You might have already heard about New York Public Schools’ ban on ChatGPT. This reaction is just one of the latest surrounding ChatGPT, which has become a buzzword in the blink of an eye. In recent months, teachers and educators have had very different reactions to ChatGPT, spanning the gamut from enthusiastic statements to the opposite.
One thing we know for sure: AI can provide educators with the chance to train and identify new skills. The question is: will this also be a chance to reinvent the way we assess knowledge?
First things first. What is ChatGPT and how does it work? ChatGPT, aka Generative Pre-training Transformer 3, is an artificial intelligence chatbot able to conduct conversations with users and generate human-like writing on a (potentially) infinite number of topics. Magic? Not really.
Many languages. It's been a paramount advancement in the branch of Natural Language Processing (NLP).
A smart brain. ChatGPT’s algorithm works like a "neural network": a type of computer program based on the way human brains work.
Lots of it. It’s built on 175 billion parameters (different kinds of texts). To get the idea, that’s more than 20 times the world population.
Millions of questions. ChatGPT's algorithm uses data to learn the patterns and structure of language, generating fine-tuned human-like answers.
If you think the AI issue includes ChatGPT only, you might need a little catch-up. Indeed, ChatGPT is just one AI tool out there. In today’s market, one can find things like chatbots, speech recognition devices, and adaptive learning technologies in the AI education landscape. However, none of them had the impact ChatGPT had on a broad audience.
For example, neural networks – the same type of technology ChatGPT is based on – have been trained and used for other purposes too, much more related and designed for education. In a recently published study led by Iddo Drori, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Boston University, scientists explore the possibilities of how neural networks can create and solve complex problems in different mathematical modalities (numbers, equations, plots), designing and self-cracking university-level mathematics courses – no joke, we’re talking about MIT level problems.
As The Atlantic CEO Nicolas Thompson said in a recent video published on his LinkedIn profile: we need to understand how to leverage AI in Education, rather than ban it: “Chat GPT is an incredible learning skill. Just like you need children to know how to use Google, you now need them to know how to use ChatGPT”. The hardest problem this tool brings with it, as you can easily imagine, lies in cheating.
Let’s get back to where we started. The main reason behind the ban from New York Public Schools can be summarized as follows: if students can ask ChatGPT questions and then copy-paste answers, their critical thinking skills are at risk. Another fear is that, as Stephen Marche puts it, this can signal the end of college essays. However, this is not bad news. And critical thinking is not on the verge of extinction – at least, not as things stand right now.
Let’s focus for a second on how we tend to assess knowledge at every level of education. Think back to your own school experience. Too many times, our knowledge was evaluated based on mimicry, with students studying and regurgitating information they’re going to forget in a week.
To overcome this situation, we can think of standard alternatives, like oral exams, live writing tasks, and software that detects cheating (like the one created by this guy at Princeton). However, radical innovation calls for radical change: we need to change our approach to the subject matter of assessments altogether.
In a long-form published on Noema, Jacob Browning and Yann Lecun point out that these models’ understanding of language, while impressive, is shallow. They mention how we’re used to learning at school as an example: right now, they state, assessments are structured in a way that trains jargon-spouting students who don’t actually understand what they’re talking about, simply mimicking what professors and textbooks said.
Schools and educators fear AI will kill critical thinking and other standard skills, like writing. However, the rise of tools like ChatGPT could be a chance to improve and adapt to new standards in the way we assess knowledge, overcoming the mimicry-like model. Considering the role and bandwidth AI will have in the foreseeable future, schools and educators need to help students harness and leverage AI in their daily tasks, focusing on the new skills the Future of Work will ask for.