The Day AI Arrived

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Until ChatGPT arrived on the scene, AI still seemed like a distant possibility – a thought experiment that was still in the realm of science fiction. ChatGPT changed all that by slapping us in the face with content so human and profound that we began questioning our writing and analytical abilities.

Immediately students started using ChatGPT to write essays, and almost as fast, someone came up with a tool to detect if ChatGPT wrote the essay. The AI cyber-wars have started! Schools around the world must now grapple with the question of how tools such as ChatGPT will affect nay transform education.

This level of human mimicry brings up several questions.

Is AI Original or Creative?

Good teachers look for more than a recitation of facts when students write an essay. They are looking for some synthesis and analysis of the data and for the student to interpret the content. It seems that ChatGPT has similar skills. Here is an example. I asked ChatGPT the following question, “Compare and contrast Shakespearean sonnets to Robert Frost's poetry.” Its unedited response was,

“Shakespearean sonnets and Robert Frost's poetry are both highly acclaimed and well-known forms of poetry, but they have some distinct differences in terms of their style and themes.

Shakespearean sonnets are 14 lines long and typically follow a strict rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. They often explore themes of love, beauty, and the passing of time. Shakespeare's sonnets often use metaphor, imagery and poetic devices such as personification and allusion to express his ideas and emotions.

On the other hand, Robert Frost's poetry is known for its simplicity, clarity, and directness of language. His poems often explore themes of nature, rural life, and the human condition. Frost's poetry is characterized by its spare and unadorned language, and his use of imagery is often drawn from the natural world. His poetry often has a deeper meaning beneath the surface, and he is known for his ability to convey complex ideas and emotions through simple language.

In summary, Shakespearean sonnets are characterized by their strict structure and elaborate language, while Robert Frost's poetry is known for its simplicity and use of imagery from nature. Both poets are known for their ability to convey deep emotions and ideas in their works.”

This is an excellent response, but can it be better? This response is accurate but is it creative? Could five exceptional students come up with five entirely divergent essays? I think so, but it raises the bar for what is acceptable. I would give ChatGPT a B grade; now students compete with an AI.

Why do students go to school?

As with any powerful tool, such as nuclear energy, ChatGPT can be either a positive or a negative force. Some students will use it to cheat. This is just a more convenient way to hire an essay writer. Some students will try to cheat, but what is the purpose of being in school? Is it to produce a good essay, or is it to know how to generate a good essay? The answer seems obvious to us but not so much to the stressed-out student.

How will this change schools?
Schools will begin to realize that the academic experience is hostile for many students. Students are learning under very strict deadlines. They are being reamed with data that they have difficulty absorbing. Very little attention is paid to accommodating different academic backgrounds and knowledge gaps. Students are still left very much on their own. Even though, for the most part, students want to learn, they feel the pressure to achieve good grades and may sometimes bend the rules to get them. It’s survival at all costs! Schools operate very much as they always have, with lectures and tests.

Schools have the option to embrace AI, and use it to leverage the learning experience or try to fight change by blocking access to these tools. This has been the history of education. The chalkboard was once rejected, even causing the Yale rebellion of 1830. Calculators were confiscated, and computers were perceived to be expensive toys. Wikipedia was criticized despite evidence that it is more accurate than a traditional encyclopedia. And now, AI is perceived to be a threat.

From Grammarly to ChatGPT, schools can leverage these tools to improve the learning experience and even make teaching easier. How about comparing student writing pre-AI and with AI? Is your essay better than ChatGPT’s? Why is it better? Have students debate these questions and compare themselves to these AI experts rather than sweeping them under the rug.

How will AI change what students learn?

Some of the choices that schools have made in teaching and testing were to industrialize schools - preparing students for the workplace as efficiently as possible. If anything, this trend has become worse because of the huge cost of education. There is less interest in teaching the Humanities. There is less of an emphasis on extracurricular activities. Schools, parents, and students are under pressure to cut costs. As a result, our graduates are less-rounded individuals.

What if we focused less on standardized tests or writing and emphasized discussion, public speaking, and debate? How would that change the face of learning? What if students spent more time reading and understanding content and producing presentations that emphasized critical analysis and then debating them in group settings – how would that change what they learn?

Emiliano De Laurentiis

Mr. De Laurentiis is a cognitive scientist with a graduate degree in Educational Psychology and Counseling. He was on the faculty of McGill University as an adjunct instructor and graduate student advisor. He has dedicated most of his life to creating educational technologies that adapt to students’ needs, winning major awards such as the Information Infrastructure Award and Top Ten Educational Software in China. He currently runs Knowledge Avatars Inc., a company that developed a platform to create customized AI-powered tutors.

© 2023 E. C. De Laurentiis