ChatGPT Enters Education: The Dos & Don’ts for Educators

Exploring the unknown with an open mind and curious spirit.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jim Chilton


When Open AI launched ChatGPT in November, it broke the internet. Tech enthusiasts across the globe marveled at the AI’s ability to hold complex conversations, write fiction, analyze data, compose music and so much more. As the internet’s perennial dominant force, young people quickly took notice of the technology, and among the myriad of applications quickly realized the shortcut it provided to  complete course assignments. Specifically, experiments showed ChatGPT can curate college admissions essays and graduate-level scientific abstracts, the latter of which recently fooled a third of professors into thinking they were student-generated.

ChatGPT’s more sinister abilities, like enabling students to cheat, sent initial shockwaves through the education sector, generating the majority of the education headlines we have seen around this powerful new technology. Some school districts have even jumped to ban the technology. However, before the education sector succumbs to the fear of this new technology, I want to flip the script a bit and invite stakeholders instead to embrace the opportunity. The fact is, ChatGPT is not going away any time soon, especially with Microsoft lining up a $10 Billion investment to enhance the AI’s capabilities.

‘…before the education sector succumbs to the fear of this new technology, I want to flip the script a bit and invite stakeholders instead to embrace the opportunity.’

Amid the negative headlines, what is seldom discussed is the opportunities educators have to use this AI technology to their advantage. If educators recognize ChatGPT’s potential, then use it to accelerate learning outcomes, and establish the necessary safeguards and boundaries for student use, they’ll begin to reap the benefits of the revolutionary technology. Here are the “dos and don’ts” educators should keep top of mind when exploring AI.

DON’T: Jump to Conclusions

Banning ChatGPT is becoming quite the trend among institutions and school districts across the country after reports of students using the AI to cheat made national headlines. Specifically, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and NYC are among the major municipal school districts to make the knee-jerk decision of banning the language tool. However, these districts are likely delaying the inevitable, and setting themselves up for headaches down the road as more Americans become exposed to AI technology. Administrations opting to simply ban the AI and forget it exists won’t stop students from using it, and will only widen the gap between the lack of teachers who understand the tech and the number of students who can use it to their advantage.

Instead, educators and institutions should focus on, taking a closer, more holistic, look at the technology and its capabilities, and how it could be used to enhance the learning experience. This notion is not new with ChatGPT – technology has been used for decades to advance learning and help us tackle more complex problems. When calculators became widely available decades ago, many educators at the time scoffed at the notion of students using a machine that’s never wrong to complete assignments. Now, calculators are a cursory component of American education. I’ve seen this exemplified personally when comparing my own experience taking quantitative math in high school compared to when my daughter took the same course. For me, I had to perform all the calculations long-hand, and completed about three case studies all semester.  Compare that to my daughter, who in a similar course three decades later, performed close to twenty-five case studies, using a graphic calculator. My daughter was able learn and experience so much more than I did in the same course because of technological advancements. ChatGPT and other AI have the potential to become the next iteration in education’s evolution.

DO: Start a Dialogue

The education industry has always been slow to change, especially when it comes to technology, but there is an opportunity in front of educators and institutions to change this mentality. Instead of reacting to negative student use cases and resorting to drastic measures that condemn or outright ban the technology, educators should begin by asking themselves, “what can ChatGPT do for us?” Education, as an industry, should look at the technology as a supplement to instruction and not something that supplants it. From there, districts and institutions can launch a dialogue around how to potentially implement the technology.

Consider how educators throughout the world embraced technology during Covid and demonstrated what is possible. The challenge is to apply that same learning and engagement that was mandatory into what we are now seeing as the next frontier with AI technologies. 

With ChatGPT currently in its infancy stage, there’s an opportunity for educators to play a role in positively influencing how the technology evolves, but that can’t happen if they refuse to take a leap of faith and explore what AI has to offer. Cutting-edge technology has helped other industries advance and modernize, and the education sector should be no different.

DO: Leverage AI to Expand the Scope of Learning and Prevent Cheating

Similar to calculators and computers, AI allows students to complete assignments much faster, meaning educators can vastly expand the scope of assigned work. Instead of traditional assignments requiring students to present one solution, incorporating ChatGPT opens the door for students to present multiple models or solutions and accomplish in one assignment what previously required multiple. Simply put, AI has the potential for students to learn exponentially faster. While these are hypothetical solutions that require considerable time for educators to explore and implement, ChatGPT has already produced tangible use cases for teachers.

For example, ChatGPT’s creator released a function that can determine if a piece of content was developed by ChatGPT. In other words, educators can turn the tables on cheaters, and use the very same tool to determine if work was AI-generated. This is the very inverse of the reason so many educators are advocating for or actively banning students from using the AI. It’s also important to remember that plagiarism and cheating are not new in the education sector, and the methods students use have evolved over time, alongside the tools at teachers’ disposal to catch them. Tools like Grammarly are now common, alleviating fears around students copying from online sources. ChatGPT is simply the latest iteration of this ongoing phenomenon.

DON’T: Forget to Prioritize Equal Access

To successfully integrate ChatGPT into curricula, educators must establish safeguards to ensure equal student opportunity. America’s ongoing digital divide may limit students with less financial resources from accessing AI. In New York City, for example, 15% of residents lack access to high speed internet. In many rural communities, this percentage is larger.

Educators and policymakers alike have an obligation to ensure students can equally access education technology tools, both in the classroom and at home, and ChatGPT is no exception. At a time where 21% of college students struggle to afford laptops and other technology essentials, implementing additional technologies like ChatGPT into course requirements represents a significant financial burden for many. ChatGPT’s potential scholastic applications highlight the need for educators and policy makers to further their efforts to close America’s digital divide.

Educators themselves, not students, may actually have the most to gain from understanding and adopting AI tools like ChatGPT. However, seizing this opportunity will require educators not jumping to conclusions, driving open and honest dialogue, expanding the scope of their instruction, and establishing the necessary ethical safeguards.

One final “do” for educators: embrace the unknown. ChatGPT is still very much in its infancy, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the AI’s capabilities. Educators who explore the language tool with an open mind and curious spirit are likely to be surprised by just how helpful it may prove to be.

Jim Chilton is CTO for Cengage Group, a global edtech company that enables student choice, helping millions of students each year in more than 125 countries. Connect with Jim here.

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