Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Teaching with AI: Charting the ChatGPT Classroom Challenge

Image by Midjourney

Since the advent of ChatGPT during this past school year, I've been eager to integrate the technology into my teaching and my classroom. It has been saving me a ton of time preparing lessons and activities, including my opening SEL questions. But I really want to teach my students to use it. My philosophy is that if there's a new technology out there that is changing the way we work, my students need to master it (see my previous post, Going Borg). I see ChatGPT as analogous to the advent of the calculator, only ChatGPT is much more powerful. And that's the problem. While we can allow students to use calculators and they still have to think for themselves, ChatGPT goes a step further and can do even the critical thinking for them. So how can we teach them to use this powerful new tool while also teaching them anything else?

The ChatGPT Dilemma:

During a recent interaction with ChatGPT, I explored two potential approaches to this conundrum. We can revert to doing only in-class, on paper assignments, so that we can monitor students and ensure they are doing their own work and coming to their own understandings, or we allow them to use ChatGPT and change our instructional and assessment strategies accordingly.

Reverting to in-person and on-paper only could potentially solve the problem, but we lose the opportunity to teach them to use the technology. It's analogous to not allowing them to use calculators or a Google search.

But how can we allow them to use the technology while still learning essential content and skills? ChatGPT's response?

"Here are a few ways to ensure students remain active thinkers:

    1. Evaluation & Analysis: Even if students use ChatGPT to generate content, have them evaluate its accuracy. They can critique, contrast, or validate it against other sources.
    2. Debate & Discussion: Introduce controversial or multi-faceted topics. Even if they use AI for initial research, their understanding and opinions will come to the forefront during debates.
    3. Scaffolded Exploration: Start with a base question, and let the AI provide info. Then, build upon it with deeper, more complex questions that require students to integrate multiple pieces of information.
    4. AI as a Partner, Not a Solution: Encourage students to use ChatGPT as a brainstorming tool. For instance, they can get a general overview of a topic from the AI and then dive deeper independently.
    5. Hands-on Experiences: Hands-on learning, labs and practical experiments are still invaluable. They provide tactile experiences and observations that ChatGPT can't replicate."
I think all of these approaches are important, and I think there may always need to be an in-person, on-paper component. For example, we may assume they are getting help from ChatGPT on the lab report or essay, and then we require them to self-score/evaluate it in class. Then we score them on their evaluation. Or maybe they produce a written product and then present it to the class and then answer questions to show their understanding. Or maybe they engage in an in-class debate after their AI-aided research.

ChatGPT took this and came up with the following list of strategies:
  1. "Lab Report/Research Paper/Essay Evaluation:

      • Assignment: Students generate their lab report, research paper or essay, potentially with the assistance of ChatGPT.
      • In-Class: They evaluate and score it, justifying their findings and pointing out potential inaccuracies.
      • Assessment: You evaluate based on their critical thinking and understanding, rather than the initial content of the report.

  2. Presentation & Q&A:

      • Assignment: Students produce a written product, potentially a research paper, or an analysis.
      • In-Class: They present their findings, emphasizing key points.
      • Assessment: After the presentation, you pose questions to gauge their depth of understanding. Their ability to handle impromptu queries demonstrates genuine comprehension.

  3. In-Class Debate:

      • Assignment: Students research a topic, possibly using ChatGPT for initial information.
      • In-Class: Armed with their research, students engage in a structured debate. While they might have collected data with AI's help, their ability to argue, counter-argue, and think on their feet is purely their own.
      • Assessment: You can grade based on their arguments' clarity, validity, and the depth of their research, rather than the mere collection of data."

I think these are all great ideas, enabling students to learn to use this revolutionary new tool while also learning essential content, communication and critical thinking skills. I hope to try them all out in the coming year, though this will depend on our school and department policies regarding student use of AI.

In the face of new and potentially disruptive technologies, we can choose to bury our heads in the proverbial sand and cling to tradition, or we can open ourselves to change and evolution. Of course there are always pros and cons to technological progress, but history has shown again and again that there is no stopping it, because those who assimilate it gain the advantage. And in the end, I'd like to believe that the end result of all of this progress is real progress in our humanity--that we all truly become better off in the process, that suffering is reduced and health and well-being is increased throughout the biosphere. It may seem that Artificial Intelligence threatens exactly the opposite--that we might lose our humanity, but I am hopeful we can harness it for good. In fact, it might be by truly embracing AI's potential for good that we can ensure its positive impact on humanity.

To that end, I'm looking forward to the trying out these ideas in my science classes this year and seeing my students grow in their mastery of technology and science, while also growing in their humanity. I hope you'll embark on this journey with me into these uncharted waters and share with me your thoughts, experiences, and ideas.

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