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AI Technology: Does it Have a Place in Education?

By Saesha Bhat (‘24)

COVID-19 has been one of the catalysts for a more technology-based world as more and more people turned to their screens for work, school, and entertainment. Now more than ever, technology has been the foundation for education through platforms like Google Classroom and Zoom and continues to make life easier for teachers and students. However, it lacks the interpersonal connection found in schools that help students learn and comprehend information. Also, loss of authenticity and the risk of cheating is very high when there are ways to search for answers on the internet.

Insert ChatGPT, an AI chatbot created by OpenAI that not only can come up with answers about random topics but can write them reasonably well. ChatGPT takes data and makes predictions on how to create responses to user inputs, creating answers with a wide range of vocabulary and accurate information. This is not new to major tech companies such as Google but to have it for the public to utilize is somewhat revolutionary.

Students are using the chatbot to their advantage by having it generate full essays and solve their math homework. It can also be used by teachers to analyze students’ work, find incorrectness, and give feedback quickly. Schools are viewing this as cheating on the students’ part and a loss for the teaching community as it strips teachers of their jobs. Why even teach if there is a machine that can do it in a couple of seconds for free?

Now, districts are deciding to ban such platforms under their buildings as it poses a threat to students’ education. But does it?

English teacher Mr. Peter Honig shared that he recognizes the potentially destructive effects of Chat GPT, but knows how accepted platforms like these are by students.

“I think it's a temptation for students, and I can see students, especially if you are racing for a deadline or something, to say ‘Ah, I guess I'll just use it.’ So I do think it could be used poorly. The clear misuse of it is to create a piece of writing that you will pass off as your own, and I think that is destructive. But I think students already have temptations like that. Sparknotes proposes a similar temptation…Any type of shortcut, any type of being able to copy and paste from Wikipedia, is a temptation for students,” he said.

People are using AI technology every day and are not even realizing it. Some of these many platforms include Grammarly, Google Drive Grammar and Spelling Check, and even autocorrect on phones. There are even AI chatbots for math and science-related topics such as Mathway and Photomath.

As a teacher, advancements like these can be concerning. The world is becoming more technology-based day by day with jobs being replaced by robots and screens. Millions of jobs are taken away because technology can do it more efficiently. However, Mr. Honig is not worried about the future of his job since he knows teaching will never go out of style. Grading is the most time-consuming part of his job but is the most reflective of his students. Although it would be great to have such technology grading and analyzing essays for him in seconds, it would harm his way of teaching since he would not know what his students are struggling with.

New York City Public Schools decided to ban Chat GPT in January after observing its early effects on students’ work and motivation; South Brunswick is doing something similar but it's different per district.

Mr. Honig explained, “They did block it on our wifi but if you're on your phone, on your cellular data, you can get it. And that's an interesting issue because if you're blocking it, you're only hurting the people who don't have phones or cellular data… In the high school, I know we’re building a committee of faculty members to sort of examine and share resources…like finders and trackers.”

He adds that the district has had previous discussions about the worries of members. Although they acknowledge the problem it poses for children who are tempted to cheat, they do not want people to view this as a panic point. It should rather be considered an opportunity to rethink assignments, instruction, and motivation to school every day.

In early January, 22-year-old Princeton student Edward Tian created an app that can recognize text written by Chat GPT. Teachers can use this app and uncover AI-generated pieces of work in just a short amount of time. This is one of many detectors accessible to the public. But this brings up the question: Is there any other use for Chat GPT?

“I think I see it being beneficial in regular classroom instruction and writing instruction…for example having Chat GPT write essays and having students make it better like revision practice…And ask questions to make it more precise and exciting. I almost see it as a musical instrument. You can play it to get results, and even though you didn't technically compose the results, you've elicited those results and I see a value in that as well,” Honig shared.

Chat GPT will continue to be a controversial topic in education but it does not have to be only seen as a danger to education in general. Honig’s example of it being a “musical instrument” perfectly describes its valuable asset for children growing up in such a technological time. We can use these advancements to create pieces of work and keep on developing it to push the chatbot to its limits. Progress is a result of seeing difficulties and trying to simplify them. It is no different than self-driving cars and delivery drones. We must view advancements as a way to uplift society, not bring it down, to reap the benefits it has to offer.

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James Zinsmeister
James Zinsmeister

There are surely some useful gifts in these contemporary Pandora's boxes such as the one known as ChatGPT. Here's hoping we find them and use them constructively and ethically.

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