The school system will incur a slow but unstoppable transformation (Giorgio di Falco)
ChatGPT – Love it? Hate it? Still wondering what it is? This open AI language model chatbot was launched in November 2022 and has been changing the world one chat at a time! And since its release, newer versions and other players have been added to the AI Chat traffic.
And has thrown ME into an existential teaching crisis!
Sliced Bread or Terminators?
From the beginning of December 2022, my students, colleagues, the media, the world at large couldn’t stop talking about this new AI-chatbot that was revolutionizing writing, thinking, and even conversational skills. Even before rules could be made about the use of ChatGPT in schools, students were already submitting AI-generated assignments for assessment.
And who can blame them?? Why spend several hours writing an argumentative essay, completing a calculus assignment, or making a report on a chemistry lab experiment when an AI-bot can give you a finished product in seconds?!?!
Right now, there seems to be a consensus that this technology is revolutionary! However, there is a huge difference in what is meant by that.
Yes, revolutionary – but in which direction? Greatest thing since sliced bread or I, Robot on speed? Exterminated by Terminators or the next level in human evolution? Is this AI-technology going to make life as humans better and more productive than ever before or eradicate mankind as we know it, leading us down a path that Asimov, Clarke, and friends predicted years ago?
Even AI experts find themselves in this doomsday divide. According to The Economist, a survey of AI researchers from 2022 found that 48% thought there was 10% chance that AI’s impact would be “extremely bad (eg, human extinction)”, while 25% said the risk was 0%; the median researcher put the risk at 5%.
So, YES – this is revolutionary! And, NO – we do not know what the final destination will be.
But, one thing is certain … There are significant changes headed our way that most of us won’t even realize until they are upon us. According to Giorgio Di Falco in a blogpost on Medium “The school system will incur a slow but unstoppable transformation.”
Personally, I’m not all that concerned about that part of it. I’m pretty sure that we will find a way to co-exist with ChatGPT. Just like we found a way to co-exist with television, calculators, the Internet, Google, and smartphones. Humanity survived the Gutenberg printing press; we will survive AI. Or we won’t. There isn’t a lot we can do about. The technology is here, and it can’t be boxed up and sent back.
The Roads Less Traveled
So, I’m not worried about the destination or the transformation itself. However, I am deeply concerned about the road(s) needed to be taken to get there – the ones less or not-at-all traveled!
Even ChatGPT itself recognizes this transformational puzzle. I posed the question, “Can you please tell me what the ramifications of ChatGPT will be for education in the future?” (I always say please and thank you, just in case!), and it kindly informed me that “ChatGPT…can have significant benefits, but it is important to be aware of the potential drawbacks and to use these models responsibly and ethically.”
Responsibly and ethically?? Okay – but what does that mean? Who will enforce that? Well, ChatGPT even had suggestions for that: ”… enforcing ethical and responsible use of AI language models like ChatGPT in education falls on multiple stakeholders, including: educational institutions, AI developers, governments, and society at large.”
Fine – but where does that leave us – the teachers, while we wait for that transformation to take place and what the final destination will be?
No Clear Path
What direction do WE, as teachers, go?
That’s just it. There is NO clear path for this yet; no roads traveled yet.
Educational institutions are making a variety of decisions from “banning AI”, “back to pen and paper” to just following the existing guidelines. AI-developers do not seem to have education in the forefront, and governments have yet to take action. That leaves society at large … which is where we are now! On the road to who-knows-where! Who are the drivers? The passengers? The traffic cops? What is the speed limit and who will enforce it?
And unfortunately, we – the teachers - are the ones caught in the middle of it all. We are the keepers of the bridge between our students and their learning. But now, the traffic on the bridge is full of the enticing temptations that ChatGPT offers. This leads to uncritical and often unauthorized use of AI in the classroom.
Like many teachers have already done, we will have to embrace this new technology and work with students to help them understand how it can help and where it is less helpful. However, we also have to be the ChatGPT monitors and be continuously on the lookout for unauthorized use of AI, especially regarding the completion and assessment of student assignments.
Tossed to the Side of the Assessment Road
So, what is a teacher to do? Assessment has been a cornerstone of the teaching and learning experience. We teach methods, techniques, basic and advanced skills to our students. Our students then demonstrate how much they have learned and how well they master the methods, techniques, and skills. We evaluate their work and can then assess how to best help them correct, improve, and move forward to fulfill the objectives of our subjects.
As teachers, we assess our students on a daily basis in many different ways and forms. In today’s world, that often spans a plethora of analog and digital evaluation options, some better than others, but still reliant on students doing their own work.
Of course, students do not always do their own work. This is not something new. Cheating and plagiarism are not new to the world of education. However, AI has created a new level of “cheating” that is even more difficult to navigate than what we’ve seen before. Even with some of the detection options available, there is no definitive way to “prove” the use of AI. We cannot even be certain that the AI-evaluation is reliable because of built-in bias. New Scientist points out that “Tools to detect if a body of English text has been written by humans or artificial intelligence exhibit bias against people whose primary language isn’t English. The tests frequently misidentify their work as being created by an AI.” (Not good for EFL teachers like me!)
So, when we encounter students using AI to do their assignments, there is very little we can do. Just as accusations of cheating and plagiarism can lead to conflicts with students, accusations of AI usage will also lead to conflicts with students. But without guidelines, “proof”, or reliability, we are left with few options.
The whole point of evaluation and assessment might as well be tossed to the side of the road in the hopes that it can be picked up and saved at some point.
Where are we headed?
Personally, I don’t want to spend hours grading bot-created assignments. I truly feel that this would be a misuse of my time and abilities, not to mention a blow to my professionalism and sanity! Of course, at some point,
I have no doubt that I will be able to ask ChatGPT to evaluate student assignments for me and according to my guidelines. (Psst …. I have actually tried to do this but have not yet had success in making it work properly. My first attempts have been very imprecise and inconsistent. This probably says more about my ability to navigate ChatGPT, but I’m sure that that will improve as well.)
But what is the value of that??? Students use AI to create assignments; teachers use AI to evaluate assignments. Grades are given. Everyone is happy. Or not.
There is no doubt that the field of education is facing major transformations. The need for encyclopedic knowledge will continue to decrease along with the already diminishing need for fundamental skills such as grammar, basic mathematics, etc.  With information so readily available, along with the ability to solve complex computational problems that were previously time-consuming and took years to learn, the educational challenges will lie elsewhere.
Our role as teachers in the classroom will need to be redefined. According to Danish educator and AI expert, Per Størup Lauridsen, maintaining a clearly defined teacher role in the classroom is key along with ensuring that AI does not replace the fundamental aspects of teaching that require empathy, resolve, and action.
This will require innovative and new approaches, new methods, new focus points, and much more. We all know this. “But it will take time and resources for educators to innovate in this way. Many are too overworked, under-resourced, and beholden to strict performance metrics to take advantage of any opportunities that chatbots may present.”, says MIT Technology Review.
So – how long will this take before we have forged the path forward? Well, according to Giorgio Di Falco, the expected timeframe is less than 10 years.
And for teachers, therein lies the problem.
This waiting time, this period of trial and error, this keeper-of-the-gate time will be the most difficult time for teachers. We will have to witness and contribute to the construction of this new, magnificent educational AI bridge that will secure the future path between students and their learning.
This construction phase will entail numerous trials, mishaps, conflicts, and uncertainties that are evitable during this process.
However, until that process is completed with the backing and implementation facilitated by educational institutions, governments, AI developers, and even society at large, we will have no choice but to keep the current educational bridge open and follow the current guidelines that are the built upon a now crumbling foundation for crossing that chasm between students and their learning.
Existential Teaching Crisis
And this is where my existential teaching crisis culminates.
In the coming “less-than-10-years”, I will be reaching my “soon-to-be-retirement” age.
Therefore, for the foreseeable future and possibly remainder of my teaching career, I am bound to stand here on this rickety educational bridge directing who gets to cross, what they have to do to make it safely to the other side, when they can cross, and what the consequences are for sneaking across – all while I try to protect them from falling off the bridge onto the rocky and dangerous terrain below.
This is when I realize ……
Seriously - I AM TOO OLD FOR THIS “CHAT”.
If you are wondering how to start using chatGPT in your classroom, click here to get 6 Teacher Approved chatGPT activities that you can easily use in your classroom.