We need to talk about ChatGPT

Illustration that depicts a digital rendering of 'The Creation of Adam' fresco painting by Michelangelo, which forms part of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, painted c. 1508–1512. It plays on the idea of a Biblical creation narrative in which God gives life to Adam, the first man. Now man has given birth to the incredible technology of AI and ChatGPT.

Social media is going wild about the ChatGPT bot and open.ai. And no wonder. This artificial intelligence (AI) tool was once the stuff of science fiction. ChatGPT is literally blowing people away with its writing skills and its easy conversation. So much so that it reportedly gained 1 million users in under a week. So what now for education?

ChatGPT – a turning point

It’s easy to get jaded by the constant tech announcements (remember 3D televisions?), or just retreat from change fatigue. It’s been a rough few years. Suddenly our living rooms became our learning spaces. We thought the pandemic might change higher education forever, and we learned a lot about teaching online. Now it seems many universities are keen to snap back to pre-remote learning, though the past was far from perfect.

Remote learning may turn out to be a blip in the long term. But AI is changing business and the world as we speak. ChatGPT is next level. It has the potential to take over the mechanics of writing in the same way that calculators took over the mechanics of arithmetic.

What is education turning into?

While AI in education has been around for a while (Hwang et al., 2020), ChatGPT, as a free and easy to use writing assistant, has exploded into the mainstream. And people are already using it in creative ways.

We are yet to understand how best to use AI. Perhaps nobody is prepared for how AI will transform academia. As usual, the technology is moving much faster than education as a sector. While educational researchers have known for years that we need to rethink how we teach and learn in our complex, digital world (Beetham & Sharpe, 2013), the structural inertia is enormous. What if students start submitting well-written essays that slip past plagiarism detectors, produced from a mere text prompt into ChatGPT? Is that the shock institutions need to shift into gear? Plenty of people, including educational experts like Mike Sharples, are worried about the increasing sophistication of AI technology and its misuse.

AI seems better at reproducing knowledge than humans

ChatGPT is very easy to use to answer traditional assessment questions. Traditional exams and essays are at odds with a world powered by AI (Bearman & Luckin, 2020). Simply put, ChatGPT can answer questions much more quickly and clearly than you or I can (and at some length). ChatGPT has access to far more knowledge and can process it more efficiently (though it’s not always accurate).

Also, the writing that it currently does is quite generic. In fact, critics of ChatGPT have called it “an unexciting dullard”. The answers ChatGPT gives might reflect the banal questions that are asked in rote exams. Also, its referencing is mostly fiction. However, we can only expect that this will improve, and quickly. Watch out for the upgrade to GPT-4 and an even better model.

What can you do right now?

You can educate yourself. For a start, play with AI.

  • Sign up to ChatGPT on open.ai (while it’s still free).
  • Ask questions about topics you know a lot about. What (does or doesn’t) ring true?
  • Ask about topics you know little about. This is a great tool if you want to understand almost any topic. You can rephrase and narrow or broaden your question in multiple ways, until you get an overview. ChatGPT is very patient.
  • Experiment. Generate code for a mobile app? Write a sonnet about tutorials on Zoom or a script that explains a key statistical concept? Create a recipe with ingredients you have leftover from Christmas? Give it a go. Here are some awesome text prompts if you run out of ideas.
  • How might these AI conversations shape learning? Talk about this with colleagues.
  • Talk to your Teaching and Learning Services. (If you’re with the University of Sydney Business School, you can contact us via business.co-design@sydney.edu.au.)

Academic research is emerging around designing learning for AI (Carvalho et al., 2022). There are also free, online webinars such as the recent conference ‘Empowering Learners for the Age of AI’. You can listen to podcasts from Sydney Business Insights, among many others.

Try out your own assessments with ChatGPT

As an example, I asked ChatGPT to write an essay about applying ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) principles to business. It gave me a fairly decent text (without references) and pointed me toward the triple bottom line. More questions about the triple bottom line generated credible and somewhat conventional prose.

But then I asked ChatGPT to reflect on the triple bottom line as a strategy as applied to a Sydney business and this is the reply I received:

As a large language model trained by OpenAI, I do not have access to specific information about businesses in Sydney or their practices related to the triple bottom line. I am not able to browse the internet or access any external information, so I cannot provide examples of businesses in Sydney that apply the triple bottom line in their operations.

However, I can provide some general information about the triple bottom line and how it can be applied in business.

ChatGPT, 16 December, 2022

This impressive chat bot sounds natural but has its limits. Still, this is just one teeny experiment and example. AI and ChatGPT is learning from us all the time. So it’s worth revisiting basic assessment principles. Applying, analysing, evaluating, and reflecting on our learning and experiences are far more effective strategies than testing knowledge (Krathwohl, 2002). As automation increases, so does the need for critical thinking. More than ever, we need to problem-solve wicked challenges like climate change and generate new approaches.

Still not convinced AI is a big deal?

Check the trends at Our World in Data on the uptake of AI in the business world. Play with the data below, sourced from Stanford University Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence. Brace yourself.

What next?

Stay tuned and keep experimenting in ethical ways. Think of how ChatGPT can extend your teaching and own learning, and be mindful of biases in the text. Because ChatGPT may become the biggest thing since Google. It’s time to get critical and creative.

P.S. I started writing this blog post with ChatGPT. The text output made me yawn. It was too dull to publish. For now…

Tell us what you think. Let’s keep this important conversation flowing.

About the author

Carmen is an educational designer, researcher, and writer based on Wangal land in Sydney, Australia. Lurks on twitter and LinkedIn @cjvallis.

Published by Carmen Vallis

Carmen is an educational designer, researcher, and writer based on Wangal land in Sydney, Australia. Lurks on twitter and LinkedIn @cjvallis.

2 thoughts on “We need to talk about ChatGPT

  1. AI is not moving faster than education, and these developments do not suddenly pop into existence from nowhere. It just seems that way to people outside the specific technology field. AI has been developed over decades. I hear about these developments years before the public, from the people who invent the stuff, as I have an office in a computer science department. Some of the time this is a formal presentation, but sometimes a brief conversation on the stairs: “What do you think of this?”. Usually my response is “What use is that?”, but AI did get my attention a few years ago.

    In 2018 I attended a chatbot for education workshop at University of Wollongong
    https://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2018/12/chatbot-tutors-for-blended-learning.html The same team from University of Hong Kong. repeated this at the same conference in Indonesia. In October this year the ASCILITE MLSIG had a session on AI, specifically GPT3. https://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2022/10/gpt3-ai-what-is-human-value-in-light-of.html

    There is no need to panic about AI. It has uses and challenges.

    1. Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Tom. Agree that AI in education has been around for a while. Of course, AI is behind a lot of stuff we use in education and in our daily lives without thinking about it. And yes, it’s great to see AI and chatbot panels at conferences. But I respectfully disagree. AI is moving faster than we are. As you say, no need to panic but we do need to talk about AI and ChatGPT a lot more in wider settings than EdTech enthusiasts.

Leave a Reply