Here Comes chatGPT…Paradigm Shift or Higher Ed Hype Cycle?

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With the start of the Spring 2023 semester, educators from K-12 through university were greeted with a barrage of headlines like those below announcing the arrival of chatGPT…

Will Artificial Intelligence Kill College Writing?

Alarmed by A.I. Chatbots, Universities Start Revamping How They Teach

ChatGPT is coming for classrooms. Don’t panic

ChatGPT passes exams from law and business schools

The amount of information on chatGPT has mushroomed over the last couple of months, as the constant stream of articles, opinions, interviews and podcasts about the topic of AI in education has grown on a daily basis (I’m adding to it here). To say that it is overwhelming is laughable…and it can be exhausting to try to keep up with the webinars, link farms, and resources being developed. As I sample from the media-hyped stream, it is easy to understand why the initial response among a good number of faculty has focused on concerns about plagiarism and the end of college writing. These are fair and reasonable concerns to be sure. We also find ourselves in a rapidly developing landscape, and the conversations about chatGPT specifically – and AI in general – are taking on much more gravity as we begin to think about the implications of a society shaped by AI. We remain in the early days of understanding the implications of what is unfolding in front of us…there is so much to learn.

Given the mountains of information that have been written about chatGPT / AI in education over the past several weeks it might seem futile to curate resources, but I’ll attempt to share a few I’ve found most helpful (or at least interesting)…and maybe you’ll find them helpful too…

General Overview
The Center for New Directions in Teaching & Learning at Georgetown University, has put together a great primer on chatGPT and some pedagogical considerations for higher education faculty, see their page…Chat GPT and Artificial Intelligence Tools. The UC Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning has shared some useful guidance on their Understanding AI Writing Tools and their Uses for Teaching and Learning.

Writing Assignments / Assessments
Anna Mills from the Writing Across the Curriculum Clearinghouse, offers a great starting point for writing instructors – AI Text Generators and Teaching Writing: Starting Points for Inquiry. Anna has also been working to compile a resource page sharing ideas to generate discussion of AI in education – AI Text Generators: Sources to Stimulate Discussion among Teachers. There is also a wonderful post at the Critical AI site that offers some compelling guidance about teaching writing – Adapting College Writing for the Age of Large Language Models: Some Next Steps for Educators.

Using chatGPT with Students?
One response to chatGPT has been to integrate the use of chatGPT use within a course. Some faculty members have begun to think of ways to explore / examine the chatbot with their students, or to use it in ways that might enhance teaching and learning. Really compelling and creative ideas are just beginning to emerge, but we are in a real experimental stage here. At the outset, I’m excited about the potential of these ideas, but I am also a little skeptical of the current “free” use of chatGPT, during OpenAI’s “research phase”. When the tool is “free” to use I am often left with the feeling that I am the labor…generating input and data. That aside, in order to use it, you need an account, and it is worth reading OpenAI’s privacy policy to understand how they can use your data. There are also equity and ethics concerns that I am wondering about, and I’m not sure we have a clear understanding of these issues just yet…I know I sure don’t. Autumn Caines has written thoughtfully about some of these concerns, and offers some interesting ideas if you are considering using chatGPT with your students…Prior to (or instead of) using ChatGPT with your students. One thing for sure, learning to use AI is an emergent skill, and we’ll have to teach our students (and ourselves) how to do that in meaningful ways.

The curation and organization of resources about AI / chatGPT in education could be a full-time job these days…which means there is no shortage of articles and resource pages to sort through. Where to start? Here is a library of articles on Zotero  being curated by higher education faculty and support staff. A grassroots effort among educational developers has created the AI in Education Resource Directory. And some additional resources curated by Bryan Alexander can be found at the Future Trends Forum. You may see a little bit of overlap, so maybe some selection bias on my part.

Opinion & Insight
There is no shortage of opinions on chatGPT…but thought I’d go ahead and share a few that resonated with me – so your mileage may vary. Ian Bogost’s piece in The Atlantic helped to quell some initial hype, and point out some important limitations of chatGPT, read ChatGPT is Dumber Than You Think. For an informed and sober view of what chatGPT is – and isn’t – check out Dan Lametti, who is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Acadia University. His take that, A.I. Could be Great for College Essays, provides a great balance of historical context and thoughts on pedagogical use. Prof. Lametti also gave a talk, AI and Academia: The End of the Essay? which was among the most informative I’ve seen. And recently, I’ve been reading more from Ethan Mollick, who is Associate Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has been writing extensively on the use of chatGPT in general and in his courses…start with, All my classes suddenly became AI classes. The Ezra Klein Show hosted Gary Marcus for a great interview that is also worth a listen, A Skeptical Take on the A.I. Revolution.

What’s Next?
So it seems higher education finds itself at an interesting crossroads with AI, and it is not really a question of whether AI will shape the future of education, but rather how much and in what ways. And given this, I feel like the liberal arts are uniquely positioned to embrace AI with a sense of curiosity, imagination and critique that can contribute to our understanding of what it means to augment the human intellect.

Jeff Nugent