The Dawn of AI
Since the launch of ChatGPT in late November 2022 there has been tremendous speculation and discussion around the impact AI technology, particularly generative AI tools, such as Chat GPT can have in education. This is the latest in a range of tools that many believe have the potential to disrupt many of traditional practices in our schools, particularly our approaches to assigning homework, which are typically completed outside of the classroom, at home. There is a fear that AI tools, such as ChatGPT, will enable students to ‘cheat’ by creating essays for students or by translating text from one language to another or by completing Math assessments without any student input. But is this really something new? Some countries and school districts even banned ChatGPT initially, but thankfully they are now reversing decisions and considering how teachers can use ChatGPT and other Generative AI tools (such as Bard, Midjourney, Bing Chat etc.)
This is not the first, or the last time, that new technologies will force us to consider what implications they might have on teaching, learning and assessment practices. In the early 2000s there were discussions around how people were using the internet to conduct searches that typically returned the answer in a few clicks.
For example, as the Internet became integral to everyday life, a driving question in education arose: How do we assess learning when the answers are at everyone’s fingertipsHow Will Artificial Intelligence Change Education? – MichiganVirtual
So let’s not forget that the internet has been impacting on the kind of homework we have set our students for decades, as students have been able to conduct an internet search on a topic and then copy and paste their answer into their school report or presentation. Before this there were discussions around the impact of word-processors on the writing processes in schools and on the use of calculators on Mathematics teaching and learning. Who today would even consider engaging in writing without using a word processor or using a calculator in a Maths assignment. We have moved our focused in both cases to deeper learning, in the case of the word-processor to focus on drafting and in Math on developing understanding and moving beyond mere calculations. Here it is the experienced and competent teacher who has made these decisions and embedded the technologies into their classrooms.
The Fear of AI Tools
But many see new Generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, as being game-changers and, as noted above, some school systems and third level institutions went so far as banning them, stating that “while the tool may be able to provide quick and easy answers to questions, it does not build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success Others take a different view and suggest that we should embrace the tools and embed them creatively into our classrooms, so that students are afforded opportunities to develop these critical thinking skills. People, such as Lalitha Vasudevan, the vice dean for digital innovation at Teachers College, Columbia University believes that schools have hard decisions schools to make in relation to these new digital tools and that “they should be made within the scope of improving student learning.” This view is growing with many in education believing that we need to educate both teachers and students on how to use these tools appropriately.
Generative AI tools can spit out answers very quickly to our prompts, but these responses are not optimised for student learning. They have the ability to spit out their responses in pretty packages, but often they are incorrect or have elements that are incorrect. So we need to educate our teachers and students to question what they produce and in this way we can use these tools to develop those critical literacies we want all our students to possess. Thus, they can have a positive impact on how we design and use homework with our students.
The Purpose of Homework
So let’s start by asking ourselves, what is the purpose of homework? There is a long history of schools assigning homework to their students and teachers typically cite the following reasons for assigning homework:
- Homework teaches students responsibility.
- Homework gives students an opportunity to practice and refine their skills.
- Homework is often demanded by parents
- The volume of homework is often equated with rigour and teacher quality
- Homework is a rite of passage.
Yet the research on the impact of homework on student learning and on their home lives is not very positive and some studies have even found that homework can have negative impacts. Thus, the key question teachers should always consider is “what learning will result from this homework assignment?” In asking this question teachers should also factor in new technological developments and consider how these tools might impact on the integrity of the assignment. We should consider the following:
Perhaps the homework that teachers set will be different. But as with search engines, word processors and calculators, schools are not going to be able to ignore their rapid advance. It is far better to embrace and adapt to change, rather than resisting (and failing to stop) it.ChatGPT isn’t the death of homework – just an opportunity for schools to do things differently – The Conversation
Some have even suggested that tools, such as ChatGPT, can provide a more level playing field for students who don’t have many supports at home or who are learning in a different language. Others have suggested that AI can actually raise the bar and move beyond mastery to allow students engage in deep learning. So Generative AI has potential to allow us to create new forms of assessment that challenge our learners to become more critical learners.
There is a growing suggestion that Generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, can save teachers time to plan and design learning activities while also helping our students to overcome the challenge of the ‘blank page’. Generative AI tools are very good at “spitting out” text, so this is a way teachers and students can use them to generate many types of content including:
- Lesson plan ideas for teachers
- Blog text
- Poems or lyrics
- Computer code
- Solve mathematical problems
However, remember that they can package these up to look very sophisticated and pretty, but they may not always be accurate are appropriate. So, we need to carefully review their outputs critically and then decide what elements we might keep and which ones we discard. Ultimately, these tools are here to stay and we need to ‘teach’ our teachers and students about them, so they can decide how to use them best in their contexts. The list of tools and their functionalities are still evolving, and we are still unsure of their potential to change how we teach, how we learn and how we assess. It is teachers who will ultimately decide if they are useful to them and their learners. It is now timely to begin using these tools so you can decide if they can save you time and if they can help your students to develop the key competences needed to live and work in the 21st century.
To get you started thinking about other possibilities you might want to review the following blog Unleashing the Power of Chat GPT in Education! – Nexus Education and see some of the ideas they share and consider if these might be applicable to your context. For more ideas on using AI in the classroom visit the AI4T Project website AI4T project – AI for teachers where you will find an open textbook on AI.