The Role of Chat GPT in Education

In case you were wondering, yes, this news article is, in fact, written by a red-blooded human being, not an AI.

This seemingly obvious conclusion could be in question because, over the course of the last few months, an artificial intelligence chatbot has taken the world by storm: Chat GPT. Many say it’s like combining Einstein and Shakespeare into one personal assistant that writes original college essays, composes emails and explains complex topics, all while maintaining a frighteningly anthropomorphic demeanor–like something out of a science fiction novel.

The education world shares mixed reactions to Chat GPT. Some educators have been sent into a panic as students use the new technology to cheat on essays, exams, and homework. Others are taking a more liberal approach and see it as a tool that could be revolutionary in enhancing education and making students better writers, thinkers, and learners.

What is Chat GPT?

Although chatbots have been available for the past two decades, they had some limitations regarding their ability to answer questions and explain complex topics, such as quantum physics or generate creative works like ballads from scratch. However, the development of Chat GPT, also known as “Generative Pre-trained Transformer,” has introduced an unprecedented advancement in AI technology.

What separates Chat GPT from other AI software is its “Generative” capability, which is remarkably imaginative. Unlike other AI that was mainly used for data analysis, fraud detection and anomaly identification, Generative AI has mind-boggling creativity. It has the ability to generate fresh poems, stories, songs and blog posts, to mention a few of its remarkable proficiencies.

Open AI, the parent company behind Chat GPT, has been in the works since 2015, with Elon Musk and Peter Thiel comprising some of the original founders. Despite the big names involved in its creation, Open AI did not receive worldwide recognition until the release of GPT-3 in March 2022, a neural network machine learning model with over 175 billion parameters.

In 2020, Microsoft invested 1 billion dollars into Open AI, becoming the exclusive licensee of the GPT-3 model. Microsoft hopes to integrate the technology into everyday software applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Fast forward to November 2022, and GPT 3.5 was released for free and available to the public as a chatbot with updated knowledge through 2021. Just two months after its launch, Chat GPT reached 100 million users, dwarfing many social media platforms like Instagram, which took two years to host so many users.

Chat GPT Effects on Education

Valid concerns underlie the fears that students may use Chat GPT to complete their writing assignments. For instance, a Stanford professor was unable to distinguish between a school essay written by a human and one generated by AI, as reported by the New York Times in December. As a result, public schools in New York City and Seattle have banned the use of the AI bot on all school devices and networks.

While Regent has not taken drastic measures to ban Chat GPT, the student handbook was updated in February to account for the rise of AI. Section stipulates, “Additionally, the use of uncited or course disallowed generative artificial intelligence programs in the production of submitted student work constitutes academic dishonesty at Regent University.”

Clearly, the utilization of Chat GPT by students to write entire essays for them is not only plagiarism but also obstructs the development of vital cognitive skills. Renowned psychologist Jordan Peterson noted, “Writing is the deepest form of thinking; and if you can think, speak and write, you are absolutely deadly.” In essence, students who can think and communicate effectively are poised for success, while those who rely on chatbots to write for them may handicap their ability to think critically and articulate themselves.

While some educators are taking the route of a complete ban, others believe Chat GPT, if employed wisely, is a tool that could enhance student writing and learning. For instance, Chat GPT could be used to review students’ papers and provide valuable suggestions, much like Grammarly. Hal Duame, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland, told the Diamondback student newspaper, “It lets you get feedback and update your essay or your thought process quickly without having to wait for TA or professors to give you feedback.”

As well as providing valuable feedback, Chat GPT can also aid students in generating ideas for their writing assignments. With the seemingly abysmal well of information Chat GPT was trained on, the AI can suggest research sources for a topic and aid in organizing the outline of an essay. Furthermore, the technology can help students improve their language skills by suggesting synonyms and alternate phrasings to enhance their vocabulary and style. Many believe these features, if used ethically, can be powerful tools for students to develop their writing and critical thinking skills.

Beyond a writing assistant for students, Chat GPT could also assist in a pedagogical capacity. The AI has the capability to transform esoteric concepts and convoluted verbiage into simpler language that can be understood by a child. Many educators assert that both teachers and students alike who do not embrace these innovative technologies risk falling behind. Dr. Resnik, another professor at the University of Maryland, stated, “Rather than simply having a policy that would forbid the use of this kind of technology… I decided to kind of embrace it and incorporate it into the class.”

For better or worse, the advent of ChatGPT has already had a momentous impact on the education sector, and it’s only the beginning. While many have expressed concerns about AI’s potential to facilitate plagiarism, the boundless advantages it offers as a tool for writing and learning are undeniable. Moreover, as AI continues to advance, the possibility of sentient AI (AI that can think for itself) looms on the horizon. In such circumstances, it seems Jonathan Pageau’s eerie words may ring true, “The giants are going to walk the earth once more.”