New AI tools are increasing the capabilities of educators, freeing us from the boring stuff to focus on what really matters

Esteve Almirall

Not a day goes by without a new article on ChatGPT, the new OpenAI Large Language Model that is taking the world by storm. 

Many voices are warning of the dangers of this new invention and advising when to use it – and when not to use it. Indeed, forceful policies are being enacted, such as a ban its use in state schools in New York and Seattle.  

The International Conference on Machine Learning has also banned its use, and it is not the only academic organization to impose a ban. To what extent these bans can be enforced is another discussion, but they illustrate the great concern about its use in education and science.  

Every disruptive innovation that challenges the status quo is followed by concern

This is not new. In fact, it is a characteristic of every disruptive innovation that challenges the status quo. In the early days of automobiles, there had to be a man walking in front of each vehicle with a red flag to alert people of their presence, which of course, restricted their speed.  

The invention of the telephone also raised many concerns. The philosopher and essayist Thomas Carlyle lamented that it would spell the end of direct human contact. John Stuart Mill heartily agreed with the worries about the technological society developing in the 19th century, expressing his fears that "success in so crowded a field depends not upon what a person is, but upon what he seems." 

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Carr wrote a popular article in The Atlantic in 2008 entitled: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?". Therefore, it is easy to conclude that ChatGPT is in good company.  

Where’s the real value? 

However, what ChatGPT brings to education is not new. For decades we have witnessed the evolution of mechanical work translated into software. Early work relied on logarithms and manual algorithms for operations, such as square roots, but this is now done by calculators.  

What used to be the meat and potatoes of Calculus I, derivates, integrals, and differential equations, is elegantly solved by applications such as Mathematica, while matrix algebra is done with Python. Being the champion at doing by-hand matrix dot multiplication is no longer a value. Python, Julia, and others can do this much better and enjoy the process much more than we do!  

All these developments enable us to shift our focus from the mechanics of the operations and focus on the big picture, addressing more sophisticated problems and a higher level of understanding and mastery.  

Producing an essay that is a simple collection of facts won't have any value in the future

ChatGPT and its successors hold the promise of doing something similar for language. Producing an essay that is a simple collection of facts, summarizing some existing knowledge, or describing some theories or frameworks won't have any value in the future. Instead, all these tasks will be better done by these AI tools.  

Therefore, our educational strategies must change and adapt to a world where our ability to manipulate concepts and elaborate language pieces will augment in the same way that our abilities to manipulate equations, matrices, and data have changed in recent decades.  

Our ability to manipulate concepts and elaborate language pieces will augment

Alongside the cacophony of fears about our fast-moving future, some voices aim to adapt to these new realities and align high education with them. After all, as the Borg said, "Resistance is futile," and there is nothing more absurd than fighting the inevitable.  

Three ways to integrate ChatGPT in the classroom  

There are three creative ways in which we can apply the possibilities of ChatGPT and the likes in the classroom: 

1. Comparing yourself to AI 

A popular exercise among those using ChatGPT in the classroom is asking students to produce an essay and then asking them to create the same type of essay with ChatGPT, asking them to compare the flow, argumentation, validity, and generalizability of the arguments – along with their punch.  

Why is this important? Because this allows you to transcend the mechanics and focus on the vital aspects of the text, both in form and content. You may argue you were already able to do this — and it's true — but time is limited, and producing the essay and briefly discussing it usually takes all the available space.  

Comparing your text with one automatically generated has many advantages, such as asking yourself: "What am I missing? Why didn't I take this angle? Are these the most important elements in this multifactor problem?"  

2. Find the intruder 

Another popular exercise is distributing a mixed collection of human and machine essays to groups and asking them to find which essays were produced automatically.  

3. Let it be your assistant 

A different line of integration is data collection and exploration. Soon we will be using these tools integrated into Office and search engines like Google or Bing to answer specific questions and succinctly capture facts, theories, and frameworks. 

Facilitating the understanding of theories allows us to shift attention from simply understanding to their practical use and application for specific cases. This aspect is way more interesting than only knowing the theory because what we envision is proficiency in the use of knowledge — not the knowledge per se.  

This last scenario is probably the most realistic and will become common as these applications spread more widely.  

Embracing new possibilities 

Just as tools like Mathematica or Python freed us from spending countless hours practicing manual algorithms and allow us to focus on creative problem-solving, these new language tools will do the same for concepts and argumentation.  

This new world demands that we shift our focus and, once again, raise the bar for our teaching. The new standard will not focus on the "doing" but on finding with a critical spirit the best elaboration and being able to apply it successfully and discuss it critically. 

For an educator, there has never been a better time than the one before us. All these tools enable us to expand and augment our capabilities, freeing us from the boring stuff while enabling us to focus on what really matters

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