How ChatGPT can improve education instead of threatening it
- February 11, 2023
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To read the news, the sanctity of everything from college application essays to grad school tests to medical licensing exams is enhanced with easy access to advanced artificial intelligence like ChatGPT, the AI chatbot that provides remarkably clear, in-depth answers to complex questions can, endangered. Teachers in particular are concerned about students turning to ChatGPT to help them complete assignments. One proposed solution is to turn the clock back to the 20th century and have students write exam papers with pen and paper, without the use of internet-connected electronic devices. The University of California, Los Angeles, where I teach, is considering using ChatGPT to take an exam or write a term paper as an honor code violation.
That’s the wrong approach. This semester I am telling the students in my class at the UCLA School of Law that they are free to use ChatGPT for their writing assignments. The time when a person had to be a good writer to produce good texts ended at the end of 2022 and we have to adapt. Instead of banning students from using labor and time-saving AI writing tools, we should teach students to use them ethically and productively.
To remain competitive throughout their careers, students must learn how to induce an AI writing tool to produce rewarding results and know how to assess its quality, accuracy, and originality. You must learn to write well-organized, coherent essays that involve a mix of AI-generated text and traditional writing. As professionals working in the 2060s and beyond, they must learn how to productively engage with AI systems and use them to complement and enhance human creativity with the extraordinary power that AI will bring to the mid-21st century th century promises.
Aside from the good educational reasons to view ChatGPT as an opportunity rather than a threat, there are practical ones as well. It is simply not possible to effectively ban access to this technology. Code of honor or not, many students won’t be able to resist the temptation to seek AI writing assistance. And how would an educational institution enforce a ChatGPT ban? While there are tools that aim to recognize text created by AI, future versions of AI will get better at emulating human writing — including the point at which they mimic the style of the particular person using it. In the resulting arms race, AI writing tools will always be one step ahead of AI text recognition tools.
Enforcing a ChatGPT ban would also inevitably create the injustice of false positives and false negatives. Some students who use ChatGPT despite being banned would, through luck or careful editing of AI-generated text, avoid having their writing flagged as AI-assisted. Worse, some students would be falsely accused of using ChatGPT, causing tremendous stress and potentially punishment for a wrong they did not commit.
And what about the argument that learning to write well offers benefits that go well beyond writing? Writing a good essay from scratch requires careful, often careful, thought about organization, process, and communication. Indeed, learning to write without AI encourages focused, disciplined thinking. But learning how to successfully combine unaided and AI-assisted writing to produce really good essays also requires these qualities.
Writing is a craft that deserves great respect and that few of us ever master. But most students don’t aspire to become professional writers. Instead, they are preparing for careers in which they will pursue other goals beyond producing texts. As we do today, they will write to communicate, to explain, to persuade, to commemorate, to plead, and to persuade. AI writing tools, when used properly, help them do these things better.
When I was a middle and high school student in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was told that professional success required good “penmanship” and the ability to do long divisions by hand. When I entered the professional world in the late 1980s, advances in technology had rendered these skills obsolete. The culture of education is slow to change, as evidenced by the fact that many schools today still force children to learn long division—a task they never have to do outside of school. When it comes to AI writing, educators should stay ahead of the technology curve, rather than decades behind.
The result: I help my students prepare for a future where AI isn’t a novelty, just another technology tool. I also tell them that they are solely and entirely responsible for the writing they submit with their names on them. If it’s factually wrong, that’s on them. If it’s poorly organized, that’s on them. If it’s stylistically or logically inconsistent, that’s on them. If it is partially plagiarized, it means they committed plagiarism.
In short, I encourage my students to become responsible, conscious users of the AI technologies that will play an extremely important role throughout their careers. The AI writing is on the wall, so to speak.
This is an opinion and analytical article, and the views expressed by the author or authors do not necessarily reflect those of Scientific American.