Artificial intelligence chatbots disrupt TPHS classrooms

With the release of ChatGPT – a large language model designed by OpenAI – artificial intelligence chatbots have found their way into humanities and science classrooms alike, forcing many educators to rethink their teaching methods and curricula.

ChatGPT takes questions from users and responds with human-like text. It can craft essays, provide solutions to homework problems and even give relationship advice.

“What should I do for Valentine’s Day?”

“Plan a romantic dinner with your significant other,” ChatGPT writes. “If you are single, you can still celebrate by treating yourself to something nice.”

Many TPHS students have tested ChatGPT, with some even using it for schoolwork. One senior, who chose to stay anonymous, asked ChatGPT to write a poem for an English assignment. He never submitted it, fearing his teacher would grow suspicious as he found ChatGPT’s writing to be “definitely better” than his own.

Another student, who also remained anonymous, said he used ChatGPT to complete five chemistry assignments. 

“[ChatGPT] prints out the notes, and I  copy it down,” he said. “It makes things easier and faster.”

David Danks, Professor of Philosophy and Data Science at the University of California, San Diego, labeled ChatGPT as both a positive and negative “disruption” to education. 

The main fear for educators, like English teacher Sara Boozer, is the potential loss in critical thinking if students begin using, or worse,  relying on ChatGPT for schoolwork. 

“I’m already seeing this fear of being wrong. This fear of creating our own ideas. I’m concerned [ChatGPT] will feed into that,” she said. 

With long-established websites like SparkNotes and Chegg that already provide homework answers, taking shortcuts to the solution is nothing new, according to English teacher Brianna Milholland. However, this reliance on the internet for answers – science teacher Brinn Belyea said –  cannot be solely blamed on technology. 

“Our school system has failed at getting students to understand that [learning] is a process, not a product,” he said. “If the product is an answer, then the answer is there – you can get it from ChatGPT.”

Boozer and TPHS Principal Rob Coppo believe assigning more in-class essays can thwart the use of ChatGPT. Students in English teacher Brandon Keller’s class have already started handwriting their assignments. Others, like Milholland, have signed up to test GPTZero, an application that can detect AI-written text. Turnitin, a plagiarism checker used by many TPHS teachers, is also developing a similar feature. 

As of now, ChatGPT’s answers are often inaccurate, as it produces answers using statistical patterns in language and does not fact-check, according to Danks. 

Edward Sun (12), who tried ChatGPT for coding, said it usually makes mistakes on complicated problems. 

Annabelle Wang (12), a creative writer, described ChatGPT’s writing as “cliche” and “uptight.” Boozer said a ChatGPT-generated essay would earn a “C” grade in her AP Literature class. 

A completely different system from ChatGPT would be needed to ensure accurate answers, UCSD Professor of Data Science Mikhail Belkin said.  

Belyea and Danks propose that ChatGPT could push education in the right direction by pressuring teachers to develop more complex assignments the AI cannot do. 

“Teachers will have to teach higher-order thinking instead of low-level stuff,” Belyea said. “Unfortunately, a lot of teachers are currently very comfortable with surface-level questions.” 

According to Danks and Belkin, one way to use ChatGPT in the classroom is by taking advantage of its shortcomings.

“A good teaching technique is to give people a bad argument and say, ‘What’s wrong with this.’ ChatGPT is pretty good at generating bad arguments,” Danks said.

For Boozer, the release of ChatGPT reaffirms her philosophy that teachers should prioritize fostering conversations, something a machine cannot currently do. 

School districts in New York City and Seattle have already banned ChatGPT from their networks and devices. Coppo expects that banning ChatGPT in SDUHSD is “forthcoming.”

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