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Well, that escalated quickly! At the start of 2023, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) program infiltrating our classrooms sounded implausible. However, fast forward a few short months and it feels like ChatGPT is the only thing anyone is talking about. Of course, it goes without saying the ramifications for education are significant and everyone has a different perspective on how this strange new world might unfold. This week on School Stream, we have been to every corner of the internet to bring you this Cheat Sheet covering everything schools need to know about ChatGPT.

PS: In case you’re wondering, this article was researched and written entirely by a human.

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What exactly is Chat GPT? (Fast Facts)

Before we dive in, let’s establish what ChatGPT is and how it works.

ChatGPT was released in November 2022 by a company called Open AI. In many ways, “ChatGPT” has become shorthand for all AI-driven bots, irrespective of the company that developed them, in the same way that “Googling” is shorthand for the act of searching for something online. You might also hear ChatGPT and other AI tools referred to as Large Language Models or LLM for short. It has also been described as a “parrot” by AI leaders and linguists!

 In February a report by analysts at Swiss Bank UBS described the frenzy and uptake of ChatGPT as “the fastest-growing consumer app in internet history, reaching 100 million users in the first two months.” For context, it took TikTok nine months, Instagram two and a half years and Spotify four and a half years to reach the same milestone, so if it feels like everyone is talking about ChatGPT, these numbers explain why.

ChatGPT and other AI tools like it are powered by large amounts of data and computing techniques to algorithmically predict the next word in a sequence of text. These bots have been trained on massive amounts of information and vocabulary so they can not only understand words in context, but they can also recognise patterns and relationships between words and phrases to mimic speech and produce an article in response to open-ended questions.  

Of particular interest to educators, it might be worth mentioning where the data to train these bots has been sourced. While Open AI has been reluctant to reveal what data was used to train ChatGPT, New York Magazine has reported that it is “believed to include most or all of Wikipedia, pages linked from Reddit, a billion words grabbed off the internet.” For obvious reasons (intellectual property law, copyright, etc), ChatGPT cannot be trained on e-books from university libraries.

4 Opportunities and Challenges

The future of education and AI is complex. No doubt you have been involved in plenty of discussion and debate in the staffroom and beyond as to the many and varied issues ChatGPT raises in almost every area of education. And as with any large-scale change, there are both challenges and opportunities. While it is impossible to parse every issue here, the following perspectives give some food for thought and a view of challenges and how ChatGPT can be leveraged for good.

  1.   Essays, ChatGPT and Plato

What will become of essays? As an educational task, essay writing is valuable because it teaches a core of critical skills: researching, assessing claims, distilling and synthesising knowledge and expressing it in a coherent way. Leaving students producing essays via ChatGPT at risk of, in Plato’s words “the show of wisdom with the reality” and “appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.” Also worryingly, ChatGPT will produce essays that are plausible while being factually incorrect – something a student without expert knowledge of the topic will not recognise.

In the context of meeting the challenges posed by ChatGPT in writing and research, we can all expect to hear a whole lot more about The Flipped Classroom, a pedagogical model by which the traditional lecture and homework structure is reversed. In the 2023 iteration of the flipped classroom, AI platforms could be used to generate research topics while assessing the research and writing the essay itself is done under expert teacher supervision in class.

  1.   Media Literacy, Critical Thinking, Creativity and other 21-Century Skills

We have talked at length in previous blog posts about the importance of human-centric 21st-Century skills – the arrival of ChatGPT is not going to blunt their importance. In fact, these human-centric skills are going to be more important than ever in an increasingly data-centric world, where being able to assess the veracity of information is going to be a non-negotiable skill.

  1.   Coding in Context

Code School Finland has partnered with a consortium of universities, government sectors and others to deliver a project they believe will help educate Generation AI about “the defining technology of their era”.  The premise for this innovative program is that students must be able to understand how machines learn and make decisions, and that by building their own machine learning systems they will be able to see “how bias creeps into systems”. Students will also be shown who is managing the masses of data online and how easily trust can be abused. It is thought that offering students a chance to build their own machines will empower students to make informed decisions around AI, data, and how trust works in public institutions. Finland is well known for its world-beating education system so this kind of project is worth keeping an eye on.

  1.   ChatGPT and the Digital Divide in the Classroom

Last, but by no means least, there are concerns ChatGPT and other AI tools are going to exacerbate the digital divide that is already a significant issue.  As of May 2023, ChatGPT was banned in schools in every state and territory – except for South Australia. Private schools, however, have embraced the app with open arms, with one South Australian teacher saying“[We] have a duty to acknowledge the students are using these tools and to provide them with modelling, best practice, ethical use.”

There is also talk of utilising ChatGPT to cover teachers’ administrative load – an application we’re sure would be welcomed with open arms!

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