AI and ChatGPT: Does it belong in the educational realm?

By Michelle Henry

Elm Staff Writer

Google’s upcoming AI Chatbot platform, titled Bard, is poised to challenge OpenAI’s platform gone viral, ChatGPT. The latter has academic institutions in deep conversations over how to respond to this new technology.

ChatGPT is an Artificial Intelligence or AI platform that launched in November 2022. It can process human-entered text and return convincing, if not human-generated, responses through the use of language model technology.

Initial human knee-jerk reactions over the launch of new AI programs involved talk of banning the use of this new technology in schools or attempting to implement controls over free and accessible products.

How individual educational institutions and educators respond to this new tech tool will spark spirited debate and disagreement among teachers and departments.

English professor and co-director of The Cromwell Center for Teaching and Learning, Dr. Sean Meehan, is researching the topic of Artificial Intelligence and the possible educational repercussions of AI. Dr. Meehan expressed a need for discussion on the subject rather than immediate criminalization of the technology, citing past platforms that have been used in educational spaces.

“There are tools that are not AI based but digital that allow visual orientation such as mind mapping or brainstorming. For years in my English 101 class, I built it around exploring the use of technology in writing, looking at some views that are very critical of it and its impact on literacy,” Dr. Meehan said.

ChatGPT’s next step is increasing the amount of technology use and language by including it in search engine technology. The platform is being integrated into Microsoft’s Bing search engine, and Google’s Bard is not far behind, scheduled to launch within the next several weeks, according to a Google press release from CEO Sundar Pichai.

The battle for popularity between AI language model platforms is shaping up to be reflective of Apple versus Microsoft skirmishes of decades past.

“If I had to synthesize what is at the top of my mind as a concern is this kind of automatic intelligence. It’s not artificial intelligence. It’s automatic intelligence,” Dr. Meehan said. 

Dr. Meehan also mentioned ChatGPT’s inability to reveal or produce accurate source information, which highlights one detectable difference between human-generated writing and ChatGPT text.

Writing Center director Dr. Rachel Rodriguez said she is learning more about the subject and has fielded questions from teachers and other writing center directors. Dr. Rodriguez began speaking with writing tutors to gauge their familiarity with the technology and will be incorporating this new information into future training.

“As a writing teacher, you definitely learn to identify your students’ voice and tone. I think, stylistically, I haven’t encountered much where ChatGPT text feels like it has its own style or tone. It does feel kind of formulaic and bland,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “Writing is a multi-step process. I don’t think ChatGPT is very easily utilized in situations where you’re asking for scaffolded assignments that build on each other because it doesn’t have enough context to build knowledge upon knowledge.”

As educational institutions wrangle with inventive ways to incorporate new technologies, concern for how higher education will uphold honor codes grows among educators. 

There is no replacement for critical thinking skills needed to accomplish goals in changing situations where we may not have access to tech tools. The human brain is a powerful cognitive tool, capable of making wise decisions as we explore what technological tools can offer education in the undiscovered country of the future.

In deciding how to incorporate new tech, the concern over honesty and best practice opens opportunities for teachers and students to engage in authentic conversations, creating new avenues where connection and learning can occur.

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