New AI chatbot presents challenges and opportunities for educators

Samantha Kummerer Image
BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Thursday, January 12, 2023
AI chatbot presents challenges and opportunities for educators
ChatGPT gained viral attention when it made artificial intelligence (AI) content generation available for the average internet user this past December.

ChatGPT gained viral attention when it made artificial intelligence (AI) content generation available for the average internet user this past December.

With the input of a singular question or request, the chatbot can spit out anything from computer code for a website to recommendations for a party theme to an essay or a TV script.

"Should you be afraid of AI in the abstract? No. Should you be concerned about applications of it? Absolutely," said Dr. Collin Lynch, a computer science associate professor at North Carolina State University.

Lynch also is an instructor with the university's AI Academy, an apprenticeship program that teaches employed individuals how to be AI developers.

AI technology has been assisting people in multiple ways daily from recommending products to buy to suggesting what people to follow on social media to proposing what shows to watch.

What is different about ChatGPT is the widespread availability of a tool that can generate text.

One of the biggest negative use of the chatbot that Lynch foresees is in the education sector.

"Education is one of the areas of short-term concern," Lynch said. "It's right now fairly easy for a kid to fire that up and say write me my homework. Right? And so cheating on ChatGPT is going to be a little bit easier now."

This is something Meredith Murphy, the chair of the humanities department at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics is already considering.

"I think it's analogous to when our math department colleagues had to grapple with the addition of the calculator to their classes. So we've got to learn about the tool and learn how to teach students to use it responsibly when to use it and when not to use it," she said.

Murphy explained the Internet has been making it easier for students to cheat by finding essays online for years.

"These are challenges that humanities educators have been grappling with for a long time. So we have to adopt strategies and that might be making sure that you are assigning an essay that's going to call on your students to do original thinking that they can't fall back on resources online," Murphy said.

She also thinks establishing relationships with students and getting to know their writing style will aid educators in differentiating any assignment completed with ChatGPT.

And while the technology to detect ChatGPT-generated content may be created and developers may create watermarks on the content, Murphy still thinks it is important for students to be educated on the ethics of using AI tools.

Murphy's colleague, the dean of engineering and computer science at NCSSM, Dr. Joe LoBuglio, is optimistic about the rollout of ChatGPT.

"Overall, optimistic. I don't know that I have an alternative because this is happening. Right? We don't have a choice. So we have to accept this," he said.

He said the broader ramifications of having technology like this could be huge.

"Now everyone has access to a good computer science teacher or a good social studies teacher. That is enormous. Talk about equity, talk about the ability to have access to a reasonably good STEM teacher. That's not true now, but the vision of everyone, everywhere in this world, having access to topics and subjects that they don't know is again is incredible," he said.

Murphy said while the chatbot is capable of a lot right now, it also has limitations, so she encourages educators to experiment with it to understand how students might use it in their classes.

"The colleagues of mine who put their prompts into ChatGPT have found that the writing is in many ways credible, but that right now, ChatGPT is not really able to incorporate sources. It is not really able to provide attribution. That could certainly change as the AI gets more advanced, but I think that's definitely a good idea for educators to see what Chat GPT can do," she said.

As technology around ChatGPT and similar to it continue to be developed, LoBuglio is tasked with the role of educating future developers. He said it's a task that goes beyond just computer science.

"AI about not just the technology but the societal, moral, ethical implications of AI," LoBuglio said. "They'll be the ones that are in the tech fields, making these changes. And we want them to know how important it is that they're not just understanding the technology but understanding the implications of what that means for our society."