NATHANIEL LEE | ChatGPT can be a valuable tool to enhance teaching and learning

Different schools of thought on desirability or disadvantage in education

29 March 2023 - 08:53
By Nathaniel Lee
ChatGPT which provides prompt answers to questions and can also write essays on various topics has been both hailed and slammed as the latest addition to Artificial Intelligence.
Image: 123RF ChatGPT which provides prompt answers to questions and can also write essays on various topics has been both hailed and slammed as the latest addition to Artificial Intelligence.

A new artificial intelligence (AI) tool is fast generating global frenzy, leaving many wondering how it will impact on the future of learning and teaching, as it relates to ethics, effort and credibility. ChatGPT stands for generative pre-trained transformer and refers to an AI tool introduced in November 2022 by American artificial intelligence research and development company OpenAI.

The programme uses intelligence to receive, analyse and produce responses that mimic natural human language. With ChatGPT, one can type any question and it types back a response within seconds. It can also write essays.

Many have decried the increased potential of plagiarism and the assault on academic integrity in general. There are also fears of cheating on homework as the tool can also solve science and mathematical problems.

What is clear is that AI has disrupted the way education is conducted and the challenge is whether to embrace or reject it. There are different schools of thought regarding how this tool should be handled. There are those who believe it can enhance teaching and learning if properly incorporated into curriculum activities. Schools are advised to treat the tool the same way they treat calculators, allowing it for some assignments.

Some have argued that the chatbot is no different from the Google app and merely offers another option and resource for pupils and students in higher education. The positives include the fact that the tool can create assessments when teachers input the information. It can also help to improve pupils’ writing skills through assessing their original work.

GPT can also grade and provide feedback on assignments, giving teachers more time to create exciting lesson plans and give more attention to pupils. The tool can serve as a useful resource for research and a great way to build knowledge, though not as a citable source in the same way as Wikipedia. In the words of a teacher who is a fan, “Any tool that lets pupils refine their thinking before they come to class, and practise their ideas, is only going to make our discussions richer.”

The general sentiment from those not hostile to this tool is that we need to figure out a way to adjust to it, not to just ban it. They argue it is not the final product as background knowledge is still essential. Banning could also prove impossible because in its first month, GPT gained 57-million users and currently has well over 100-million.

By all accounts it seems to be going nowhere. On the other extreme end, there are those vehemently opposed to it. These include Jeremy Weissman, assistant professor of philosophy at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, US, who regards ChatGPT as a 2023 plague in the same way Covid-19 was for 2020. He argues that as Covid-19 was a threat to our bodies, GPT is to our minds and calls it a tsunami about to hit the education system.

Weissman’s main gripe seems to be its potential threat to human intelligence and academic integrity, especially with regard to plagiarism and the phasing out of critical thinking. He proffers solutions that include a return to handwritten and oral in-class assignments and GPT detectors as an immediate solution. Some of his other suggestions include trying the tool out to get a grasp of the “threat” it represents.

He advises universities to establish AI task forces to counter the threat in addition to planning stronger focus on the classroom and human instruction.

Some other negative implications of GPT are that it can at times give inaccurate information. Furthermore, lack of critical thinking and original thought can result if there is an overreliance on the technology.

On originality, the French writer Voltaire had this to say, “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” In contrast, the former president of Nigeria Nnamdi Azikiwe avers, “Originality is the essence of true scholarship. Creativity is the soul of the true scholar.”

The challenge is to know how to harness the potential of GPT by learning how to use it well. Besides, GPT cannot replace the teacher because the interpersonal relationship is what guides the teaching and learning journey.

The jury is out as to the desirability or disadvantage of ChatGPT. What is undeniable is that it can be a valuable tool that can enhance teaching and learning, but also an easy way to plagiarise and cause a dependence on technology to the detriment of critical thinking. Caution is of the essence. What if I told you ChatGPT wrote this column for me? Just kidding.