ChatGPT in the classroom – is it scary? Yes, it can be.
Is it an unknown? Definitely. It was only released at the end of 2022, and it already has more than 100 million users. Should you figure out ways to embrace ChatGPT in the classroom? Yes! This one is on the must-do list.
What is AI (Artificial Intelligence)?
In the podcast episode, What on Earth Is Artificial Intelligence & Should I Care? AI 101 by the Girls That Invest podcast. Hosts Sim & Sonya did an excellent job of breaking down what exactly AI is and real-life examples – and surprise! – it is not all robots and self-driving cars.
One thing that I learned was that there are different levels of AI (from weak to very strong). They begin their episode discussing the exorbitant initial costs universities had to spend on computers when they were first introduced.
AI is when machines are given the ability to do human-like things, e.g. thinking like a human. AI learns by processing information, learning, and making improvements. This is called machine learning. AI can be something like a computer playing chess to using Siri on our phones or Alexa around our homes. It could also be sophisticated, like a tool to help detect cancer, as explained in the article Using A.I. to Detect Breast Cancer That Doctors Miss from the New York Times.
New Can Be Scary
It’s okay to be nervous about new technology, especially artificial intelligence, that can literally do your students’ work for them. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to find a way to delve in, both for us as teachers and for our students.
We’ve done it before – think about Google, SMART boards, cell phones, QR codes, and podcasts. They’ve all been integrated into learning. We had to change things up a bit to make room for each of them, but we did. As a result, we stayed current, became better teachers, and our students benefited from it. We can do it again!
I can remember using a paper card catalogue and sign-out system to search for books in my elementary school library. Today, kids can search for information and school library books from their desks on their cell phones!
What is ChatGPT?
So first, what is ChatGPT? Think of it as a ‘smart’ computer. You ask it a question, and it gives you a response. It draws information from across the internet. It learns and gets better based on the interactions it has.
Like Google, you can ask it anything. But unlike Google, its responses will be composed in conversational text and will be more specific depending on the questions you ask. It can literally write an essay, a song, a poem, or a podcast. During report card season, a teacher friend of mine asked it to create a rap about two teachers who quit teaching to become dog walkers. She sent me the rap, and it brightened my day immensely. I included a sample of the rap below.
Kristy and Tina, they were fed up
Teaching kids just wasn’t enough
They wanted more, a change of pace
So they quit their jobs and took a leap of faith
Now they’re walking dogs, feeling alive
No more grading papers, no more 9 to 5
Kristy and Tina, they’re the best
Running a dog walking business, they’re truly blessed
If you want to do more with this technology, send funny messages to your friends and check out this article created by ChatGPT Educator Considerations for ChatGPT – OpenAI API to help teachers learn more about this technology in an educational setting.
Incorporating ChatGPT in the Classroom
The ‘how’ of using artificial intelligence is actually a great place to start when thinking about ChatGPT in the classroom.
There’s a process to using it. There are skills to getting information from it. What it produces won’t be the same as what an individual student would produce. All of those are things that can be discussed and learned from. We can use them as an opportunity to reinforce the learning we’ve done.
Those core competencies – critical thinking, researching, comparing, and contrasting – can all be part of using ChatGPT in the classroom. You might just be talking about the process more than the final product. But that’s OK. The skills are being absorbed and used, students are engaged, and, best of all, using ChatGPT in the classroom is out in the open. It becomes a tool rather than a liability.
We need to get creative about how we think about it and what it can add to our curriculums versus what it might impede (for example, student writing). There needs to be a place for its use because, really, students will use it anyway. Wouldn’t it be better if we were a part of that and guiding it?
Want step-by-step instructions on how to get started using ChatGPT in the classroom? Click here.
Let’s Get Creative – How Teachers Are Using ChatGPT in the Classroom
Practically, what does it mean to use ChatGPT in the classroom? I came across a few great examples of teachers using AI in their lessons.
- One teacher at a private school in Newmarket, Ontario, started to notice his Grade 12 students’ essays were all looking the same. Were they using ChatGPT? They were. What did he do about it? He developed a system for marking work that was done with ChatGPT. He asked students to submit transcripts of their conversations with the app and explain what they learned by using it. They were excited.
- One university theatre teacher in BC had students write a Shakespearean scene using ChatGPT – only they had to mix characters from different Shakespeare plays! Now that is really neat!
- This is a great podcast episode: Podcast Episode 6: Pink Shirt Day and ChatGPT from the Vancouver School Board. The ChatGPT in the classroom section starts about 30% of the way through. It discusses students, teachers, and parents. Definitely worth a listen.
- This 5th-grade teacher uses ChatGPT in the classroom to create model texts and has students write some as well. The class has to decide who wrote the text – AI or a classmate.
- See how this high school English teacher is using this technology in her classroom – Don’t Ban ChatGPT. Use It as a Teaching Tool.
- This article Don’t Ban ChatGPT in Schools. Teach With It. from the New York Times shares a variety of viewpoints and ChatGPT examples.
- Read the opinions shared in this article. Teachers are split on bringing ChatGPT into elementary, high schools.
- Listen to this fascinating podcast episode: Suspicion, Cheating and Bans: A.I. Hits America’s Schools
- Want step-by-step instructions on how to get started using ChatGPT in the classroom? Click here.
Can we do all of these things at the middle school level? Not exactly, but the concepts behind what these educators are doing are great examples of how to think of ChatGPT in the classroom. It’s just getting started, and we are just getting started. There will no doubt be many creative uses for it with our students in the future.
Let’s Stop Sneaking Around
Now, does all this openness and the embrace of new things mean that students won’t hide that they’ve used ChatGPT in the classroom for an assignment? Of course not. Does it mean you’ll always be able to tell when they’ve used it? No, probably not at this point. Will some things inevitably end up sounding the same? Yes, that’s bound to happen.
But will shining light on ChatGPT in the classroom help the evolution of how it’s used? Definitely.
Will it make students feel they can approach us and talk to us about concepts, questions about the process, and ethical concerns, such as plagiarism? I hope so.
It will be OK!
It will be messy at first (most new things are), but that’s all right, too. The best thing we, as teachers, can do is get started with it – learning about it, how we can use it, and what can be learned from using it.
Our students are new to this as well. They need help navigating it and the role it will play in their education and lives. And they will look to us for that. I definitely want to be able to be with my students on that journey.
Final Thoughts on ChatGPT in the Classroom
For right now, in my middle school classroom, I am going to focus on the process more than the final assignment. Students in my classes have always been required to show their thinking and work on paper (or in a Google Doc) before typing up a good copy. I would invest in a lot of lined paper.
At the beginning of the year, I spend a lot of time getting a baseline of their writing abilities before any major projects get assigned. I have had students plagiarize assignments, and I start an open and honest conversation with them about their work, their previous assignments, and their Google Version history.
This topic is not going away in education, so it is time we advocate for ourselves for more professional development, guidance, and policies from our school leaders.