ChatGTP To English Teachers: Don’t Panic.

Lots of chatter over the past couple of months about the latest technology poised to disrupt the education system, ChatGPT. Maybe.

What is ChatGPT? Well, if this software is so smart, let it explain.

Sure! ChatGPT is a special computer program that is designed to have conversations with people. It can understand what you say and respond with words and phrases that are similar to how a person might talk. It does this by looking at a bunch of different conversations that people have had and learning from them. Then, when you talk to ChatGPT, it tries to use what it has learned to come up with a response that makes sense and feels natural. It’s kind of like having a very smart friend who can talk to you about lots of different things!

That paragraph was generated when I instructed the software to “explain to a sixth grade student what ChatGPT is”.1

As always when a shiny new technology like this pops up, we get a whole lot of speculation about what it might mean to our current classroom practice. Some go for the let’s-put-it-in-the-classroom-now approach, as in this Twitter thread with 20 ways ChatGPT can help you teach/learn. Or articles with “tips and tricks” for how you can teach with ChatGPT.

However, others are very concerned that AI systems like this will have dire consequences for American education. Like the high school English teacher who wonders in The Atlantic2 if ChatGPT signals “The End of High-School English”. It could be “the end of writing as a gatekeeper, a metric for intelligence, a teachable skill”.

Another essay (presumably not generated by ChatGPT) from The Atlantic speculated on whether AI will mean “The College Essay Is Dead”. That essay “in particular the undergraduate essay”, he says, “has been the center of humanistic pedagogy for generations”. Wow! Talk about dire.

A segment of the Marketplace Tech podcast notes that “ChatGPT can write English essays … quite well” and wonders “How are teachers going to deal?”. For that last part, they spoke to a high school English teacher. Although he teaches in a private school with classes of 12 to 15 students, so his experience may be a little skewed compared to those in most public schools.

On the other hand, an option writer for the Washington Post has a solution: we can “foil” ChatGPT by returning to handwritten essays. Considering the bad penmanship I remember from some students in my math classes, where they were primarily using numbers and symbols, that might not help.

So, will ChatGPT decimate the traditional high school English? Again, let’s ask the bot.

It is unlikely that ChatGPT or any other chatbot or language model will be able to completely replace high school English classes. While chatbots and language models are able to generate human-like text and have conversations with people, they do not have the same level of understanding and knowledge as a human teacher. They are not able to provide the same level of personalized instruction, feedback, and guidance that a human teacher can. Additionally, English classes in high school often involve more than just having conversations or writing essays. They also involve learning about literature, grammar, and other language skills, which may be beyond the capabilities of a chatbot or language model. In short, ChatGPT and other similar technologies can be useful tools, but they are not a replacement for human teachers and the benefits of a traditional education.

Of course, that’s something you might expect our new AI overlords to say.

By the way, it’s not just English teachers who may need to be concerned. My former colleagues teaching Algebra should know that ChatGPT not only solves quadratic equations but also shows its work in great detail.

Currently, ChatGPT is a free research preview. The programmers and data scientists behind this are probably loving the thousands of us who are testing it and providing even more material to make the system smarter. If that’s the right term.

Stay tuned. There’s much more to come.

The photo is of some very creepy robots featured in the mediocre 2004 film “I, Robot”, based very loosely on the far superior novel by Isaac Asimov. The original is an entertaining and interesting story about how AI systems might fit into society. The movie goes for action over thought.

1. Using the ChatGPT system requires registering for an account with your email address and phone number. Side note: Does anyone else think that “very smart friend” part throws off some sci-fi, not-so-benevolent robot vibes?

2. If The Atlantic’s paywall complains, clear your browser cache and try again. Or you could support their journalism and subscribe. :)

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