Is a robot doing your student’s assignment?

The new online open AI tool ChatGPT can competently answer assignment questions, write essays and even answer and create multiple choice questions.

The chatbot was opened to the public in November 2022, and in less than a week surpassed the one million users mark, with people using it for things like creating code and writing essays. (Forbes, 18 January 2023)

ChatGPT is a large language model that is trained on huge amounts of existing written material. This is a type of deep learning software presented as a chat window into which the user inputs a question or keyword or phrase.

GPT stands for generative pre-trained transformer, which is a program that can write like a human.

GPT essentially searches a massive amount of written text by reading millions of articles and books online. It produces work that has perfect grammar, correct punctuation, and no spelling mistakes. After analysing a text based on users’ input it then captures the style of writing for all new articles. (The Focus, December 2022)

Public schools in NSW have banned students from using the tool, but so far independent and Catholic schools have not followed suit, saying teachers will be able to spot students who are using the software.

The NSW Department of Education’s Acting Deputy Secretary for Learning Improvement, Megan Kelly, said the ban in government schools would be in place while a review was under way.

“The Department of Education will be restricting student access to generative AI applications, including ChatGPT, on student devices or using their own device on the department’s network,” she said

Sydney Catholic Schools Chief Executive Tony Farley said there would be no blanket directive to ban ChatGPT at the 149 schools in his diocese, while the Diocese of Parramatta also has not issued a ban. (Sydney Morning Herald 22 January 2023)

One IEU member from a north shore independent said he’d tested the tool, and it had accurately answered a set of short answer questions at HSC level Economics. He said he was not sure how a ban on students using the software would work.

“How do you monitor what they’re doing at home? Take home assessments in some key learning areas are becoming pretty much a thing of the past anyway,” he said.

“Is ChatGPT any different from a student’s private tutor completing their take home task?”

Professor Matt Bower in the School of Education at Macquarie University, who specialises in the innovative use of technology for learning purposes, said the public release of ChatGPT constitutes “a major disruption to education at all levels”.

“You can ask ChatGPT to ‘explain key factors that increase risk to infectious disease’, or ‘argue the advantages of capitalism over socialism’, or ‘write a computer program in Python that finds the first n prime numbers’ and the platform will provide seemingly intelligent responses,” Professor Bower said, as he sounded a warning about implications for assignments and homework.

Look out for the next edition of IE in March for more on ChatGPT.

Sue Osborne