Banning GPT chat will do more harm than good
It’s a shame. If educators actively engage with students about the capabilities and limitations of technology and work with them to set new academic standards, ChatGPT and generative AI more broadly could both democratize and revitalize K-12 education. Grade 12 on an unprecedented scale.
A bold claim, I know. But after a few months of putting generative AI through its paces (a corny case of seniority, if you will), I’m optimistic. Exhibit A? Collegiate applications.
Few things are as mentally draining as applying to college these days, and while I worked hard on my extra essays, the promise of using ChatGPT as my real-time editor was appealing, partly as a payoff. potential productivity, but mostly as a distraction.
I asked ChatGPT to carefully examine my disgusting use of semicolons, rate my handwriting on a scale of 0-10 (results were erratic and infuriating)2, and even role-playing as an admissions counselor. His advice was fundamentally incompatible with the creative demands of the modern college essay, and I pretty much ignored it. But the very act of discussing my writing “out loud”, albeit with a machine, helped me figure out what I wanted to say next. Using ChatGPT to verbalize the space of possibilities – from the scale of words to paragraphs – has strengthened my own thinking. And I’ve experienced something similar in every area I’ve applied it to, from generating CM2-level explanations of the French pluperfect to deciphering Latin names for human muscles.
It all adds up to one simple but profound fact: anyone with an internet connection now has a personal tutor, without the costs associated with private lessons. Sure, an easily deceived, slightly delusional tutor, but a tutor nonetheless. The impact of this is hard to overestimate, and it is as relevant in large public school classrooms where students struggle to receive individual attention as it is in underserved and impoverished communities without sufficient educational infrastructure. As psychologist Benjamin Bloom demonstrated in the early 1980s, individual instruction to mastery resulted in almost all students surpassing the class average by two standard deviations (“about 90%.. .have reached the level…reached only by the top 20%” ).
ChatGPT certainly can’t replicate human interaction, but even its staunchest critics have to admit it’s a step in the right direction on that front. Maybe only 1% of students will use it this way, and maybe it’s only half as effective as a human tutor, but even with those low numbers, its democratizing potential of access to education is enormous. I would even go so far as to say that if ChatGPT had existed during the pandemic, far fewer students would have fallen behind.
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