ChatGPT could help rather than hinder student learning, says B.C. professor
The artificial intelligence tool can complete written assignments in seconds
While the launch of an artificial intelligence tool has some educators worried about a potential spike in student cheating, one British Columbia professor says we should not be so quick to write off the potential benefits of the new technology.
Since its public beta launch in November, ChatGPT has impressed humans with its ability to imitate their writing — drafting resumés, crafting poetry and completing homework assignments in seconds. Its competence is concerning for many Canadian teachers, but not everyone sees this as a threat.
George Veletsianos, a professor at Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C., and Canada's research chair in innovative learning and technology, says ChatGPT could not only help students improve their writing but also push institutions to develop better ways to assess student learning that go beyond just regurgitating facts in a written essay.
"Students who use ChatGPT are not automatically cheating," said Veletsianos, speaking to On The Island Monday.
According to Veletsianos, seeing what ChatGPT spits out on a certain subject can be very helpful for students whose first language is not the language they are studying in. It can help students expand their vocabulary and improve their grammar and sentence structure.
He said it could also help clarify the assignment for students if they have any initial confusion, as long as they don't try to pass that material off as their own.
"This reaction that focuses on cheating, and focuses on developing other tools to catch students that are cheating, carries a lot of baggage and is part of a larger problem that we have which is not trusting students."
The reality of ChatGPT's capabilities, though, has many wary.
New York City's Department of Education has banned ChatGPT in all public schools due to concerns about its impact on learning and its accuracy. The Quebec Ministry of Education is currently assessing the effects of the technology on student learning and teacher work, especially with regard to ministerial exams.
Jeremy Klughaupt, an English teacher at Collège de Maisonneuve in Montreal, typed some of his essay questions into the program and was horrified by the result.
In under a minute, the AI spat out responses comparable to the work some of his students might produce. Klughaupt said many of his colleagues are "pulling their hair out," unsure how to proceed with their course plans and evaluations.
"As teachers, a lot of us feel torn between these two roles that we have: to educate and, increasingly, to police students," Klughaupt said.
But Veletsianos says there is an opportunity here for educational institutions to come up with policies that frame ChatGPT as a helpful tool, not an enemy of the education system.
"It would serve us well to understand its possibilities and its limitations — it has a number of limitations — and figure out how we can use it ethically and responsibly," said Veletsianos.
He hopes the invention of ChatGPT will also spur educators to think outside the box when assessing student comprehension. This, he suggested, could include oral presentations, essays that reflect on personal lived experiences, and community-based projects.
Veletsianos also thinks ChatGPT technology could eventually be integrated into existing educational tools, likening it to the dictionary and thesaurus features available to Microsoft Office users.
"The cat's out of the bag. It's not going to go away."
ChatGPT is an interactive program trained by AI research lab OpenAI. It was launched on Nov. 30 and has already amassed more than a million users, according to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.
With files from On The Island and Joe Bongiorno