Chat GPT–just another calculator, stick shift or spell check?

First three stories.

One.  When I took the SATs years ago, no calculators were allowed.  Square roots?  Do the time-consuming math in longhand.  Sine, cosine, and tangent?  Draw and label the triangles, write the formulas from memory (no formulas were given within the exam), and compute.  Today 55 minutes of the SAT allows calculators.  Some of the drudgery of the test has been eliminated.

Two.  When I learned to drive a car, I needed to learn and be tested on a stick shift.  I had to depress the clutch every time I changed a gear.  When starting uphill from a parked position, I needed to release the brake, depress the clutch and maneuver into first gear all in one quick, smooth motion or the car would stall.  But years later, I drove an automatic shift, and didn’t need to depress the clutch (there wasn’t any!) or shift gears or stress over getting into first gear going uphill.  It was so much easier.

Three.  A student wrote an essay and sent it to me online.  Squiggly lines suggested places where the software program perceived mistakes though it didn’t explain what the mistakes were.  The student clicked on each underlined word, and the software suggested corrections.  The student clicked on the suggested corrections, and the software instantly replaced the mistakes.  No dictionaries, no grammar handbooks, no need to even understand why the original mistake was wrong.

What do these stories have in common?  Technology—the kind which makes life easier.

The calculator makes computing math easier.  I still have to figure out what math to use and to input the numbers, but the calculating is done by a machine, freeing me for thinking.  An automatic transmission makes driving easier, allowing me to ignore the mechanics of driving so I can focus on the rules of driving and the actions of other vehicles.  Software backed by millions of data points and patterns  suggests writing corrections which usually are correct.

This brings me to Open AI’s Chat GPT, a controversial software which searches for patterns in millions and millions of word, grammar and sentence data.  As it finds patterns and incorporates them into its “brain,” Chat GPT becomes more and more able to suggest likely outcomes for various situations, including writing a student’s essay.

Like with the examples of technology above, Chat GPT technology makes it easier to do something—in this case, to write logically.  You can ask Chat GPT for a paragraph about many things you need written, and you can suggest a style and vocabulary, such as that of a fourth grader.  Chat GPT can do that.  It searches its vast database for vocabulary and description likely to be used in the sentences of a nine-year-old, and then it writes whatever you need.

Chat GPT is at an early stage of its development.  It needs the correct input of data to produce the desired output of writing.  It can describe accurately but it cannot “think” the way a human being can think.  It can tell what has happened, but it cannot predict.  It cannot tell you what won’t happen, or what won’t work.  If programmers corrupt the inputted data, the outputted product is corrupt—perhaps not true, perhaps using foul vocabulary, perhaps written in university academic vocabulary and sentence structure rather than those of a fourth grader.  (Garbage in, garbage out.)

We are already used to baby steps in this kind of technology, as when software offers suggestions for grammar or spelling.  Teachers use this kind of help for their own writing, so they are likely to allow it for their students’ writing as well.  So why then the bru-ha-ha about Chat GPT?

Chat GPT goes beyond suggesting a synonym or a different spelling; Chat GPT can write the whole essay.  And often teachers cannot tell the difference.  Is it so different from the following story?

A college business student took an English writing class from me.  I questioned him about a paper he turned in because it seemed much better written than the student’s in-class assignments.  “Oh, I gave it to my father’s secretary, and she fixed it,” he said.  “Fixed it?”  “Well, mostly she wrote it,” he said.  He justified the situation by saying he worked for his father, and would inherit the business, and would always have a secretary to write for him.  “I don’t need to know how to write,” he said,  I explained this to the academic dean.  “Let it go,” she said.  The student graduated from a four-year college though he couldn’t write a coherent paragraph.

Is Chat GPT giving our students the latest iteration of a calculator, a stick shift, or spell check?  Or is Chat GPT giving students their own online secretaries–leveling the playing field for students who don’t have their father’s secretary to write their papers?  Is Chat GPT a bad thing?  Does it matter?


One response to “Chat GPT–just another calculator, stick shift or spell check?

  1. I understand your concerns regarding the rapid advancement of AI and its potential impact on various jobs and industries. However, I believe that this rapid development can be seen as an opportunity for growth and adaptation, rather than a threat. As a teacher, you have a unique opportunity to help students navigate and adapt to these changes in a positive and future-oriented way.

    First, we must remember that AI is a tool designed to enhance human capabilities and not to replace them entirely. The increasing presence of AI in various industries will shift the demand for skills towards those that are uniquely human, such as creativity, empathy, and collaboration. As a teacher, you can help your students develop these skills and focus on the areas where humans will continue to excel.

    Moreover, AI can be used to revolutionize the education system itself. By leveraging AI, we can create personalized learning experiences, identify and address knowledge gaps, and provide real-time feedback. This can help you, as an educator, to better understand your students’ needs and provide tailored support to help them grow and succeed.

    Additionally, the integration of AI in the workforce can free up time and resources for humans to focus on more meaningful tasks. By automating routine and repetitive jobs, we can create more opportunities for individuals to engage in work that is creative, innovative, and fulfilling.

    In conclusion, the rapid advancement of AI presents us with numerous opportunities to adapt and evolve. As a teacher, you play a crucial role in shaping the future workforce and preparing your students for this ever-changing landscape. By embracing AI and using it to enhance your teaching methods, you can help your students develop the skills necessary to thrive in the age of AI, and contribute positively to society.


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