The future of learning: ChatGPT in the classroom

ChatGPT has got teachers in a panic. Some embrace it as a teaching tool, while many schools block access. But is banning smartphones and ChatGPT the wrong thing to do when preparing students for working life in a digital world?

The arrival of ChatGPT is seen as a game-changing shortcut that promises maximum results from minimal effort. However, predictably, it’s also causing outrage, with many declaring that we’re on the verge of an educational crisis. Endless stories are clogging up news feeds of students outsourcing their homework and other dystopian tales of how technology will ruin our kids' futures.

To get to grips with the upcoming changes, we must first address how traditional education's narrow focus on memory tests fails to capture the full range of abilities required for success in a digital society. Intelligence encompasses several cognitive abilities, and education should aim to develop well-rounded individuals with communication, teamwork, leadership, and adaptability skills. Areas in which AI cannot compete.

We’ve been here before

Focusing solely on memory tests can lead to an incomplete assessment of a person's abilities. Ultimately, education must be relevant and practical, equipping students with the skills to navigate future challenges.

For example, old cliches like the importance of learning quick, basic math for giving the correct change to customers are no longer relevant. Not only do we always have a smartphone-enabled calculator in our pockets, but payments are increasingly going digital. The world has changed, and studying specialized STEM subjects is now more important than ever.

In 2023, students using ChatGPT to help write essays or poems are accused of faking their way through class. Yet, ironically, many inspiring speeches delivered by politicians, articles written by CEOs in Forbes, and even some of the best-selling books are crafted by ghostwriters. This means that the words we hear and read from our most influential leaders are not their own. So, how much has really changed?

We have the tools at our disposal. Those who will be most successful will be the ones that learn to use them in the best and most efficient ways.

Neurodiversity at work

The traditional approach of sitting in an exam hall and writing within strict time constraints favors some students more than others. However, it does not cater to the needs of individuals with various conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, and sensory preferences. Chat-GPT can play an essential role in assisting individuals who are neurodivergent in multiple ways. A few prominent examples are helping with writing tasks, improving communication skills, providing information, and creating a distraction-free environment.

If you want to be successful and fulfilled academically or professionally, experts will tell you to stop stressing about your weaknesses and focus on your strengths instead. Self-help experts often recommend that you outsource tasks that don't match with your strengths. This approach boosts your confidence and motivation and can help you identify your true calling. For these reasons alone, ChatGPT can help you to unlock your natural talents and better communicate your ideas.

Some critics will argue that typing in what you want and immediately obtaining an answer is a fool's paradise that provides an illusion of learning. However, others would counter that this is no different to learning from reading something in a book.

With great power comes great responsibility

Whether it’s ChatGPT or any new tech solution, it’s always a supervillain taking us on a one-way trip to a dystopian Palookaville. The responsibility to use these tools responsibly and ethically is in our hands. This means we must be mindful of accidentally reproducing biases and stereotypes in the data it was trained on.

From the moment “Google” became a verb, we collectively witnessed the rise of technology dependence. We no longer needed to remember phone numbers or any trivial information because our smartphones could deliver the answers we needed within seconds. The concern of teachers is that students will lose the crucial skill of critical thinking and be unable to think for themselves if their device has the answers.

By relying solely on the output of a machine learning model, students could be deprived of the opportunity to develop their unique perspectives and voice. In addition, although ChatGPT is trained on vast amounts of internet text data, it's important to remember that there’s a well-documented accuracy problem. As a result, students may receive misleading or incorrect information, hampering their learning and understanding.

For instance, if students ask ChatGPT a question, the model's response could be based on incomplete or inaccurate information, leading them to believe something untrue. But, in the right hands, it can create innovative teaching strategies by helping teachers to provide more engaging learning experiences for their students.

Teachers can leverage this tool when planning lessons and creating customized student content. It also has the potential to offer feedback and act as an additional teaching resource in the classroom.

Why are we still clinging to outdated and inefficient practices?

There are many viral videos of young people baffled by rotary phones and VCRs, and sure, they’re funny to watch for those of us who are a little older. However, this old tech is now irrelevant and has no place in a digital world. Wouldn’t you, growing up in the internet age, find these things a little odd too? Rather than futile arguments over tech-induced generational differences, we’re beginning to accept that binary thinking, the old way of doing things or a one-size-fits-all approach, is not the answer to anything.

Contrary to popular opinion, AI will not replace education or jobs. However, to thrive in a digital age, candidates comfortable using it as a tool will be more productive and efficient than those who don't. The modern workplace needs creative problem solvers and resourceful individuals who can gather information from various sources and create innovative solutions.

Let's drop the virtual pitchforks and celebrate technology's indispensable role in shaping a more inclusive future. Why would we measure intelligence by remembering stuff under strict time constraints when there's a better option at our fingertips? Because that, my friends, is true progress.

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