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ChatGPT and the Undoing of Education

ChatGPT and the Undoing of Education

It is official: ChatGPT has taken the world by storm. If you are unaware, ChatGPT is an AI-based language tool that acts as an interlocutor. It can ask and answer questions, and it can apparently even admit when it has made an error. Not bound by the slick walls of tech startups in Silicon Valley, this tool is available for the general public to use. While applications for the chat tool are varied, one has particular potential for trouble: students using ChatGPT.

When I previously taught college and high school writing courses, I quickly learned that most students struggled with reading comprehension and grammatically correct writing. It is true that part of this has to do with the lackluster education system in the U.S., but it also has to do with a decline in the perceived value of reading and writing. Reading and writing, as skills and sources of enjoyment or enlightenment, do not seem to register with young people. Instead, they have retreated to their rectangular digital devices.

I remember the first week of teaching English at a high school. When I said that we would be learning how to format in MLA (Modern Language Association) style and construct a works cited page, one of the students simply said that they all could just watch a video on TikTok to learn these skills. It turned out that TikTok provided the student with incorrect information. But this small anecdote reveals a lot about the headspace of high school students: They believe that all they need to know is readily available within a 60-second social media video.

Unfortunately, it appears that the introduction of ChatGPT is only going to make matters worse. There was a recent report that the language tool had passed a U.S. medical licensing exam. A second report revealed that a philosophy college student had used ChatGPT to write a full essay. It is also important to remember that these reports are based on a language tool that is still in its infancy. This should frighten those who are already alarmed by the serious decline of basic skills in young people.

It is more than plausible to imagine a world where students are awarded prestigious degrees without having completed the majority of the work, having leveraged AI language tools that go undetected by even the most astute teachers and professors. The ability for young people to conjure a syntactically sound sentence may soon be a thing of the past. And while ChatGPT may be able to write, it can never replace human writing and the skillset that comes from learning to write and read. One can only hope that there is a collective pushback against the dreary world that could soon manifest.

Additionally, the decline of reading and writing skills is in proportion to the rise of artificial intelligence that could very well threaten human jobs, and by extension, well-being in the future. If there is technology currently being developed that makes human tasks easier and faster, it is not difficult to logically conclude that our ways of navigating the world may soon be obsolete. I do not suggest that we will soon be living in a tech-ridden dystopia, but I am suggesting that human beings may find themselves struggling to navigate a world that has been overtaken by a tool that is efficient in virtually every way.

However, there appears to be a silver lining to this alarming development. Tech gurus, such as Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, have recently signed a petition demanding a 6-month pause on the development of AI that exceeds the power of GPT-4, the latest iteration of ChatGPT. The petition states that the dramatic race for “human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity.”

In the meantime, it is worth asking why students are tempted to cheat using ChatGPT. Learning can sometimes be difficult, of course, but it’s worth noticing that the focus of many students today is to cheat to an end product, thus bypassing the actual purpose of education: learning. When did education become about the appearance of results at the expense of learning? Shouldn’t we be examining why the education system today gives students this idea?

Image credit: Stockton University, CC BY 1.0

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C.G. Jones
C.G. Jones
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