a topic that would normally take you a couple of hours to do.  As with reports, or any task given to ChatGPT, you need to then carefully read it, change and annotate it.  It still needs to be your planning that makes sense and includes all of the necessary criteria.

So...should we use it or not?

It seems as if ChatGPT is like any resource in the classroom.  Teachers and learners need to be fully aware of its capabilities; they need training in how to use it – and how not to use it.  ChatGPT is an incredibly powerful resource that could save time and add layers to the curriculum, in both planning and delivery.  If we use it wisely, it could transform education – if we are scared of it and ban it completely, we could be missing a great opportunity.

 Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

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