As educators, we seek to engage students in ways that help them find purpose and meaning in their work. ChatGPT can help us support their learning if we use it creatively.
Here are five practical ways it can help students:
1. Improve their writing. For many students, writing is a challenge. You could ask them to: (a) write three paragraphs about a topic in their course (b) submit their work to ChatGPT with a request to “improve on this text” and (c) compare their own writing with ChatGPT’s material. Then have them answer the question: “What does this suggest you consider in terms of improving your writing?”
2. Support their research and exploration. For the topics in class, ask students to use ChatGPT for some basic research, bearing in mind that the information available dates only from September 2021 and earlier. For example, students could ask: “List six reasons why productivity in Canada has been essentially flat since the early 1990s” or “What five factors have led to Canada’s competitive position falling compared to other developed nations?”
3. Expand their thinking. ChatGPT works well for brainstorming. Encourage students who are working as a team on a presentation to use ChatGPT to brainstorm ideas. Ask it to produce a draft video script or suggest 15 slides for a powerful presentation and it will. The students’ task is to use these materials as a starting point for what they then choose to produce.
4. Help them become more critical. When a colleague asked ChatGPT to provide his biography, it did — but it contained 14 factual errors in just three paragraphs. You could ask students to take materials generated by ChatGPT and find errors of fact, understanding and logic. Also help them recognize the phenomenon of “hallucination,” which is what happens when ChatGPT produces what initially reads like useful material but is actually just nonsense.
5. Learn to dance with robots. At the end of the course, ask students to share their reflections on how they are working with their new colleague ChatGPT. What are the ways they find ChatGPT helpful as students and organizational leaders and what “trouble” has it gotten them into? This is revealing. One vice-president of human resources uses ChatGPT to generate first drafts of job descriptions and then asks it to look at those descriptions for potential legal and performance pitfalls. A school leader has used it to develop personalized professional learning plans for staff. This work encourages students to push boundaries.
In all of this work, the emphasis must be on the difference between generative material from a chatbot and purposeful, human thought. Chatbots can support our thinking but cannot drive responses or reactions to questions and ideas generated by students through the lens of a deep sense of purpose.
The pressure to succeed through grades is high, and several plagiarism detection suites can now detect material from ChatGPT. We must ensure students understand the consequences of academic misconduct. In a recent college course with 175 students, 55 were disciplined for cheating (31%), with some being suspended from studies and others losing credits toward their diplomas.
As educators, we must consider how ChatGPT will change the nature of assessment, whether that means fewer exams and more formative assessment, more ways to assess critical-reflective thinking and analysis or more emphasis on competency and capability assessments. We should also consider a greater focus on creative work and project work as well as more peer-to-peer assessment.
Although it is early days, ChatGPT is spurring a renaissance in assessment, and that is a good thing.
With AI now able to generate images from text and text from images, create music, write code, create videos from text, convert speech to text and text to speech, and simultaneously translate and generate new images in the style of great artists, we are at the beginning of a journey.
Finding ways to leverage such resources requires educators to be very clear and explicit about their learning purpose. We need to “muddle through” this constantly evolving AI landscape with purpose, courage and skill.