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Utilizing ChatGPT in the classroom

  |   Anika Chaturvedi   |   Permalink   |   Research,   Students and Faculty

If an AI chatbot can write an academic paper in less than three hours, how might teachers assign writing tasks in the future?

Xiaoming Zhai, associate professor in the Mary Frances Early College of Education’s Department of Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies Education, tested the artificial intelligence (AI) tool ChatGPT in two studies, asking it to complete several tasks:

  • Write an academic paper
  • Generate an assessment
  • Grade an assessment from a rubric
  • Design customized learning guides for students
The results provide insight into the potential changes needed in creating assessments and learning goals for students, and how educators can use ChatGPT to create and grade certain assignments.

A unique tool

ChatGPT launched in November 2022. Compared to other AI tools, Zhai said ChatGPT is a unique tool and more powerful, with the ability to complete different kinds of tasks.

In the study “ChatGPT User Experience: Implications for Education,” he asked ChatGPT to write an academic paper on AI for education, using a specific list of queries for each section of the paper.

The resulting paper was well-organized and written at a professional level. However, it spawned one area of concern: accuracy.

“I think I was surprised with the result. It’s definitely over my expectations because the writing is really great in terms of the coherence of everything,” he said. “My only concern might be the accuracy. When you write something, you want to be 100% assured it is accurate instead of like 95%, especially in academic writing.”

ChatGPT’s inaccuracy cropped up in another study, “ChatGPT for Next Generation Science Learning,” where Zhai prompted ChatGPT to complete several tasks, including create an assessment about gravity, automatically grade an assessment based on a rubric, and provide personalized learning guides, including a guide for a student with dyslexia.

“When I asked ChatGPT to write a response to the assessment, there was one response that misused Newton’s Third Law. There was an error. So, users need to take responsibility for identifying the errors, but that does not happen very often. People should be aware that ChatGPT sometimes is not reliable,” he said.

Despite that error, ChatGPT returned detailed results by grading work efficiently and providing materials aligned with science standards.

Adapting assessments

ChatGPT’s ability to generate a coherent and fairly accurate essay calls into question the future of certain assessments and their usefulness. Since its launch, the tool has also sparked concerns about the potential effects on students’ work and teachers’ roles.

Though teachers may use ChatGPT for certain functions, like writing assessment tasks or creating scoring rubrics, the tool cannot replace them altogether.

“ChatGPT can be a good tool to boost teachers’ efficiency, but I don’t think it’s going to substitute teachers’ work, and teachers do need professional knowledge to use the outcomes from ChatGPT,” Zhai said.

Zhai said there are two aspects to address when bringing ChatGPT into classrooms: adapting learning materials and activities, and creating assessments that gauge students’ critical thinking and creativity skills.

“Some people worry kids will use ChatGPT to cheat on their homework. If kids can use ChatGPT to cheat, it means the homework requires much factual knowledge instead of creative tasks or critical thinking, which might not be so valuable, right?” he said. “ChatGPT can summarize or provide some knowledge or facts, but it won’t be really creative. So, I think in that sense, we need to reflect on what kind of assignments or learning activities or assessments we will provide for kids in this new environment.”

Another aspect of applying ChatGPT in the classroom is teaching students how to use it appropriately. ChatGPT can accomplish basic tasks but cannot substitute creativity, critical thinking, personal experiences, or emotions.

“It’s not a tool for cheating, it’s not a tool for playing games. I think it is really a good tool for children to learn how the professionals use technology to accomplish their job, like how scientists use AI in their everyday work,” Zhai said. “I think kids can use ChatGPT to learn new knowledge and how to deal with the kinds of emerging problems in their lives, but I think as educators, we need to study how to guide kids to use ChatGPT and other AI applications in our lives more appropriately.”

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