Transforming education with ChatGPT and large language models
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has transformed many industries, and the possibilities of what it can achieve continue to expand. In recent months, everybody has been talking about ChatGPT, a large language model from OpenAI that can communicate with humans in natural language. ChatGPT can be used via a web-based interface (OpenAI recently released an API for it) and produces impressive outputs, which resemble human-written content. Although it also showed limitations it is continuously getting better and it is important to consider not only the impact that it has today, but also what could be possible with newer versions of it (or other language language models, such as Bard from Google). ChatGPT has already found numerous applications in various fields, and in this blog post we will explore five potential applications in education and the challenges that come with it.
1. 24/7 Assistance for students
Being an automated agent, ChatGPT is constantly available and can answer the learners’ questions at any time of day and night, getting rid of all the delays and waiting times that otherwise occur in the exchanges between students and teachers. For instance, it could provide homework assistance, explaining specific concepts to the learner or providing feedback. However, it is important to remark that, although ChatGPT is generally very good in providing correct answers, there is no guarantee that its answers are truthful and the student might be answered with factual incorrectness resulting from the daydreams of the statistical model. Also, it is most likely that it could not be used for any question related to the specific course a student is enrolled into, as it would not have access to the schedule and the material of the course. In this sense, even though it is much more powerful, it is arguably not an alternative to traditional AI-based Virtual Teaching Assistants, unless it is customised for a specific course.
2. Content creation
Being trained on a massive amount of text from the Internet, ChatGPT can be used by teachers for creating learning content, such as questions and reading passages. This is not different from other large language models - indeed GPT-3, the “predecessor” of ChatGPT, is being used by Duolingo for question generation - but ChatGPT makes it accessible to a broader range of teachers thanks to its user-friendly interface. Again, there is no guarantee that the content generated by ChatGPT is factually correct and of the required complexity, and human instructors are always needed to check and edit where needed the text produced by the AI model.
3. Personalised learning
This point is very related to the 24/7 assistance mentioned above. Students can leverage ChatGPT to receive personalised feedback, which might help them to target specific knowledge gaps and improve their learning outcomes. Most likely, the feedback given by ChatGPT would not be as good and as “personalised” as the one given by a human teacher, but there is a crucial point to consider: teachers have limited time. Indeed, it is not feasible for a human teacher to constantly correct all the content that is produced by the students (e.g. the answer to all the practice questions) - and the student might also be willing to practise more than what is assigned by the teacher; in this cases, ChatGPT might be a useful tool to receive feedback when the one from the teacher is not available.
4. Automated grading
ChatGPT has the potential of automatically grading students’ answers to given questions, and it is being evaluated on this task in the research community. There are concerns about the possible biases in the AI-model and the agreement of its grading with human-given grades but, as it has the capabilities of providing (usually) meaningful feedback, it is likely to be used for automated grading as well, in the near future.
5. Language learning
ChatGPT can be a great tool for students learning a new language: indeed, it can provide real-time translations and offer contextualised examples of grammar and syntax. With some effort, a student might even build an (almost) infinite number of questions to practise. Then, they might receive feedback about their answers to try and improve their fluency. Here it is important to remark that, although it is not
We have seen five ways in which ChatGPT could massively help teachers and learners, but there are also some challenges and issues that come with it that must be taken into consideration.
The capabilities of ChatGPT to produce high-quality text (and code) might be used by students to submit texts (or code) that was produced by ChatGPT and not by them. In practice questions, although this is obviously not in the students’ interests, they might still do it to complete all the homeworks that they were given or simply to win some free time. In essays and submissions that are marked, this becomes much more concerning. Some tools are being built to detect AI-written text but they don’t always work and, most importantly, could be played by slightly rephrasing the text. This raises important questions about how students are evaluated, and what is the expected outcome of teaching. Maybe, if an AI model is capable of passing medical school exams, we should start rethinking assessments.
Also, A point that is not exclusively important for the educational domain but for the text produced by AI models in general is plagiarism and the Intellectual Property in ChatGPT.
It is important to remark how ChatGPT - as any other language model - should not be seen as an alternative to human teachers but rather as a powerful tool that, when used in the right way, can vastly improve the learning experience of students and the teaching experience of instructors. In order to do this, it is important to educate about how these AI models work, to make the wider public aware of the fact that they can provide untruthful answers, show potential biases and - in general - should not be blindly relied upon without questioning their output.
Do you agree with these five points, or do you believe something else should have been included instead? Please feel free to comment below, also telling us if and how you have been using ChatGPT! It will be exciting to see how these AI models evolve and how they can be integrated into the classrooms.