By Sydney Montgomery, CEO, Outline It.
Before we can adequately consider the impacts of ChatGPT and generative AI on education we must first do a hard analysis of the purpose of education.
Researchers agree that attention to developing critical thinking skills in children is sorely lacking in education today. We focus and emphasize information memorization and regurgitation without realizing that we are failing to develop essential skills in our students. The main purpose of education should be to teach skills in students that are transferable and prepare them for their futures and scenarios outside of the confines of an educational setting.
Alongside critical thinking, communication and thought-processing skills should be the focus of ELA classes in primary and secondary education. However, 75% of employers say the students they employ are missing these critical thinking skills. What’s more, 89% of Black 8th grade students were not proficient in writing, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
In short, our current educational methods aren’t working.
ChatGPT is mainly an issue if we’re focused on information regurgitation, but it is in essence another way of democratizing access to education like Google or Wikipedia. Students can type, and hopefully one day speak, their questions in their own words and language and get answers and information with responsive and developed feedback. No more worrying about formulating your search engine query just right.
More importantly, utilizing GenAI in the classroom effectively could be part of closing the disparities in literacy levels between Black and Brown children and their counterparts. We can start to reduce the equity gap in education by making sure that under-resourced schools are able to leverage these technologies to reduce the burden on overworked teachers while still meeting the various needs of diverse learners.
GenAI can be a powerful tool in helping students mature the critical thinking skills needed to develop strong arguments. We take for granted the learning that can be developed from having intellectual debates with peers and being challenged by someone with more knowledge and experience on a topic than you in the room. However, this kind of scholarly and intellectual discourse doesn’t often happen at under-resourced schools where teachers are not only overworked and tasked with teaching overcrowded classrooms with a wide variety of learners, but they are also tasked with being social workers and meeting the basic needs of their students.
What ends up happening in these circumstances is that students often don’t end up getting the right kind of intellectual push. They don’t get their questions answered or their curiosity stimulated which would have opened up the ability for them to think more critically about the world around them. This is where ChatGPT and other models can come into place by being that intellectual thought partner that pushes back on their ideas, helps them see counterarguments they didn’t consider, forces them to defend their position or ultimately come to a new understanding.
Having students engage with ChatGPT or other GenAI bots also gives them the opportunity to critique AI-generated answers, forcing them to find holes in another’s argument which is strong preparation for the types of scholarly critique expected in a collegiate liberal arts setting. What will be important as we look to incorporate AI into ELA classrooms is that we are also looking at bias. Too often AI writing models are trained with a white, middle-class, suburban perspective, but it’s important to recognize that there are a variety of valid dialects and ways of speaking that need to be represented in any training models. Dialects ranging from African American Vernacular English (AVEE) to patois or creole need not be marked incorrect and invalid by AI models, but instead must be part of the learning scheme as we teach students to express themselves authentically.
There is an opportunity for ChatGPT and other generative AI models to be the bridge we need in education to further engage students in their writing process. We are at an inflection point in education and it would be a shame for us to miss this moment over fears of plagiarism or cheating. Students can become better writers, not lazier writers by incorporating AI in the classroom. AI can give us the power to create more personalized writing structures and tools that learn and adapt based on the strengths and weaknesses of the individual student, allowing teachers to more effectively teach classrooms with mixed levels and abilities. It can create more opportunities for students with IEP/504 Plans and students with executive functioning issues who struggle with motivation and writer’s block.
With threats to diversity in higher education coming from a variety of angles, it is important that we take bolder action to address the inequities in our current learning system and the gross disparities and achievement gaps of minoritized students, especially in literacy. Before our students can dream of upward mobility and achieving their goals, they must first be able to communicate.