Letting ChatGPT into the classroom could open doors to preparing teachers and students for the future
- While there are valid concerns about the use of ChatGPT, it offers positive teaching and learning opportunities for both educators and students
- An AI-assisted writing classroom could have many different entry points to broaden student engagement and prepare them for a future that is already here
ChatGPT could have easily completed a similar 1,000-word reflection in under five minutes. It might have produced the same kind of message with the right prompt and meticulous clarifying questions I supplied.
Polytechnic University, my home university, recently completed the first of many ChatGPT webinars attended by more than 500 participants, demonstrating the tool and discussing a range of teaching and assessment implications. PolyU has an AI and Data Analytics secondary major for undergraduates in several of its departments, so we are expected to be positioned to understand ChatGPT as much as possible and to be prepared.
Writing for The Atlantic, Stephen Marche argued that the undergraduate essay “has been the centre of humanistic pedagogy for generations. It is the way we teach children how to research, think and write. That entire tradition is about to be disrupted from the ground up”.
I see where these arguments are coming from, but this early in the game, I am cautiously swimming with lots of positive teaching and learning opportunities for myself and my students rather than drowning in apprehension.
Last November, I joined a group of applied linguists and English writing centre instructors from the southeastern United States in testing and exploring the deployment of ChatGPT in university English writing classrooms and what to do with it from assessment to policy. I was initially blown away primarily by how interactive and conversational it was, producing quick and extensive – if prompted – responses that went beyond culled or generic outputs.
You could argue with it, and it felt at times like you were communicating or debating with a polite expert or a very conscientious customer service representative who knew how to sell products well.
The first output from my test prompt would likely receive a grade of B- to B following my typical rubric for an argumentative essay assignment. There was certainly room for improvement.
There also was a clear citation mistake, with one of Frost’s collections of poems identified as published in 2016. However, with follow-up strategic prompts and its polite ways of revising or disagreeing with me, it eventually got an A in my imaginary gradebook.
Accessing ChatGPT from Hong Kong via a virtual private network (VPN) and a US phone number is a challenge for me from time to time. Even so, I have enjoyed it, running out of academic essay prompts to test and focusing more on ephemeral topics on music, photography, dogs and all sorts of ideas that still generated output ranging from the interesting and creative content to the unoriginal or questionable.
If I stopped there, my Frost essay and Cocoa poem would certainly not contribute new knowledge. These activities didn’t make me think, and produce something I could claim as my own. I did not create or write what I had on my screen and shouldn’t be able to put my name on it, for doing so is hi-tech plagiarism.
But I see many entry points in a space like this for my students in the emerging AI-assisted writing classroom. I envision engagement opportunities that will prompt them to conduct their own additional research, read more and check for errors as they edit.
I will emphasise to my students that ethical considerations will always matter in my classroom and that I know what they know about the tool. Ultimately, I see my work as helping my students prepare for tomorrow because it’s here, now.
Eric Friginal is professor and head of the Department of English and Communication and director of the Research Centre for Professional Communication in English at Hong Kong Polytechnic University