ChatGPT banned in some schools, but many experts say it can improve education

Barely two months after coming online, ChatGPT continues to make headlines and cause a stir.

OpenAI’s artificial intelligence chat tool was released for public access on November 30, 2022. Its developers have received praise for creating software which can interact “in a conversational way” to user prompts and write responses which sound human, natural and (for the most part) are factually correct.

ChatGPT does this by scouring the vast amounts of data on the web and producing answers to a user’s prompt. It analyses inputs by breaking them up into words and short phrases which it can parse and develop a response. The tool was “trained” by a team of developers to “understand” the nuances of natural language as used by humans.

The tool has many uses from assisting with spelling and grammar checks to making language more accessible for those with certain disabilities or those learning a new language.

But a significant amount of discussion around ChatGPT is centred on its potential misuse.

Chief among the concerns is the ability for students to use ChatGPT to write their essays and other assignments.

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Western Australian and Victorian public schools last week joined New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania in a blanket ban on the use of ChatGPT while students are at school. This comes as ChatGPT has been banned in school districts in the US, France and India.

Teachers have been asked to look out for indications that students are using the tool at home. But there is no indication that AI-detection technology, such as the tool created by OpenAI, will be in use in schools.

Many education experts are calling for calm and for AI to be seen as an opportunity, rather than a hindrance, in education.

Australian Council for Educational Research deputy chief executive, Dr Catherine McClellan, said in an article in the Age thatpanics about technological threats to education are nothing new.

“Every advance in learning technology, paper, slate, chalk, every piece of tech, has been called the death of learning,” she said. “So I don’t think panicking and saying ‘you can’t touch that’ is the way to go – it is how we use it so it is valuable for students.”

The University of South Australia’s Professor George Siemens, an international expert on AI and education, suggests that teachers focus on how AI can be used to improve education.

“Chatbots, such as ChatGPT, are innovations that are here to stay,” Siemens says. “But rather than avoiding or banning them, it’s far more beneficial for teachers to explore and experiment with them to get a better sense of what is possible.”

“For example, if you ask ChatGPT to produce a sample lesson plan for grade 5 algebra, the platform creates a set of objectives, any materials you’ll need, plus a range of suitable activities for students at that maths level. Or if you’re teaching programming, ChatGPT can create and debug code.

“If you’re a teacher, you can see how this tool could help you plan, generate ideas, and organise your weekly lessons. Importantly it frees time for you to connect and engage with your students so that you can create more personal and meaningful learning opportunities.

“Teaching is rapidly changing. By embracing new technologies, and learning how AI can complement teaching, we can prepare students for a future where they will be able to compete with the best and brightest.”

Read more: When Machines Exceed Humans

Siemens also thinks that AI can reduce administration as well as helping give students personalised learning experiences. The key, Siemens says, is that teachers be part of the conversation about the benefits and risks around the use of AI.

“We are on the cusp of a massive explosion of innovation and creativity in the education sector and AI is at the very centre of it,” Siemens comments. “AI presents a tremendous new technology that opens a whole new opportunity for knowledge generation and idea creation to improve teaching practices. This convergence of humans and AI working together is the future. Getting started now will ensure teachers and students build the familiarity they need to excel in this new space.”

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