Are pupils using ChatGPT and what should schools do about it?

Thursday, 20 April 2023 by Weduc

The lowdown on ChatGPT

Chatbots have been around for decades – they’re what you interact with when, actually, you’d quite like to speak to a human about where your missing parcel is. Sometimes they’re used to direct you to the right human to speak to, which is not so annoying, and sometimes they’re used instead of humans, which is much more annoying.

But what is ChatGPT? It was created by OpenAI, an AI and research company, in November 2022 – so if you’re only just hearing about it, don’t worry, you’re not too behind.

ChatGPT uses AI technology to allow you to have human-like conversations with a chatbot. Essentially, if you ask ChatGPT a question, it should give you a reasonable answer. The language model can also write things like emails, essays, code and, surprisingly, song lyrics. And according to OpenAI, it can even engage in some critical thinking-like skills, such as admitting its mistakes, challenging incorrect premises, and rejecting inappropriate requests.

Why has ChatGPT suddenly become popular among pupils?

ChatGPT can be used for a variety of written materials, including schoolwork and homework. So naturally, schools are concerned about the use of ChatGPT for schoolwork, causing pupils to be assessed incorrectly and not develop the skills and knowledge they need in the future.

Indeed, many Universities are already responding to the potential use of ChatGPT in written AI homework assignments, with staff in the computer science department at University College London recently deciding to remove an essay based assessment option.

Of course, while schools and universities are right to be concerned about the use of ChatGPT by students, it is also important to acknowledge that many students are aware of the risks of doing so. In fact, over half of students (51%) in the US have stated they believe using artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT to complete assignments is cheating. 

But while this news is encouraging, 43% of students have still acknowledged using AI tools like ChatGPT to write their schoolwork for them. So, considering that the prefrontal cortex (responsible for behaviour control and critical thinking) is the last part of the brain to develop, school children will see a quick AI tool for homework and engage with it before really thinking through the consequences.

What problems are tools like ChatGPT causing?

The use of ChatGPT for homework has created huge concerns over plagiarism, cheating, learning, and fairness. After all, the entire foundation of academic achievement is rocked when one student gets a high mark using ChatGPT and another student gets a low mark without using it.

But surely teachers can tell when an essay has been written by AI, right? Well, no. ChatGPT’s differentiating factor from other AI tools in the market is that the language it produces is so sophisticated. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect – input an essay question now and you’ll probably receive an answer that you can somewhat tell has been written by a robot. But a pupil is unlikely to submit something straight from the chatbot – ChatGPT’s skills may be used as a structural tool that students can edit around to make it sound more like them.

The problem with this is that, firstly, it creates an uneven playing field when some students are writing their own work from scratch, without help. And secondly, students editing around the work it produces makes it harder to spot. Add to this the fact that, while you might think that numerous pupils inputting the same essay questions would produce similar answers, ChatGPT is capable of producing countless combinations of words. Meaning, effectively, it can produce a different essay every time.

Another problem ChatGPT is causing, however, is that of disagreement – essentially, there are different professional opinions about the impact ChatGPT will have on education. This means, not everyone thinks ChatGPT is a bad tool for pupils to have access to.

What are some of the positives of using ChatGPT with pupils?

  1. It’s not going away – pupils might as well embrace it

This argument goes that, if the purpose of school is to prepare young people for the world of work, there is no point trying to keep them from using ChatGPT when they will most likely be able to use it in the workplace. After all, when calculators were introduced into classrooms, many were convinced that they would result in the decline of mathematical skills. But recent research has shown that calculators have had no significant impact on basic maths skills. In fact, calculators have just made many processes quicker and easier – and that’s exactly how businesses intend to use ChatGPT.

  1. It provides explanations – not just answers

ChatGPT doesn’t just provide writing skills but can answer questions, and if you think about it, that’s exactly what Google does. In fact, ChatGPT is better than Google because it provides explanations. So, while pupils might use it to answer exam questions (if they’re doing exams in uncontrolled conditions), no matter what situation they’re using it in to find answers, at least they will learn and better understand those answers when they come with explanations.

  1. It can adapt to a pupil’s level of understanding

Again, Google gives the same answers to whoever googles a particular search term. ChatGPT, however, can personalise the learning experience by adapting to a pupil’s level of understanding, giving them either simpler or more complicated answers.

  1. It’s convenient

Not all pupils learn well in classroom settings. Many struggle to concentrate, remember what they’ve learned, and take in information from textbooks. At the end of the day, if you’ve taught a pupil something in a classroom, you can’t guarantee they understand it, and most schools can’t provide the kind of personalised tuition that would enable every pupil to be brought up to speed. An explanatory question answering tool like ChatGPT could help fill those gaps, enabling pupils to understand things they might otherwise have never had the chance to.

  1. It can provide essay structures for pupils to work around

Yes, ChatGPT can be used to effectively cheat. But it can also be used to give pupils the foundation for good essays. Let’s face it, not every pupil is going to be naturally talented at writing. But that doesn’t mean they don’t understand the ideas they’re trying to communicate. ChatGPT could be used to help them structure their schoolwork more effectively and even learn how to do so on their own in future.

How can teachers work around the negatives of ChatGPT?

  1. Acknowledge its existence and influence

It’s clear that ChatGPT is here for the long haul, which as we’ve stated may have a negative impact in some ways, but a positive one in others. So, there’s no point ignoring it; pupils certainly won’t be. By acknowledging its existence and the way pupils might be using it, you can open the conversation to appropriate use of the tool. Such as not using it to create answers but as a tool to further understanding.

  1. Make pupils aware software is being developed to spot ChatGPT

This means there’s a high likelihood that if they use ChatGPT they will be caught, and it will massively affect their academic career. It will also hinder their learning if they don’t develop the appropriate skills required for further education. So really, it’s in their best interests not to use it as an essay writing cheat tool.

  1. Embrace the benefits

As previously mentioned, there are benefits of using ChatGPT; it’s worth making full use of those. And don’t worry, you won’t be introducing pupils to the software – most will already know it exists and will have used it themselves already. But by informing them of all the positive uses, you can enable them to further their own knowledge outside of the classroom.

  1. Use it yourself

One of the major benefits of ChatGPT is speed of execution. Teachers are famously stretched thin, so using ChatGPT to reduce the time required to complete tasks can be of major benefit. For example, for answering questions, or for researching topics – ChatGPT can draw together the best information on a topic into one place, saving you from spending time reading endless pages on Google.

For good or for bad, ChatGPT is here to stay

Yes, there are concerns that ChatGPT could be used to fuel cheating and plagiarism. But there are also plenty of positives that can come from the use of the tool – just like calculators, ChatGPT may just change education for the better. But for good or for bad, ChatGPT certainly won’t be the last artificial intelligence homework solution to crop up.

And of course, other technology is increasingly being put to excellent use in schools. If you’re interested in finding out more about our software or services, from ReachMoreParents to our websites for schools, Homework App, and Parents Evening System, click here to book a discovery call at a time that suits you.

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