Director's Blog

#13—ChatGPT is our Friend Not Foe
Mr. David Perry

The hottest conversation in education right now revolves around ChatGPT. What is it, how is it being used, and what does it mean for our traditional teaching and learning systems? The topic was the subject of many sessions at this year’s National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Conference and was addressed by one of the four keynote speakers—Nita Farahany, author, legal scholar, and ethicist.

Are ChatGPT and other AI models just the next evolution of search? A tool for cheating and plagiarism? Something to ban and fear, or something to embrace and build upon? There was a lot to talk about. 

First and foremost, I learned that it’s important for educators to understand that ChatGPT is just the tip of the iceberg. With other similar AI tools in development already, it’s clear that this type of interface is here to stay. What’s vital now is for schools to decide how to incorporate rapidly changing technologies like AI into their curriculums. They also need to train students and staff on the appropriate usage of different tools so they become aids to deeper learning, not shortcuts or impediments.

Discussing some of the potential uses for ChatGPT in the classroom, I heard ideas like peer editing, framing drafts, and research that would feel more natural. With the caution that users will always need to fact-check and verify the results offered by a ChatGPT session to correct for bias and misinformation, many people at the conference agreed that the tool offers a richer and more intuitive experience than traditional search engines. 

What ChatGPT and other AI tools can’t replicate, however, is student voice. The opportunity to use ChatGPT to help draft content is a real concern for educators, but the loss of unique perspective, voice, and point of view is a serious limitation that can be used as inspiration in a school setting. How can schools encourage students to think more deeply about their own points of view and their own narrative voices? How can students then take what ChatGPT has to offer and consider whether it reflects what they themselves think and feel, and how they want to express those things? The human role, conference presenters argued, is still strongly viable within the framework of using AI as a springboard for content creation.

There are also deeply practical applications for AI tools in education. Teachers already report using ChatGPT for tasks like re-leveling content for diverse learning needs or helping students debug original code. Widely accepted tools like Grammarly are already existing AI applications that schools have incorporated into their work for years. Viewed through the lens of constantly progressing technological tools—pencil and paper, calculator, computer, internet, search engines, educational platforms like Google Classroom, educational gaming, virtual reality, and so on—the appearance of ChatGPT has the potential to continue raising the bar on how much critical thinking and higher-level learning students can be expected to do. No longer do schools exist in a world where imparting content memorization and assessing students’ retention of basic facts is particularly relevant. In fact, AI’s ability to do this work points to its linear, and rather perfunctory nature. Letting AI do this work, then, frees teachers and students to do more complex, creative, and collaborative work. AI is certainly challenging us to reimagine what it means to be educated for the future.

All mostly good, however, Attorney Farahany reminded us that there will always be ethical implications. The speaker cautioned that it’s vital to educate users on the contribution ChatGPT makes to their digital footprint and to codify school policies and procedures around the use of AI tools. She added that schools also need to clearly understand how AI and other technological advances fit into their individual missions, and how to align the use of tools with the school philosophy overall. 

As a “game-changing” technology, ChatGPT is a sign of things to come. Viewed as a tool of collaboration, partnership, brainstorming, idea generation, and editing, it has the potential to unleash new forms of creativity from both students and educators. The conference was a wake-up call that the world in which we live, and the world for which we are preparing our students, is rapidly changing. How schools adapt and grow to embrace the changes will define their trajectory for years to come.


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