As a geography teacher, I recently embarked on an experiment with my year 8 class, an experiment that was met with equal parts laughter, curiosity, and apprehension. The tool at the centre of this experiment was not a globe, a map, or an atlas, but ChatGPT, the now infamous artificial intelligence language model developed by OpenAI.
My assignment for the class was simple – use ChatGPT to explain the predicted effects of climate change. The initial reactions were both amusing and telling of how they perceive the use of AI in their own education. A chorus of “That’s cheating!” and “We aren’t allowed to do that!” echoed in the classroom. The fear of the unknown, the entrenched belief that AI tools like ChatGPT are off-limits or illicit, was palpable.
However, I reassured them that for this homework, they were free to ‘cheat’ to their hearts’ content. The only condition was that underneath their copy and pasted answers, they also needed to copy and paste the instructions or prompts that they had typed into ChatGPT. They had 1 week.
The results were enlightening. Students broadly fell into 3 categories.
Category 1 included those wary of the technology or ardent supporters of the minimalistic homework club, who treated ChatGPT like a search engine. They plugged in the question, “What are the predicted effects of climate change?” and out came long, complex responses that they neither read nor understood.
Category 2, which interestingly included most of the class’s most studious and high achievers, they were a little more daring and refined their queries for comprehension. They prompted, “Answer as if you were a Year 8 student in less than 100 words.” These students received clear, understandable responses that they could at least skim and comprehend.
Category 3 included the rogue learners, the questioners, the bickerers, the challengers, the intelligent hard-work-minimalists. It was these, however, that had the most engaging results. These students “chatted” with the AI, questioned it, and they argued with it. They fine-tuned their prompts and engaged in a back-and-forth with the AI, resulting in two pages of engaging “chatting,” accompanied by succinct, digestible information.
Feeling a little devious, I decided to spring an impromptu (and unrecorded) test on my students when they turned in their homework. The challenge: explain the predicted effects of global warming without notes or collaboration. The results? As predictable as the complaints that echoed around the classroom to tell me that I couldn’t set tests without warning them.
The students who had merely used ChatGPT as a search engine struggled to answer anything at all, while those who had refined their queries could give basic responses. However, the students who had engaged in detailed exchanges with the AI had absorbed the knowledge so well that they complained about the lack of time to put down all they knew!
From this experiment, I came to a clearer understanding of the potential of AI in education. Tools like ChatGPT prompt critical thinking, understanding, and engagement in students, moving away from the rote memorization and copying methods of yesteryears.
Yes, AI tools can be used to copy, but the same can be said for a pen. But just as a pen can be used to write poetry, create art, or solve equations, an AI can be used to provoke thought, enhance understanding, and encourage learning.
The challenge lies in how we, as educators, guide our students in harnessing the potential of AI tools like ChatGPT. We must teach them to use these tools responsibly, to understand their workings, to question their outputs, and to critically engage with them.
To this end, I created a ‘ChatGPT Learning Code’ that I’ve plastered around my classroom walls and expect all of my students to follow. (I’ve attached a copy at the bottom for anyone who wants to do the same.)
It’s time to embrace the learning revolution brought by artificial intelligence. The future of education is here, and if used correctly, AI has infinite potential to improve HI, Human Intelligence.