When spell check and grammar check features became available in the late 1970s, critics feared that we would rely on technology to edit our work and that the quality of our writing would diminish. Then when the internet first appeared in 1983, critics worried that people would lose the ability to think critically.
Both the internet and spell/grammar check features have become a mainstay in writing and we rely on them for research and editing our work. Today ChatGPT – an artificial intelligence software program that provides instant research results and can write an original essay in a matter of seconds – is the new obsession. Teachers and administrators are anxiously searching for ways to ban it and penalize students for using it.
Now that the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting it back, so we best find how we can make GPT a positive educational tool.
One of the benefits of GPT is that all students have equal access to it. It’s like having a private tutor, 24/7, to answer questions and help write essays. Up until now, only wealthy students have had access to private tutors who teach concepts that they didn’t get in school and help them prepare for exams. These students have also had the luxury of private tutors who organize, edit, and even write their essays. With GPT, all students will have the opportunity to get individualized attention and guidance. It actually evens the playing field between the haves and the have nots.
I recently opened a GPT account to experiment with it. I recommend that everyone do this before condemning it. Go to https://chat.openai.com/chat to enter a question. Ask it to write an essay. You’ll see that it writes a good essay using proper grammar and spelling. It may suggest that you add information to personalize it. As you read the responses, you’ll see that GPT functions like a personal search engine and secretary. The writing style is basic; nobody is going to win essay contests with GPT.
While we have become dependent on spell check, has created a generation of poor spellers. Likewise, grammar check helps us keep pronouns matching their antecedents, and reminds us of parallel structure and verb agreements, but sadly, has not helped us learn these skills as they autocorrect our writing. In other words, spell check and grammar check features temporarily help students with assignments but they don’t make them better writers.
Recently, teachers now have access to software that will be able to detect if ChatGPT (or other programs) were used in writing students’ essays. This will be a never-ending challenge for the AI and the software-detection developers, similar to the programs that teachers use to detect plagiarism.
Some teachers are now requiring students to handwrite in-class essays. Others are providing students with word processors that allow them to type their responses in class without access to the internet. GPT is forcing us to quickly adapt to new ways of doing research and writing essays.
When classes were conducted online in Zoom during the COVID pandemic, teachers cleverly administered exams (without access to search engines and textbooks) while students were at home. Naturally, some students found ways to cheat by finding ways around GPT-detection software.
Since OpenAI released GPT-3 in June 2020, there’s been an uproar about how to grade student performance. Maybe we’re going to have to rethink what we are testing and how we are evaluating student learning. With search engines at our fingertips 24/7, do we really need to make students memorize facts like dates and names? If we want students to identify their beliefs or perspectives, should we allow them to use GPTs to write the first draft but require them to personalize their ideas by incorporating them in further drafts? Maybe teachers will ask students to defend their writing or request that they add new material that will require critical thinking, research, grammar, and style to their essays.
If GPT helps everyone produce well-written essays and comments that reflect their ideas, should we welcome this refreshing opportunity? Over the past decade, the ability to communicate ideas in writing have dwindled away with the vast expansion of text messaging. Without an emoji, many text messages are incoherent and often don’t make sense. Has good writing become a lost art?
The future of GPT programs and software to detect machine-generated text will be ever improving. I hope that students will learn how to use these powerful resources to improve their written communication skills by giving them a start with GPT drafts. Educators have a new opportunity to teach concepts, utilize these AI software programs, and evaluate student learning and progress. We are in the midst of a huge paradigm shift – whether or not we like it.