Universities, schools and education providers have growing concerns about the effects of the free AI software ChatGPT. Students now have the ability to generate detailed essays on any topic that can beat industry-standard plagiarism software, and many education providers are worried that this could undermine the value of degrees, qualifications and other certifications.
In this article, we examine the risks and opportunities ChatGPT has for education providers and look at what the future holds for AI and the elearning industry.
Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT is a product created by OpenAI, a research laboratory set up by wealthy investors, including Elon Musk.
According to OpenAI, their mission is to “ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity”. ChatGPT can be used for free by anyone after they’ve set up an account and is a text generation software that responds to prompts.
As a demonstration, we input the prompt “write a list of US presidents of the 20th century”. An accurate list was written for us in just 20 seconds. As a more complicated prompt, we gave ChatGPT the prompt “write a 2000-word essay on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and the impact he had on the US civil rights movement”. After just one minute, an accurate, lengthy and well-written essay was produced.
With those examples in mind, it’s clear that ChatGPT is a hugely powerful tool that could have large ramifications for educational institutions that rely on essay submissions as an assessment tool.
What issues is ChatGPT causing for education providers?
ChatGPT has been causing concern in schools, universities and among education providers at large. Shortly after its release, schools in Western Australia, and a third of British Russell Group universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, banned students from using the software.
A lecturer from Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, spoke to The Guardian about her concerns that over one-fifth of assessments were found to have used ChatGPT, demonstrating the immediate impact that the AI tool is having on education providers.
Meanwhile, the ability to submit essays as a form of assessment was revoked at University College London after it was feared that students could submit AI generated work that would get around plagiarism detection software.
As AI gets smarter, education providers at all levels have legitimate concerns that tried-and-tested forms of assessment, such as essays, could be completely undermined. Valuable marking time could also be taken up by looking for indications of AI involvement rather than purely focusing on the quality of the work.
Does ChatGPT open up any opportunities for education providers?
Although ChatGPT brings up some challenges for education providers, it could also open up some exciting opportunities. We listed AI’s role in education as one of our education technology and learning trends to look out for in 2023, and for good reason. For teachers and students alike, there are lots of practical applications that can be used to boost engagement and improve learning outcomes.
Universities in South Australia have already accepted that ChatGPT could offer benefits to learning and should be embraced, citing it as a useful tool to improve literacy and help learners that have been held back by their struggles with English writing. As AI becomes an ever-increasing part of our lives, other benefits and applications for ChatGPT could be considered by universities and education providers.
Helping students to understand writing styles and tone of voice
Users can instruct ChatGPT to rewrite any passage of text in a certain tone of voice. This could emulate an author’s signature writing style, invoke the speaking style of a famous politician or even write a passage written in the phonetic style of a distinctive accent.
Although these applications can be seen as a little silly, asking ChatGPT to rewrite pieces of text in different tones of voice can be an effective way to demonstrate to students how they can adjust their writing style to different audiences.
For younger students that struggle to write in standard English, ChatGPT can transform their writing and help them to easily spot the elements of their writing they need to change in order to write in a professional and academic manner.
Helping students for present and explain concepts
Not every discipline or field of education requires strong English language and writing skills, but despite that fact, many learning environments require students to present and explain concepts using exemplary language and advanced English skills.
Although ChatGPT should only be reinterpreting information that students have researched and collected themselves, using ChatGPT to turn detailed notes into an easy-to-understand speech or explainer removes the unfair bias the educational system can have towards those that have an advanced understanding of English and writing.
A source of easy-to-comprehend information
ChatGPT can be used as a research tool, much in the same way as Google. Although it’s always worth double-checking the information it gives you, it can be relied upon to explain complicated concepts in simple terms.
Similar to how an author of a textbook would use multiple sources to write a clear and understandable paragraph, ChatGPT can pull in many sources from the Internet and rewrite them in a succinct manner, allowing users to get fast answers to complicated questions.
For teachers and tutors, this interactive style of questions and answers isn’t that dissimilar to the learning style of a seminar. Students can be encouraged to get access to interactive learning environments around the clock and be inquisitive through software like ChatGPT and get more compelling answers than they would through directory-style browsers such as Google.
What does the future hold for ChatGPT and education providers?
Universities and education providers are already becoming wise to the risks ChatGPT poses to academic integrity, and they’re taking steps to mitigate these risks speedily.
Plagiarism detection software company Turnitin, used by tens of thousands of universities and schools around the world, announced a ChatGPT detection tool, which would allow education providers to accurately test whether or not a student had used the software to generate an essay.
Despite these attempts to get ahead of ChatGPT, many universities may still find themselves one step behind. OpenAI has already announced that ChatGPT’s successor, GPT 4, is now available for paid OpenAI users. Reportedly 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, education providers may feel defeated in their efforts to catch up with AI software.
However, rather than posing more problems for the education sector, GPT 4 aims to be a help, not a hindrance, to those who are keen to improve access to learning. OpenAI has introduced exciting applications in language translation, visual impairment tools, and now provides more considered and reasoned answers to questions.
This upgrade is aimed at producing a better, more responsible piece of software than the previous iteration. In other words, AI is here to create more opportunities for learning, not get in the way of them.
AI and learning’s relationship has had a rapid evolution, and there are likely to be more twists and turns to come.
Keeping up with the latest developments may be nail-biting for education providers, but ultimately should provide them with many exciting ideas and opportunities to advance learning and open up new channels for engagement, improving educational outcomes in the process.