Last November, when ChatGPT was released, many schools felt as if they’d been hit by an asteroid.
In the middle of an academic year, with no warning, teachers were forced to confront the new, alien-seeming technology, which allowed students to write college-level essays, solve challenging problem sets and ace standardized tests.
Some schools responded by banning ChatGPT and tools like it. But those bans didn’t work, in part because students could simply use the tools on their phones and home computers. And as the year went on, many of the schools that restricted the use of generative artificial intelligence — as the category that includes ChatGPT, Bing, Bard and other tools is called — quietly rolled back their bans.
There is a lot of confusion and panic, but also a fair bit of curiosity and excitement. Mainly, educators want to know: How do we actually use this stuff to help students learn, rather than just try to catch them cheating?
Educators — especially in high schools and colleges — should assume that 100% of their students are using ChatGPT and other generative AI tools on every assignment, in every subject, unless they’re being physically supervised inside a school building.
At most schools, this won’t be completely true.
Some students won’t use AI because they have moral qualms about it, because it’s not helpful for their specific assignments, because they lack access to the tools, or because they’re afraid of getting caught.
But the assumption that everyone is using AI outside class might be closer to the truth than many educators realize.
There are many ways AI could reshape the classroom.
Ethan Mollick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, thinks the technology will lead more teachers to adopt a “flipped classroom” — having students learn material outside of class, and practice it in class — which has the advantage of being more resistant to AI cheating.
But students need guidance when it comes to generative AI, and schools that treat it as a passing fad — or an enemy to be vanquished — will miss an opportunity to help them.
“A lot of stuff’s going to break,” Mollick said. “And so we have to decide what we’re doing, rather than fighting a retreat against the AI.”