What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot. The premise is that you can ask ChatGPT a question, and it will answer it. It was created by the OpenAI initiative, and a short run-down if its design can be found here. The key takeaway for teachers is,
For teaching, this raises several things you should be aware of:
- It will give the most likely internet answer for a question. That means that any past-years exam questions will almost certainly be answered correctly, because students will likely have asked how to answer a question on internet forums and somebody will have posted the mark-schemes.
- It will also magnify common misconceptions. Because common misconceptions are, by definition, common, they will be repeated often and weighted more highly in the AIs attempt at answering questions.
It doesn’t know when it’s wrong
Take a look at the exchange below:
Can you spot the problem? Neither can ChatGPT!
This is a function of how the AI works. It doesn’t actually have a human sense of understanding. Instead, it’s writing a sentence and then working out what, statistically speaking, would likely be said next. That means that it can’t answer any of these types of questions, because while the words are extremely formulaic, the numbers themselves are highly specific to each question. As a result, the AI happily accepts it’s wrong, and moves on to the next most likely answer, which is still wrong.
Using this in lessons
My lesson idea was to try to harness this to enhance students ability to spot answers. I took a high-risk approach, and suggested that they start cheating. There have been widespread reports of schools blocking ChatGPT to prevent cheating, and accounts on TikTok promoting it as a way of getting easy answers to homework questions. I decided to tell my students they would be using ChatGPTs answers on a worksheet, but with one caveat – they must check the answers were correct!
The core task was to ask ChatGPT about a type of energy resource, and then rate the quality of its answer. Here’s my first attempt:
As we can see, it wasn’t too bad an answer. However, things got a lot worse when I asked for the advantages and disadvantages, from an IGCSE Physics perspective:
You can read more on the link above, but essentially most of what the AI said wouldn’t be correct in an exam. What this shows is that while ChatGPT could be a good starting point, there’s a lot of work that students would need to do in order to get their answers into an acceptable form for their exams.
The students reaction
It was fascinating to watch students as they went through the exercise. At first, they were amazed by it, asking all sorts of questions from subject-specific ones like ‘describe the causes of the second world war’, to the esoteric like ‘should I eat avocado?’. However, as they started the work, they quickly became dissillusioned. Some of the comments I heard were:
- What’s the point? Why don’t we just use the textbook?
- Urgh, it takes so long to check everything, why can’t they just use the core knowledge document?
- I keep thinking it’s find and then somebody points out another mistake.
Now, I’m luck that my class is extremely high-attaining and have strong subject knowledge. The average grade is a strong A*, with no students working below a B. I’m fairly confident that most students could get themselves to a grade B using the tool, but to gain anything higher than that they would have to spend more time on checking each answer against their textbook than if they just went to the textbook in the first place.
In summary, ChatGPT is an interesting tool and provides a nice set of starting answers, but it’s not going to revolutionise education. Because it doesn’t understand what it’s saying, none of its answers will be nuanced or explain the subtle differences in language that make good feedback important. I can see a role for for those with absurdly high class sizes, where individual feedback isn’t possible, but I don’t think it’s going to replace 1:1 conversations any time soon. Additionally, it can get a student currently working around a grade E to a B, but can’t really help the understanding of any students at a B or above, since its answers just aren’t specific enough.