The new artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot known as ChatGPT is poised to have an outsized effect on the educational landscape, for better or for worse.
Which outcome it will lead to is largely in the hands of parents, educators, and—ultimately—our children, and how they respond to it.
To ignore it is to do so at one’s own risk.
All of this hasn’t been lost on students.
Ban or Block ItThis will probably be the default course of action for many institutions, in due course. New York City’s public schools led the way, banning ChatGPT in January 2023. Others across the country have followed suit, with more surely to do the same, as the ramifications of the new technology are fully felt.
Banning it isn’t as easy as one might imagine, however. Suppose the chatbot’s website is blacklisted by a school’s firewall. That’s a good start, as it means no access through the campus internet portal.
But internet access is far more ubiquitous than in decades past, and so that pesky bot is everywhere your child’s smartphone goes, too. What’s to prevent a student from accessing it, say, in the cafeteria, hallway, or bathroom, away from prying eyes and off the school network?
For a ban on school grounds to really reach full impact, it means collecting smartphones and other devices with internet capability. While some schools have no-device policies (with independent schools leading the way), the majority don't, and implementation adds what for many would be a large layer of a logistical nightmare.
Have That Talk About the Birds and BotsThe bees can wait. The bots can’t.
Even if your child is in elementary school, it isn't too early to have some important conversations about the responsible use of technology and the ethics of using AI tools.
While almost every child knows by a certain age that cheating is wrong, with ChatGPT, the lines can become blurred. It can do many helpful and productive things, after all, and it can serve as a resource or tool for studying and learning. Many educators are trying to tap into this side and teach kids to use it constructively.
But the problem is that it’s a slippery slope, and one is never more than just a few clicks (or “prompts,” more accurately) away from letting the chatbot do all the thinking—or essay writing—for you. It’s easy to have a moment of weakness, or panic, that leads to a very bad decision. And even at its best, as a research tool or study aid, the tool might very well foster dependency.
If you’re looking for an analogy, I think it’s never been more appropriate to invoke the phrase "playing with fire."
All of these are things that should be talked about. And that’s true every bit as much if your household (or school) opts to block ChatGPT. It’s important for children to know the "why" of the decision, and understand that it’s a reasoned move that has to do with their best interests.
Perhaps the greatest teachable moment of it all is the chance to foster moral reasoning, virtuous decision-making, and personal responsibility.
Make a Pledge of It
Talk may be cheap, as they say. So why not go one step further and consider implementing—at the school level—an honor code? In days past, many institutions prided themselves on such things and made honor pledges and the like a defining part of character-centered education.
Rites of passage and traditions such as these provide a powerful buttress against the lure of technologies and tendencies that might cater to our lesser whims.
Provide Strategic Professional DevelopmentOne recent survey by Study.com found that 72 percent of teachers haven't received any form of faculty guidance on how to handle ChatGPT. That means the majority of teachers are having to go it alone, professionally, on this one.
While the topic is certainly the stuff of lunchtime chats, casual conversations, and ad hoc troubleshooting, these are no substitutes for administrative guidance on the matter. School leaders need to provide training and perspectives—and ideally, a position—on handling the technology if faculty are to respond as thoughtfully as possible and, more importantly, all be on the same page.
Make Smart Pedagogical Moves
There's a lot that teachers can do, in terms of lesson planning and teaching methods, to offset the potential of ChatGPT causing damage. These needn't be seen as concessions, however. There are well-founded pedagogical moves that many might want to explore, anyway, if new to them.
One move is to consider “flipping” one’s classroom to some degree. That means, in simplest terms, assigning what would normally be in-class direct instruction (e.g., “lecturing”) as out-of-class assignments. Students would watch a video clip, at home and in their own time, of the presentation and come to class ready to engage in discussion, role plays, and work related to what was taught in the video. This would include doing writing work, for example, in an English class.
This also has the advantage of freeing up teachers to engage with students, one on one or in small groups, and provide individualized feedback in real time. It allows the instructor to take on more of a “coach” type role—for instance, circulating and helping students to implement key points for constructing an opening paragraph, or solving a quadratic equation.
This also can result in some really terrific energy in the classroom, as pens are whirling, keys are clicking away, and focused conversations are happening. Everyone’s on task, doing actual work. It can build a great amount of student confidence, as nobody is ever apt to be stuck for long. I’ve personally loved being able to help get young essay writers out of “writers block” with on-the-spot tips, prompts, and encouragement.
(For the many English teachers who’ve embraced a writing workshop model, as in the above description, ChatGPT is about as frightening as a fly on the wall.)
While this might have sounded onerous for the educator a few years ago when the “flipped” movement was getting a lot of buzz, in a post-pandemic era, it’s old hat for many. Or at least, not a huge leap. Abundant resources are there to support the transition. Check out the website modernclassrooms.org for resources, videos, and research supporting the approach.
Even if one doesn’t go all the way in flipping things around, a little tinkering can go far. To illustrate, for a social studies paper, initial research could be done as a class in the library, as several of my colleagues like to do. (It’s a great chance to teach and model information-gathering skills, apart from a nice change of scene!)
That can be followed up with hashing out an initial thesis statement in class, along with doing a first outline there. (I often like to see this done on good old-fashioned paper, as it’s more tangible and allows for rich markup from peers or the teacher on the spot.) One can also do other forms of pre-writing in class, which allows the teacher to guide students through it and see their work in real time. Again, this by default makes everything transparent.
You can also go a step further by allotting time in class for constructing opening paragraphs or even writing much of the first draft—perhaps even, again, on paper.
All of this not only builds confidence in students and gives them valuable practice and time on task, but also makes their thinking visible. To help students get the most out of it, I like to give feedback at each stage of the writing process; peer feedback is great, too.
Benchmark ItHere’s one last suggestion for those wishing to go the extra mile, and for those who are still leery about the specter of the bot (which perhaps your school has yet to ban).
In the first week of school, have students write an essay, in class and by hand, as a baseline or “benchmark” assessment. It doesn’t matter so much what the topic is, though it might be wise to have it mirror the type of writing students will be doing in your class later on (e.g., persuasive, narrative, etc.). It could spill over to a second class if need be.
The point is to capture a sample of where the student is at and what their work looks like, left to their own (non-electronic!) devices. File it away, and should the need ever arise, you’ll have a reference point for what the student’s unadulterated work looks like. It can be surprisingly helpful.
Think of this as an old-school plagiarism detector. It may not be AI-powered, but it’s apt to be just as good, if not better.