A current instructional fad talked about by both public school teachers and university professors is called ChatGPT. In less than two months, the artificial intelligence-generated app has been the subject of many articles and predictions of students cheating when writing essays, doing book reports and preparing research studies in both public schools and universities. Some school districts have blocked access to the app on those devices they distribute to students and teachers (see here and here).
Sorting out media attention to ChatGPT from what teachers and professors do daily in their classrooms once they close their doors has been a perennial problem for educational researchers simply because so few researchers actually enter classrooms, observe lessons, and interview teachers. Figuring out how often professors, teachers, and students use this much hyped app is tricky. Anecdotal evidence is king.
The fact is that right now, no one can say with confidence how often or how much students, teachers, and professors use the app to generate written work for either homework assignments or published work. Nor can anyone say with confidence to what degree the app helps or hinders teaching and learning. Read what Professor Sarah Levine at Stanford University (and former high school English teacher) had to say about the app.
Teachers are talking about ChatGPT as either a dangerous medicine with amazing side effects or an amazing medicine with dangerous side effects. When it comes to teaching writing, I’m in the latter camp.
First, ChatGPT may help students use writing as a tool for thinking in ways that students currently do not. Many students are not yet fluent enough writers to use the process of writing as a way to discover and clarify their ideas. ChatGPT may address that problem by allowing students to read, reflect, and revise many times without the anguish or frustration that such processes often invoke.
Second, teachers can use the tool as a way of generating many examples and nonexamples of a form or genre. Often, teachers have the resources and bandwidth to find or create one or two models of a particular kind of writing — say, a personal narrative about a family relationship. As a result, students may come to believe that there is only one way to write such a narrative. ChatGPT allows teachers to offer students many examples of a narrative about family where the basic content remains the same but style, syntax, or grammar differ. With many examples to compare and analyze, students can begin to see the relationship between form and content. They can develop criteria for what makes a strong piece of writing, or how one verb might affect readers differently than another. For teachers, designing instruction has just become much easier — ChatGPT is essentially a tool for creating contrasting cases, and most teachers will be delighted that ChatGPT is doing a lot of the legwork for them.
Obviously, teachers are less delighted about the computer doing a lot of legwork for students. And students still need to learn to write. But in what way, and what kinds of writing? A third side effect of this new medicine is that it requires all of us to ask those questions and probably make some substantive changes to the overarching goals and methods of our instruction.”
Levine’s response to the app suggests ways that teachers could use the app as another tool to both generate and improve student writing.
Now, consider the experience of Christopher Grobe, an Assistant Professor of English at Amherst College. In a recent article, Grobe, acknowledged the limitations of ChatGPT but saw distinct advantages for teachers and professors who ask students to write essays, reports, and research studies.
Grobe wrote: “The things ChatGPT cannot do [cite and analyze evidence, limit claims, create logical links between claims, arrange those claims into a hierarchy of significance] are the basic stuff of college-level writing.” Grobe then prompted the app to finish what he wrote:
Grobe: ChatGPT, please finish that paragraph.
However, that does not mean that ChatGPT has no value in the classroom. In fact, I believe that it can be a useful tool for helping students to develop their own writing skills and to think more critically about the ideas and arguments that they are presenting. By
working with [recognizing the limits of] ChatGPT [and by pushing themselves beyond those limits] and engaging in dialogue with it, students can learn to identify and address the weaknesses in their own writing, and they can learn to structure their arguments in a more logical and coherent way. Additionally, ChatGPT can be a useful resource for generating ideas and prompts for writing assignments, as well as for providing feedback and support during the writing process. Overall, I believe that ChatGPT has the potential to be a valuable tool for student learning and development, as long as it is used in a way that complements and enhances, rather than replacing, traditional methods of instruction. [what is unique to their thinking, and to the way that human beings think. An age of generative AI, helplessly replicating conventional wisdom and ideology, is an age that will need the uniquely, resistantly human more than ever.]“
Any academic subject teacher and university professor who ask students to write an essay, do a report, or research an answer to a question will now have to more closely review their goals for the subject they teach and how they teach it in light of ChatGPT. When more professors and teachers (and I might add, students) chime in on the the pluses and minuses of this app in classrooms, its worth will slowly become clearer.
But informed observers of instructional innovations must not forget that after this initial media splash, ChatGPT may well fade away in a few months as have so many prior educational innovations.
*I thank the weekly Marshall Memo (January 30, 2023) for including the Christopher Grobe article.
3 responses to “ChatGPT App: Use in Classrooms?*”
Hi Larry—I hope it does fade away! Two articles I want to call your attention to by Naomi Baron at American U: https://theconversation.com/how-chatgpt-robs-students-of-motivation-to-write-and-think-for-themselves-197875
and Mitte Schroeven, Wouter Buelens & Paul A. Kirschner here: https://3starlearningexperiences.wordpress.com/2023/01/31/chatgpt-what-teachers-need-to-know/
We’ve discussed in my department (history) and we’re looking at doing more in-class handwritten assessments. Also, ChatGPT is only as good as what it can find on-line–we’ve been able to stump it using print only sources, so having a library with a solid print collection is important too. Of course, teaching handwriting in elementary school and having a print library in high school are things that have been disappearing from our educational landscape…
How about writing a short piece (500-600 words) on your experiences with ChatGPT?
Hi Larry—-sure….give me a little time and I’ll email it to your Stanford address—hopefully by the end of the week.