Advice Column, Tech

ChatGPT: Friend or Foe?

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When ChatGPT first emerged from the woodwork the teaching fraternity suddenly became very concerned about plagiarism. From having to train our students not to cut and paste from websites that had been found using Google or other search engines, now there is an AI that can actually write the entire essay and create different essays for each students providing the same question! As is in my nature, I quietly sat back and watched and waited a little. I was thinking, ‘Yes, but Google makes learning so much more interesting these days when used properly!’ I have always encouraged my students to use their devices in the classroom to help us find answers to questions during a class discussion. These days I even encourage students to use it to find out more about a topic when completing assignments while still learning the content in order to deepen their knowledge. Surely ChatGPT might be used in similarly interesting new ways in the classroom instead of being relegated to the back corner?

(Don’t) do my homework for me

Although any child can use ChatGPT to do their homework, they will quickly realise that if they don’t enter a question VERY carefully, they are likely to get answers that don’t necessarily provide the required material. Of course, I could not resist the temptation to put this AI to work for me. As I wrote this, ChatGPT carried out my instruction to ‘Write an article for an online parenting magazine with the title, ‘ChatGPT: Friend or Foe’. Unfortunately, it produced a very bland ho-hum discussion of AI assisting parenting with the use of Chatbots, scheduling and home automation before bombing out in red and requiring me to reload. Not exactly what I was looking for … It’s second attempt was a little more promising, focusing on the pros and cons of ChatGPT in a wonderfully superficial manner. Perfect for light reading with tea when you don’t want to think too hard. My daughter is currently in Grade 12 and has already figured out that if tempted to use the AI to do her homework, anything produced won’t be of the standard she requires to get her As and Bs. 

From a teacher’s perspective, the risks of lazy students using this new technology abound. However, teachers usually know their students well enough to detect something fishy. I could always tell when material had been copied directly from elsewhere and would simply enter the sentence into Google, which would promptly point me in the direction of the source. My students were very surprised when I quoted their source to them, and quickly learnt to produce original material instead. Similarly, one can simply ask ChatGPT ‘Did you write this?’ Plagiarism detection sorted! 

Referencing

Any piece of writing that uses information from elsewhere should be correctly referenced, yet ChatGPT does not provide references unless specifically asked. As an Accounting teacher, my research and referencing skills are woeful, yet even I realise the importance of providing information about where my facts and ideas come from. Unfortunately, even when specifically asked, ChatGPT often references incorrectly. As my sister, a freelance journalist, points out, ‘I feel like I’d end up spending way more time fact checking then I could possibly save on doing my own research.’ She pointed me in the direction of Ben Davis’s article explaining how he discovered the hilarious contradictions in his exploration of art theory and AI using ChatGPT. Numerous fictitious references are given, and ridiculous contradictory statements made. Ben Davis concludes that ChatGPT ‘is an application for sounding like an expert, not for being an expert.’ Rather apt, in my view. 

Capabilities and limitations

From a parenting perspective, it is good to know that it is trained to decline inappropriate requests. This means that it won’t enter into discussion on topics that may not be age appropriate. It also means that if students are required to respond to a question relating to sensitive topics in their setworks in the higher grades, ChatGPT will be unable to provide them with a suitable response. 

Limitations are that ChatGPT can make mistakes and was trained on material on the Internet up to 2021 so later information may not yet be at its disposal. It was trained on information on the Internet, not all of which is valid. 

Let ChatGPT be the machine so we can be human

At a recent eCommerce conference I attended I was amazed to discover how many marketers are using ChatGPT to create copy for social media posts, blogs etc. and programmers are using it to do menial tasks in ways I don’t quite understand. It brings to mind the beginnings of automation in factories where machines were used to do the repetitive and boring tasks, allowing people to do more complex activities. Perhaps this is just another step in the latest developments of the digital revolution? The idea of letting an AI do the menial stuff while we can be the creative humans we were designed to be appeals to me hugely. 

Now this is where it gets interesting. Instead of worrying about plagiarism, why not use this exciting new tool to play a little? 

  • Let kids learn about referencing by letting them do some fact-checking of a ChatGPT-generated article with references? This might give them a much better idea of the importance of references, as well as how to reference correctly and use references to conduct further research. You could also take this further by letting them critique the article itself.
  • Use the wonderful opportunity for kids to learn to question everything they read, and try to validate facts for themselves. Let them ask a question and then verify the information that has been generated.
  • I know Wikipaedia and Google Translate are often pooh-poohed as valid educational resources, but I would argue that if one needs a basic introduction to a topic or a simple translation, these tools are invaluable as a starting point from which one can then diverge and explore further. In much the same way, I suspect that ChatGPT could be just as useful. Many of the teens I have discussed this topic with have already figured this out for themselves, and are using ChatGPT to give them ideas of how to create an introduction, or what to include in an essay. From there, they then create their own original work. 

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