Is ChatGPT a Threat – Or Is It Just Another Tool at SBL?

When ChatGPT launched I shared my concern about Artificial Intelligence taking over the beauty of writing in a school environment with several of my colleagues that are involved in Education Management and Leadership around the world. Interestingly, their responses were all the same – they were not concerned that ChatGPT would be a threat to any school environment.

The rationale behind this is simple – Socrates, in Ancient Times, had very serious concerns about students writing things down. In fact, Socrates himself believed that writing would cause people to rely too much on the written word, rather than rely on their own memories and understanding. He believed that people who read a text would only be able to interpret it in the way that the author intended, rather than engaging in a dialogue with the ideas presented and coming to their own conclusions. More importantly, Socrates was concerned that writing could be used to spread false ideas and opinions, and that it could be used to manipulate people. These are many of the same concerns people have with AI.

In truth, as a society, we have been in a similar position many times in the past. Throughout human history there have been threats to the spoken and the written word – indeed, many of us will remember when calculators were banned in classrooms and at schools and the use of them was considered to be cheating. Now, however, we realise and understand that the calculator is merely a tool that enhances our mathematical thinking and understanding and assists us to be faster.

Similarly ChatGPT can be viewed – in the correct context – to be a tool that assists us with our writing and our understanding of the world. The BIG question remains though, when is ChatGPT a learning tool and when is it cheating?

When I was a new teacher, I had several colleagues warn me not to have my students use spell check. If we let students use spell check, they would become dependent on the tool and they would become awful spellers. I had similar worries too. If we relied too heavily on technology to fix spelling mistakes, would students ever bother to use correct spelling?

It turned out this tool, which we all at the time thought was cheating. was actually providing students with immediate feedback on their spelling. Instead of mindlessly clicking on the spellcheck, they were internalising feedback on spelling errors and then remembering them correctly. In today’s world we use spell check all the time. What was once a tool for “cheating” is now a tool we use for writing.

The truth is our students are already using AI in their writing. We do not tend to think of spell check as AI, however it is a primitive example of a smart algorithm. While spell check software is not as advanced as the newer generations of AI, it still relies on machine learning and pattern recognition to improve its accuracy over time. Some spell check software may also use natural language processing techniques to detect contextual errors, such as correctly spelled, but misused words. If it seems as though your spell check and grammar checks on Word and Google Docs have improved over the years, it’s because they have.

Students are already using more advanced AI in every phase of the writing process. When doing research, the auto-fill option in Google narrows down the search for students. When typing in a Google Document, the auto-fill option will often complete sentences for students. As students edit their work, the grammar check offers suggestions for what needs to change.Some students might even use Grammarly to polish their writing in the editing phase. The AI we use daily now is so subtle that we sometimes miss it, yet machine learning is already supporting aspects of the student writing process. All of these tools have, at one time or another, been considered cheating at some point. The same is true for spreadsheets in statistics. Every technological advancement has been considered a form of cheating at first. However, these tools become essential elements to the learning and creative processes.

Although, it must be said that ChatGPT feels different. As a newer generation of AI, it is built on deep learning. This new generation of AI relies on algorithms designed to mirror the human brain. Deep learning models learn from massive amounts of data sets and engage in pattern recognition in a way that is simply not explicitly programmed. In other words, the algorithm is learning and can now make predictions and generate entirely new ideas. The term “deep” in deep learning refers to the use of multiple layers in a neural network, allowing the system to learn and represent increasingly complex features at each layer. If a spell check is one-layer deep, ChatGPT is multilayered.

This makes ChatGPT feel more like cheating than previous logarithms like spell check or Grammarly, it’s because it functions in a way that more closely mirrors human thinking. Where does that leave us with cheating? When is AI simply a tool to enhance learning and when is it co-opting and replacing a vital part of the learning process?

In my opinion, what we need as SBL Facilitators is to show our students how the ChatGPT can assist and support our learning, rather than it becoming our voice. In practical terms, several of our SBL Facilitators have already started this journey with our students. They have helped our students to understand that they have an opportunity to discover and decide how they might use ChatGPT as a tool in the future. They have assisted them to see that the use of ChatGPT cannot be for everything that they write because the variety of written tasks is so broad, varied and personal at SBL. It is exactly because of our personalised approach that we are able to determine when a student is writing with their own voice, or if it is the voice of ChatGPT.

However, in our SBL setting there really is no harm in consulting ChatGPT to assist with ideas or even to explain a definition, or to assist them with the modification of an article which can then be re-written. Perhaps even to draft a first attempt at writing, which could then be further modified. Indeed this would be very supportive for some of our students. What is key though, is that our students understand that they should not want ChatGPT to write their essays or descriptive pieces for them – ChatGPT can be used as a tool to support but it could never replicate their personalised and varied writing responses – it is this personalised, individual approach to all SBL students that is at the core of our school.

Are you interested in SBL’s learning approach? If you would like to access more information about School Beyond Limitations or ask any questions, please reach out to us.

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