A few weeks ago with the release of ChatGPT, there was a frenzy about the impact it would have on the world, especially learning. Some school systems figured out ways to circumvent the technology, predicting that crafty students would use the technology to reduce their workload, do their homework, or even write their papers. As some schools cracked down, another crafty student came to save the day with an even newer technology that would identify AI-written documents. And so it continues, the futile game of chasing and defending against advancements in technology in schools. We saw this play out with Google search, with cell phones, with calculators, and if you can believe, even with books and written text. Fearful thinkers believed that these advancements would ultimately lead to the demise of learning– or at least a demise of the efforts required for meaningful learning.
Fighting technology is indeed an endeavor in futility and even worse, it counters the goal of preparing students for the real world. What if schools took an approach to ban the use of ChatGPT in classrooms and then students entered a workforce where this and other technologies like it were commonplace?
I offer another possibility as we have now entered a new phase of technology with generative AI – unleash it and let the students and teachers grapple with new learning possibilities that could be created. Here is a starting point: If ChatGPT destroys your assignment or your ability to assess student learning, it is time to rethink your assignment. For example, instead of having students write a report on a historical figure, students can use ChatGPT for historical simulations and role-playing. Students can interact with AI-generated characters by asking questions and engaging in conversations to learn more about a historical event or figure. Another idea is to allow students to use ChatGPT to engage in debates with AI. Much of the angst that is occurring now in our classrooms around this new technology is that it is directly showcasing the outdated models in which we are assessing student learning. This is not a new tension. For far too long, many of our learning models and assessments have been rooted in memorization and regurgitation. Even our comprehensive exams are rooted in savvy test taking skills, not the skills and abilities that today’s learners will need to thrive in their world.
ChatGPT is exposing these weaknesses of our existing systems. The new possibility for us is to focus on students and teachers becoming generative in their own thinking and practice. For the last 20 years, renowned researcher, Dr. Arnetha Ball, has researched generative educators that she describes as pedagogical problem solvers. These are educators who deeply understand the needs of their learners and are in a constant state of their own reflection, learning, and growing. They create learning environments where new knowledge is in constant formation between teachers and students. Her research found that teachers who became generative in their approach helped create students who became generative as well. In this regard, the technology that is ever evolving and ever changing is never the center of the classroom but merely a tool that fosters deeper and more meaningful possibilities.
Imagine the teacher that realizes that the hours spent pouring over writing their next lesson plan, could instead be outsourced to ChatGPT and that time newly found time could be spent learning their students or personalizing their lessons to meet individual student needs. Imagine a student that spends hours researching a topic to write the same paper that hundreds of students have already written, and instead used that time to create a project from their voice and their perspective based on that research that could have a deeper impact on the world.
Most futurists predict that the pace of technology and technological advancements will continue to increase exponentially. The response to generative AI (or most technology advancements) is not fighting against it or preventing students and teachers from using it. It is helping our students and teachers build a mindset of generative thinking and learning that allows them to adjust their practices based on the evolution of the world around them, the needs of their students, and the goals of their lessons. Our students are already embracing this reality. It is time for our institutions to do the same.