AI: a teacher’s friend or foe?

In his latest blog, Deputy Head, Mr Matthew Godfrey, explores the impact of the sophisticated online ‘help’ now available to pupils in the form of artificial intelligence systems like ChatGTP.

20 January 2023

We like to think that teenagers will always demonstrate utmost integrity with their academic work, but it has always been the case that teachers have had to be on the lookout for plagiarism.

When I was at school in the 1980s – before the internet existed – there were plenty of study guides with model answers to help you when a deadline was tight. There was even a black market for top-grade GCSE essays, written by canny sixth formers who had retained them for commercial purposes.

Nowadays, websites such as Wikipedia, SparkNotes, BBC Bitesize and YouTube are an easily accessible and free treasure trove for anyone in need of ‘assistance’.

If a pupil selects ideas and information judiciously and independently from these resources, and if they embed them in their own original writing, their teacher will normally reward them for their initiative and resourcefulness.

However, the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) means that a much more sophisticated set of online ‘help’ is now available to pupils.

The most prevalent of these is currently ChatGTP. ‘Chat’ references ‘Chatbox’ – an online system which enables the user to ‘chat’ with a live or AI ‘agent’. ‘GTP’ is an acronym for Generative Pre-trained Transformer.

In short, you can type in an essay question – as well as other kinds of tasks and instructions – and watch as the AI system writes an immediate and original response.

It is a very impressive piece of technology: I urge you to try it out. Simply go to the website (click here), select ‘Try ChatGTP’ for a free trial, register and simply type your question into the ‘Chat Box’.

I did so just prior to starting this blog. I typed in the question that my own daughter had been asked in her History A Level mock exam: To what extent did the Great Leap Forward fail because of unrealistic aims?

This produced a competent and fluent response, but the content and detail were thin; the essay would not have achieved a high mark.

However, it was noticeable that when I tried again, this time typing the additional words ‘Give specific evidence to support your points’, the answer was significantly more detailed and impressive. So, if a pupil authors a well worded question, the software will deliver a much more sophisticated response.

I then thought of another test for ChatGTP. I typed in: Explain the pros and cons of secondary school pupils having access to ChatGTP.

This was the response, copied and pasted directly from the website:

There are potential benefits and drawbacks to secondary school pupils having access to a language model like ChatGPT.

Pros:

  • Access to a tool like ChatGPT can help students improve their writing skills by providing them with suggestions for grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure.
  • ChatGPT can also assist students in conducting research and completing assignments by providing them with relevant information and resources.
  • It can also provide a fun and engaging way for students to explore and experiment with language.

Cons:

  • There is potential for students to become too reliant on ChatGPT and to use it as a crutch rather than developing their own writing skills.
  • The information provided by ChatGPT may not always be accurate or appropriate, and students may not be able to critically evaluate the information they receive.
  • ChatGPT is a complex tool that might not be appropriate for young students. They may not be equipped to use it responsibly or safely.

Overall, while ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for secondary school pupils, it is important to use it in conjunction with other educational resources and to teach students how to use it responsibly and effectively.

I think that response deserves fairly high marks for honesty, balance and accuracy – and I would have little more to add. As Chat GTP itself says, it has pros – and it is important that we remain positive and optimistic about the opportunities that technology brings to teaching and learning – and cons.

AI technology such as ChatGTP does not currently pose a significant threat because the answers it generates are not sophisticated enough to disguise the fact that they have not been written by the pupils. However, such software is developing all the time and will undoubtedly be able to customise and adapt itself more convincingly in due course. So, something for us educators to keep an eye on…

One final message for our parents…! In case you have any concerns, do not worry: Downe House was an early adopter of some equally sophisticated anti-plagiarism software which checks all work submitted to teachers electronically.

Mattew Godfrey smiles at camera

 

Mr Matthew Godfrey
godfreym@downehouse.net

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