Does ChatGPT belong in classrooms?
Never invite a vampire into your house.
Originally published in the Moultrie News.
I’m hearing about ChatGPT and that many teachers want it banned. Haven’t we learned it’s better to embrace technology than banish it?
ChatGPT is all the rage, but a lot of readers might be wondering, “What exactly is it?” I thought of asking ChatGPT that question but wasn’t sure I could trust the source, so I turned to a fellow human, Dr. Bill Manaris, a computer science professor at the College of Charleston.
He likens ChatGPT to a search engine. You type in a request, and it gives you a response. Unlike a search engine, it doesn’t return links to sources. It provides you with a finished, fine-tunable product. Ask it about Napoleon, and you’ll get an article on Napoleon. But it won’t be some existing paper on the internet; it will be a new essay written by ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence.
Ask it to write a horror movie, and in a few seconds, you’ll get an original script. Ask it to write a rap song (personally, I prefer to freestyle), and it will spit one out. It can write novels and solve coding problems. You can hold a written conversation with it. It’s an impressive application.
But, says Manaris, spend some time with it, and you’ll begin to see its limitations. It basically works by scouring the internet and reassembling the information into a revised product. Therefore it will never be self-aware like a human, and it will always be limited by what already exists. In other words, he says, if its source material is limited to country songs, it might give you Johnny Cash, but it can’t give you Johann Sebastian Bach.
Manaris believes we should view ChatGPT as a tool like spell checkers or calculators, though it comes with more versatility and a significant qualification: it’s unreliable. As Garling Wu of the website MakeUseOf notes, “It fails at basic math, can’t seem to answer simple logic questions, and will even go as far as to argue completely incorrect facts.”
That, plus the potential for plagiarism, has caused some schools to ban its use. The plagiarism concern is real: ask ChatGPT to write a paper on Reconstruction, and it will supply an original A+ report. This need not overly frighten teachers. We can adapt by making kids write under controlled conditions.
Some educators have gone the other way, embracing the technology the way Elmo embraces tickles. I’ve previously written about the JGI (“Just Google It”), an educational faction that cannot tolerate the idea of children learning facts when the facts are just sitting on kids’ phones, waiting to be accessed. They’re dancing the tarantella over ChatGPT.
Some parties are even pushing non-JGI educators to get in on the app. The New York Times has encouraged teachers to ”thoughtfully embrace ChatGPT as a teaching aid,” and the group We Are Teachers suggests, among other uses, letting students use ChatGPT to inspire their writing.
Well, why not? We’re already outsourcing facts to the ghosts in our machines; why not outsource thinking and creativity, too? With kids utilizing artificial intelligence like ChatpGPT by day and filling their brains with artificial un-intelligence like TikTok by night, what could possibly go wrong?
A lot, actually, which gives this lowly Luddite a grave sense of unease. I agree with Manaris and others that ChatGPT alone poses little threat to learning. But the cumulative, long-range effect of technology on our children troubles me. Its very purpose is to bring them ease without exercise, gratification without effort, and knowledge without learning.
By allowing kids to become dependent on such technology, we make them tools of their tools. Education is supposed to liberate people by making them independent thinkers, not shackle them to devices. In the long run, a tech-dependent strategy will not propagate intellectual growth; it will castrate it.
Rule number one from Victorian fiction: never invite a vampire into your house. We should be wary of welcoming anything into our schools with the potential to turn children into a race of Eloi out of H.G. Welles’ “The Time Machine” — lazy, useless, and factually ignorant.
I can hear the JGI now: “That’s just science fiction!” True, but as I.J. Good once said, “It is sometimes worthwhile to take science fiction seriously.”
Read original column here.