A mind-blowing tech revolution is bearing down on you as an educator. Open AI’s ChatGPT and a hundred variations of artificial intelligence are about to delight and terrify you as they claim space in your professional life.
Even though AI apps and products might worry or upset you now, future you will use them as routinely as you now use Google.
Kirsten Thompson, president of the Manitoba Association of Educational Technology Leaders (MAETL), is deep into ChatGPT. She says artificial intelligence can help write lesson plans and class newsletters, craft grant applications, prepare slide decks, refine communication, and save you a ton of time in the process.
Whenever she demos ChatGPT to her colleagues, they recognize the possibilities instantly.
• Want a 12-question multiple-choice quiz on chapter 6 of Wuthering Heights targeted to a Grade 10 reader? Enter a prompt, wait a minute and you’ll have one.
• Need practice sheets for your pre-cal students? Feed in the Manitoba learning objectives and parameters into your prompts and you’ll have them soon enough.
• Need a set of discussion questions that align with a learning objective in the Manitoba history curriculum? Write a prompt and you’ll get them.
“The response I usually get goes something like, ‘My gosh, it would have taken me an hour to put together something like this.’ So, one reason I encourage teachers to use chat is that it can replace or automate tedious tasks. That means more face time with students.”
And that face time is critical. No amount of artificial intelligence will replace certified teachers, who do infinitely more than impart facts and figures to students. The countless professional judgements made by educators in the classroom every day are not the kind of tasks the technology can tackle. Still, there are times when AI can be more friend than foe.
Drafts Not Links
Thompson explains that while today’s search engines call up pages of links for you to explore and eventually use to fashion a draft, AI platforms give you an almost immediate draft in response to your prompts. So ChatGPT responses can become the basic foundation for whatever project you’re working on.
“We call it prompt engineering,” says Thompson. “And you can layer prompts on top of prompts to continue to refine the responses you get.
“And since all these platforms like ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Bing and Google’s Bard are language learning models, you can actually ask them for more information and get it.
“You essentially carry on a conversation. The machine is continually aware of the context of your previous prompts as you work toward getting what you need. You can’t do that with a browser.”
Thompson says it’s then up to you to review what it’s given you and use your own judgement to fact check and edit it before using. It’s like working with a partner who can retrieve and package information for you to vet and adapt for your own purposes.
“And you would never pass off someone else’s research or opinions as your own,” she says. “When you are building a piece of writing, an exam, a rubric, anything, you know what’s ethical and what’s not.”
Thompson says the biggest fear in using AI is that the results can be passed off as someone else’s work—and that opens up a whole host of concerns.
But she points to a massive open online course called ETMOOC 2.0 by University of Regina professor Alec Couros and colleagues. “The resources page is completely open to anybody and has lots of fantastic tools, including a specific section on online plagiarism checkers.”
Plus, Thompson has said for years that if students can Google the answers to your tests, then you need a better test. “Likewise, if students can use ChatGPT for your assessment, let’s face it, you need a better assessment.”
So how does a teacher get their feet wet when it comes to ChatGPT and AI?
Thompson says she’s usually leery about recommending tech books because as soon as they’re published, they’re out of date. But she wanted to find an excellent AI primer she could recommend to her teacher friends.
She found that in Matt Miller’s book AI for Educators. “A big concept in the book is you cannot look at today’s technology through yesterday’s lens.”
Freash Tech Inspires Fear
It’s natural that new technologies inspire trepidation. The calculator sparked fears of in-class cheating, the microwave oven would irradiate us by jostling food molecules, even the debit card had its detractors for scooping money directly out of our bank accounts, with no apparent opportunity for refunds.
“I’ve been watching the MTS #RealTeacherTalkMB series online and reading about how colleagues are stressed and burnt out. That’s a real issue, a complicated issue, and AI is definitely not a cure-all. But one big benefit to using chatbots and AI is that you really can save yourself time.”
Thompson says there’s an art to building the prompt; it’s not a matter of asking a single question and having AI spit out exactly what you need. “There’s a learning curve. But just like anything else, you tackle it one step at a time. And you determine exactly if or how much you want to use in your professional life.”
Curation Vs. Creation
In reality, we’ve been using AI for years, says Thompson: in Google maps that show us retail outlets near us, in algorithms displaying our preferred topics in social media—even in the autocorrect we take for granted. She says this first phase of artificial intelligence is classified as curation.
Creation, the second phase, is where AI is headed now. Here the application scans sources and intelligently selects information from them to build coherent conversational responses—which may or may not be accurate.
Tom Tarrant, principal of Manitoba’s online school InformNet, told the Winnipeg Free Press that, “When used appropriately, AI helps to spur critical thinking and engage learners. Leveraging these tools also helps our students and staff stay on top of current trends and innovations.”
Tarrant warned that some students are misusing the tools. When they do, they are affecting their own learning and are hurting themselves in the long run.
Thompson says MAETL has been promoting chatbots while educating school staff about privacy and other ethical issues when using new AI tools. At last May’s Riding the Wave conference, MAETL launched a free chatbot called BYTE along with its partner Code Breaker Inc.
Specifically designed for Manitoba students and teachers, there is no account or fee required (MAETL pays for that). It includes profanity and suicidal ideation filters, has no user login or tracking, and the reading level never exceeds Grade 12.
“Chatbots and AI are not perfect,” says Thompson.“ But given the advantages they offer us as educators, we would be remiss not to use them to their full capabilities.”
Kirsten Thompson will present a workshop on AI for Educators at this year’s COSL Winter Conference in Feb. 2024. Use the free MAETL-sponsored Code Breaker chatbot at https://www.codebreakeredu.com/chat/.
Matt Miller’s book AI for Educators: Learning Strategies, Teacher Efficiencies, and a Vision for an Artificial Intelligence Future is an excellent AI primer to ChatGPT. To learn more visit https://ditchthattextbook.com/ai-edu/.
– Originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of the MB Teacher
Raman Job is a writer for the MB Teacher magazine and the Public Relations Facilitator for The Manitoba Teachers’ Society.