Written by: Dan Fitzpatrick & Kristian Still

Everybody is talking about ChatGPT and the opportunities it offers teachers to drive down workload and drive up student curiosity and learning. In the first of two articles, Dan Fitzpatrick and Kristian Still consider the benefits, threats, and opportunities this new tool brings

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the intelligence demonstrated by machines; rule-based systems that are able to learn and adapt to new situations.

And as many readers will know, a new AI tool has been taking the world by storm – with particular implications for teachers and students.

ChatGPT has been created by OpenAI, an AI research laboratory with some globally recognized founders and backers (Microsoft has already invested more than $1bn). Launched in November 2022, the OpenAI chatbot – Chatbot GPT-3 to use its full name– has already gained more than one million users.

What is a chatbot?

Put simply: you can ask a chatbot a question or provide a prompt. It replies using natural language (importantly, ChatGPT is restricted to language. It can’t produce video, sound or images). Somewhat paradoxically, let’s ask ChatGPT what a chatbot is and also, more specifically, what OpenAI’s Chatbot GPT-3 is.

Why should I know about it?

So other than being aware that ChatGPT exists – and you can be sure that your students know about it and some will be adapting what it has to offer for their school work – there are definitely opportunities for teachers.

There is certainly a lot of excitement on social media about the potential uses of ChatGTP, as one user posted: “The amount of things ChatGPT can be used for is astounding.”

It is clear that this enthusiasm is because of the hundreds of hours this technology could save teachers every year and the impact it could have on learning. Here are a few examples:

  • I gave it a mark scheme and a sample student answer from an English language exam paper. It marked it accurately in 10 seconds. Click here to see the video (via Twitter).
  • I asked ChatGPT to write a lesson booklet for a geography class. I specified the content headings and types of questions I wanted. It completed more than an hour’s worth of work in less than two minutes. Complete with content, hinge questions, group tasks, stretch exercises and key word definitions. Click here to see the video.
  • I asked it to create a series of retrieval practice questions for a class on photosynthesis, for a five-day period. I made it clear that I wanted different question types based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. You guessed it. I got them in seconds. Click here to see the video
  • It will even do admin for you. I asked it to create a curriculum intent document for parents and sure enough with some specific prompts it wrote me a comprehensive document. It even translated it for Ukrainian parents. Click here to see the video

We are beginning to see companies integrate this technology into purpose-made platforms. A great example is Copilot. Copilot is a web app that creates courses for teachers, complete with lesson plan, handout and videos, in a matter of seconds, based on only a few prompts.

There’s even a very useful PowerPoint creator in Copilot. This tool will create a 15-slide presentation for you based on just a couple of prompts.

In the hands of teachers around the world, this new technology is going to optimise their practice, save them a lot of time, and could give them their lives back.

What about the students?

Some of the headlines we have seen about ChatGPT have focused on the fear that students will use it to cheat by getting the tool to write their work – and that we will not be able to tell the difference.

Students can ask the platform to write their essay. They can be clever and ask it to include spelling mistakes, so that their teacher doesn’t suspect anything. They can even feed ChatGPT genuine work of their own and ask it to write the essay in a similar style.

Trust me, this is already happening.

We will soon find ourselves in a position where teachers create lessons, resources and tasks using AI, students complete them using AI, and then AI marks them. Sound crazy?

There are some key considerations:

  • What can we do to ensure students are not using ChatGPT to cheat?
  • How might we use ChatGPT to enhance teaching and learning?
  • What does the development of this technology mean for how we educate young people?

There are opportunities to be exploited as we seek to answer these questions, even that first one. Of course, the easy solutions will be attractive to many: Ban the technology; create AI detecting tools (that AI learns to outsmart); governments will even consider legislating against it.

But what about taking the opportunity to change and expand the way we assess learning, such as follow-up questioning in the classroom after assignments have been completed.

I will return to this first question and the opportunities that addressing this issue could bring in a further article due to publish in SecEd on February 7 (return here then for the link). For now, I will focus on the second and third questions. Here are 10 scenarios:

  • Students enter into a dialogue with ChatGPT about how they can improve their work. Questioning the machine and digging deeper into the “why” and “how” of self-improvement. In this way students are able to progress in their learning without having to hand work in and wait for feedback.
  • A student wants to start their own business and chats with ChatGPT about how to launch a service, create a website and market it online. They have a discourse with it for a few weeks as they ask for further tips and to write the copy for their social media posts.
  • Students ask ChatGPT to scaffold the topic they are working on. They instruct it to simplify the language and create tasks that help them engage with the content and understand it in a new way.
  • Students have access to ChatGPT from anywhere and at any time, without the need for them to wait to see a teacher. Questions relating to their learning can be asked immediately and not kept for the next lesson.
  • Students who are struggling with their mental health can ask for strategies to help. They can confide in it and receive guidance on where to find help.
  • Students are guided by ChatGPT on how to prepare for an interview. They then practise with ChatGPT and at the end it gives them feedback and advice for improvement.
  • Students interrogate ChatGPT about life. They discover new philosophies and theories from Aristotle to Descartes, helping them develop their critical thinking ability.
  • A student is finding it difficult to talk confidently with adults and asks ChatGPT for some guidance and techniques on how to develop their communication skills.
  • A student is finding it difficult to decide which course to take and needs some guidance on how their decisions will impact their future career.
  • A student is teaching themselves how to code a website and asks ChatGPT to check their code for errors and suggest improvements.

Now, you might say the teacher can do all of these things, but can they be there all of the time for every student? Will a student feel comfortable asking a teacher all of these questions? Would a teacher have the specialist knowledge or skills to deal with all of these questions?

What could be the future?

As AI becomes more useful it is going to free up educators to focus on the more human side of education. To be a facilitator and a guide. It’s going to become more important to build students’ skills and help them become independent thinkers and agents of their own learning.

In my framework for learning with ChatGPT, I advocate for placing curiosity at the heart of the process. If students are going to be empowered to take agency of their learning then they must be given the freedom to pursue their curiosity. The teacher can then develop students’ skills of questioning, discourse, critical analysis and application.

What’s the limitations?

There are many opportunities with this new technology, but there will be some pain-points too, the most obvious as I have mentioned being that students can use ChatGPT to write their work. Again, I will return to address this challenge in part two.

Elsewhere, you will need to consult your data protection lead as there are concerns about compliance with GDPR at the moment. I highly recommend never linking anything you write in ChatGPT to a specific student.

And the technology is still in a trial research phase, so it does suffer from reaching a user capacity and “going down”. There is also the possibility that it will be a paid-for service very soon. We are still at the beginning and the technology will get better quickly, so the desire for it will only increase.

ChatGPT and platforms such as Copilot will optimise our current ways of working and make teachers’ lives better for it. However there is a much larger transformation on the horizon. AI technology will bring about transformation that empowers learners to take agency of their learning.

  • Dan Fitzpatrick is an award-winning digital learning strategist, leading digital innovation at Education Partnership North East. He is a former secondary school senior leader, founder of the ChatGPTspecifichttps://thirdbox.org/and he explores the future of education as director at www.edufuturists.com.
  • This article has been co-authored by Kristian Still, deputy head academic at Boundary Oak School in Southampton. Kristian is the author of Test-enhanced Learning: A practical guide to improving academic outcomes for all students and creator of RememberMore.app. Visit www.kristianstill.co.uk

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