Across the land, teachers are huddling over essays in school staff rooms trying to figure out who – or what – has written the homework. Was it completed by a bot or not?
ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence language model that can generate human-like text in real time, only launched in November but the freakishly intelligent tool is already making seismic waves in schools. Input a basic task or question, and it can spew out a sonnet; write a piece of music; fix computer code; oh… and write your son or daughter’s GCSE History essay while they scroll through TikTok.
A* or AI? No wonder ChatGPT has been branded the chatbot homework cheat.
It’s been called both a “flashy demo with zero understanding of the real world” and “the beginning of the end of homework as we know it”. In the United States, where an experiment saw it fly through a set of medical school final exams in less time than it would take to apply a sticking plaster, ChatGPT has already been banned from students’ devices in thousands of schools. It’s the new educational Bogeyman.
British teachers are taking a more pragmatic approach. Alleyn’s School in London hit the headlines when its head teacher announced they would no longer set essays as homework for fear of ChatGPT cheats. Instead they would switch to meaningful research tasks at home and essays would only be written – robot-free – in class.
Schools know banning things rarely works in an environment where young minds are hard-wired to figure out workarounds. Indeed, savvy teens have already sussed-out that you can ask ChatGPT to write in a specific style to deep fake work. “I can ask it to produce an essay on Romeo and Juliet in the style of a British 14-year old so it adds in a couple of grammatical errors and even spelling mistakes typical of someone my age,’ one Year 10 pupil told me.
But would it make sense to go one step further and embrace ChatGPT and its potential as an educational tool? Some argue it could help students decipher facts from so-called hallucinations – when ChatGPT gives completely wrong answers with absolute confidence – and stop Generation Google thinking that asking Alexa equates to any kind of academic research. It could, in theory, offer highly personalised tutoring and also better prepare students to work alongside AI systems as adults. Schools could treat ChatGPT the way they treat calculators — allowing it for some assignments, but not others.
I would argue there is much more interesting learning at stake, however, for those who dictate how we test our children. British pupils are squished into an examination system that rewards learning by rote and gives the highest grades for the best regurgitators of facts. Critical thinking, despite the very best efforts of every single person with a teaching qualification, has no room in league tables. Our children are bot-like and, while this technology is still learning, our bots are child-like. Change what children are being asked to do; and perhaps the problem of bots short-circuiting education will simply go away.
I decided to try ChatGPT myself. It was free to sign up and took less than 2 minutes to join its 2 million active daily users. I asked the question above, and this answer was generated in just a few seconds. It felt more engaging than Wikipedia and required way less effort than a cut-and-paste job via Google. I have to say I was impressed.
ChatGPT is an AI model developed by OpenAI that uses deep learning to generate human-like text. It's trained on a large amount of data from the internet, including websites, books, and social media, so it can answer questions and have conversations with people. When you ask ChatGPT something, it processes your request, generates an answer based on its training, and sends it back to you. The goal of ChatGPT is to provide helpful and informative responses that seem like they were written by a person.