Harry Pickens – (Administrator of the Facebook group ‘ChatGPT for Teachers’, which has over 375k members)
There is a dangerous trend in Generative AI use that may be impacting you — and your students.
It’s the use of AI in ways that not only reduces cognitive load, but can also atrophy our sense of agency — and diminish cognitive capacity.
The research of Princeton psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer demonstrates that learning is catalyzed by effort. Desirable difficulty, a term coined by author/education expert Robert A Bjork, refers to this phenomena. Simply put, no challenge, no learning. Appropriate levels of challenge that force us to stretch the limits of our abilities result in optimal learning.
What does this have to do with Generative AI?
We’re taught that prompting is the way that we communicate with AI in order for it to generate outputs, which might include computer code, written content, creative ideas, to do lists and SMART goal timelines, or even comprehensive strategic plans.
The creativity of Large Language Models is remarkable — but can also become a direct pathway to cognitive atrophy and decline — as long as we use the Generative AI like we do a calculator: a quick solution-generating machine that requires no thinking, effort or learning to generate a result.
The more we use the AI in this way, simply prompting with minimal engagement with or evaluating the outputs, what are we training our brain-mind systems to do?
Passively review the outputs.
10 points for cognitive atrophy, 0 points for real learning.
I know — this sounds grim. After all, these tools are supposed to lead to a new golden age where human and artificial intelligence join together in a remarkable marriage of mind-plus-machine utopianism.
And, I am asserting that the way most of us currently use these tools is doing the same thing to our higher-order thinking capacities as the ubiquity of GPS systems has done to our innate navigational abilities or the way that the convenience of autodial has dissolved our once-formidable ability to easily remember dozens (or hundreds) of the phone numbers of our friends and colleagues.
No wonder educators are up in arms. Even the most techno-utopian of we early adopters must see the writing on the wall: an entire generation of young people’s intellectual capacities permanently underdeveloped.
Lasting and permanent losses in motivation, creativity, intellectual curiosity.
An overall decline in passion for learning, and a continued increase in apathy, depression, anxiety — all predictable consequences of the negative neuroplasticity that occurs when we neglect to use and strengthen our skills and capacities.
So what do we do about this?
We can’t stop the proliferation of Generative AI tools.
But we can change the way we interact with them.
Believe it or not, we can work WITH Generative AI in a way that actually enhances, strengthens, cultivates our own (and our students’) human capacities for creative and critical thinking.
We can use (and teach students to use) Generative AI as a skilled and intelligent thinking partner that can support and deepen our own thinking and learning.
We can prompt and ‘converse’ with AI in a way that builds our capacity and motivation.
We can teach with Generative AI to help us think, create, learn and grow.
Instead of prompting for answers, we prompt for questions.
Here’s what I mean.
Instead of treating ChatGPT like a search engine and seeking information, or asking it to generate emails or write code or draft a lesson plan, prompt it in this way:
“I am a high school history teacher who needs to teach a unit on World War II. Walk me step-by-step through a reflective process that will help me create a compelling lesson plan that can engage my students.“
Or, for a student assignment, have the students prompt:
“I am a high school sophomore who wants to review the causes of World War II. Act as my tutor and ask me questions that will help me think clearly and critically. Generate only one idea, question or suggestion at at time, then wait for my response.”
Or, if you are a principal needing to create PD to introduce Generative AI to your faculty:
“I am a middle school principal in [city, state, country]. I am embarking on the journey to introduce Generative AI to my faculty. Recognizing that most of my faculty are either novices or unfamiliar with Generative AI, I’m aiming for a one-hour introductory workshop. I seek a thinking partner to collaboratively and reflectively guide me through the planning process. Rather than offering direct solutions, please prompt me with insightful questions, ideas, or suggestions, one at a time, and await my response to shape the subsequent steps.”
The response you will receive from these prompts will be substantially different from the response to a more typical: “Generate a lesson plan”, “What are the causes of WWII?” or “I need to create a PD on Generative AI.”
When you prompt for questions, not answers, you train the AI to help you become a better, clearer, more creative and critical thinker.
You use AI to augment your human intelligence, not to diminish or replace it.
And you leverage the power of Artificial Intelligence as a force for good — a tool to uplift human intelligence, agency and wisdom — not diminish it.
About the author
Harry Pickens is one of the dedicated administrators of the notable Facebook Group ‘ChatGPT for Teachers’, which has amassed a remarkable membership of over 375,000 individuals. This group stands as a significant forum within the educational sector, facilitating lively debates and discussions among teachers and educators on the subject of Generative AI. The collaborative efforts of Harry and the other administrators have fostered a vibrant community, making ‘ChatGPT for Teachers’ a go-to place for those keen on exploring modern teaching methodologies.