Over the past two weeks, teacher social media feeds, email inboxes, and lunchroom conversations have been dominated by discussion about the discovery of the grand scale Turing Test students have been subjecting teachers to without their knowledge using Open AI’s ChatGPT. The math teachers, who had the scales fall from their eyes a few years ago when they learned about Photomath and similar programs that could solve math problems with a smartphone camera, are chuckling as they watch the English and History teachers question their vocations. World language teachers, I’m sure, can relate with their colleagues, having grappled with Google Translate since 2006.
As teachers and school leaders wrestle with the impact of language-processing AIs in their students’ pockets, I want to share a few reflections on how these programs will affect online schools in particular. The vast majority of online learning is currently done asynchronously, and I believe the insights below suggest that that needs to change in light of new cheating technologies, like ChatGPT, now readily available to students.
- Live, relational, small student:teacher ratio programs like Gravitas will be in a far better position to maintain the integrity of their program, because the teachers in such schools know their students well and check for understanding in a variety of ways. Conversely, asynchronous programs are going to be increasingly vulnerable to cheating, because they rely so heavily on student submissions. Turnitin.com, long the ally of asynchronous graders in spotting plagiarism, is useless against language AIs like ChatGPT. One wonders how long such services, which are designed to spot similarities between student-submitted work and a massive database of previously submitted essays, will stay in business now that unique essays are infinitely and easily generatable.
- Without the ability to verify that students’ grades align with their understanding, asynchronous online education, which was already suspect from the perspective of selective college admissions offices, is going to fall further into disrepute. Grades themselves, which have become increasingly meaningless in a world of widespread grade inflation, may lose their value altogether in such contexts.
- Online schools that emphasize wisdom, creativity, and personally meaningful engagement with course material, and that utilize varied, live assessment types and projects that are intrinsically motivating to students will thrive. Schools that have the means and the will to offer Harkness and Socratic discussions, small group tutorials, and oral assessments will thrive. Those whose economic models require large class sizes or that emphasize developing common knowledge and skills will flounder.
- Online schools that employ creative, dedicated, master teachers will still be able to assign essay prompts that can outsmart ChatGPT. Low-cost asynchronous schools that rely on part-time teachers following a script written for the masses will not. As Peter Greene wrote for Forbes, “Sure, your students might not use the software to cheat (particularly if its capacity is not increased). But if you have come up with an assignment that can be satisfactorily completed by computer software, why bother assigning it to a human being?” Unfortunately, most curricula designed for asynchronous online education are vulnerable to ChatGPT’s wiles.
- Online programs that are creative and that assess students using collaborative, project-based learning could actually encourage students to use ChatGPT as a resource for just-in-time, as opposed to just-in-case, learning in some instances. Students can use ChatGPT as a research tool to find answers to questions Google search is not best suited to answer. Or they can use it the way high level chess players use A.I. chess programs to beat individual humans or individual AIs. If students can employ higher-order human thinking in conjunction with speedy natural-language-processing AIs to produce better writing than either the human or the computer could have done alone, …why shouldn’t teachers encourage this rather than forbid it?
- Schools that put a strong emphasis on character formation, personal development, and mentorship can continue to persuade students to take the craft of writing seriously. We have technologies that allow people to move faster through space and project objects more accurately, but we still value unaided athletic competition. The perfection of human capacities is worthwhile even if a machine or a machine-plus-human combination produces superior outcomes. The latter requires human wisdom, understanding, and creativity. Here again, asynchronous online programs are severely limited in their ability to entreat their students to embrace the struggle rather than take the short-cut. Live online programs, however, can leverage the teacher-student relationship to encourage students to be self-sufficient.
Online education, when done right, is a lot like in-person education when it comes to adjusting to new AI technologies. To the extent that schools have been designed to teach little more than basic knowledge and skill acquisition, these technologies pose a legitimate threat to business as usual. Those schools that employ creativity to cultivate wisdom, virtue, beauty, and personal connection to what is being learned will be in the best position to adapt. Asynchronous online schools, and their factory model brick-and-mortar equivalents, will be forced to change. And that’s a good thing.
Just for fun…here’s what ChatGPT wrote on this topic (I ran it after I finished writing my blog on my own!):
Prompt: Write a blog post about what ChatGPT Means for Online Education
ChatGPT is a chatbot that uses the latest natural language processing (NLP) technology to interact with users in a conversational manner. It was developed by OpenAI, a leading artificial intelligence research laboratory, and is designed to be able to hold intelligent conversations with humans on a wide range of topics.
One area where ChatGPT could have a significant impact is in online education. As more and more people turn to the internet for their educational needs, the ability to have a personalized, interactive learning experience becomes increasingly important. ChatGPT could be used to provide students with a virtual tutor or mentor, answering questions and providing guidance as they work through their course materials.
In addition to providing support for individual learners, ChatGPT could also be used to facilitate group discussions and collaborative learning. For example, a teacher could use ChatGPT to moderate a virtual study group, encouraging students to ask questions and engage with the material in a more interactive way.
One of the key benefits of ChatGPT for online education is its ability to adapt to the needs of each individual student. By analyzing the user’s previous conversations and responses, ChatGPT can tailor its responses and recommendations to best meet the student’s needs and learning style. This level of personalization is not possible with traditional educational resources, which are typically designed to be one-size-fits-all.
Of course, ChatGPT is still in its early stages and there are limitations to what it can do. However, as the technology continues to improve, it has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about online education. By providing a more personalized, interactive learning experience, ChatGPT could help students to learn more effectively and achieve better results.
Note: The cover image for this article was generated by Open AI’s DALL-E program using the instructions “a Van Gogh of a robot writing an essay.”