- Thoughts from the Head
Welcome to the Learning Curve,
We held a minute's silence yesterday in memory of Agnes Lassalle, the middle school Spanish teacher who was murdered by a 16 year old student in her own classroom on Wednesday. This is awful news to hear and our thoughts were and are very much with her loved ones and the whole community at College - Lycee Saint-Thomas d’Aquin.
It’s difficult to know how to reflect on these moments. Thankfully they are incredibly rare but, nevertheless, they resonate very strongly with educators around the world who work with 1000’s of young people across the span of their careers. We take it for granted that the classroom is a place of safety, learning and care. Whilst teaching is not an easy profession it should never be a dangerous one and stories like this are tough to square.
Moving to other matters in the news I have stayed away from ChatGPT comments thus far as I’ve watched the debate, discussion, panic and planning play out in the world of education. In case you have been living under a rock for the last 6 months ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence program that allows users to:
- Research information in real time and get very personalised results.
- Create written content at a very high standard whilst also being able to customise it to many parameters. Including being able to write in the style of a famous person, a high school student and even being able to mimic your own style.
- Do lot’s more impressive stuff.
To say that ChatGPT is sending shockwaves through the education sector (and others) is an understatement. The reaction of teachers and professors around the world to these kinds of things is always fascinating to see. Generally, it runs along the lines of “the sky is falling” type thinking. This is because it is seen by those who have been doing something a certain way for a long time as a threat to their position, profession and person.
Actually this is true, but only kind of.
We’ve seen this before with other seismic shifts such as the internet (see Wikipedia circa 2005 for some world class moral panic in the education world) and mobile phones. Online tutors, homework outsourcing websites and I’m fairly sure the videotape was a problem when that first arrived.
It’s fair to say that the impact and scope of ChatGPT could be greater than all of the above given its ability to personalise, mimic and create. So what do we do about that?
With these kinds of things we’ll tend to see three standard responses. Two of which I think are unhelpful!
- Control & Fight - ChatGPT is a scourge on the education system and a threat to us all. Therefore we must do all that we can to keep our system well preserved. Ban it, block it and teach that it is bad.
- Ignore - If we just pretend it’s not there then eventually it will go away.
- Learn, understand & Leverage - Let’s be curious about this. Lets understand the threats but also seek the opportunities.
… and the correct answer is?
Learn, understand and leverage. I may be wrong but it is very likely that ChatGPT and programs like it are not going away. The AI engine is going to get better and better and will become part of our lives, and the lives of our children in the same way that Google or the iPhone have.
I’m not sure I like this but that does not change the fact that it’s most probably true.
So the first thing to do. Try it for ourselves. Read about it. See what it does and does not do. Learn about it so we can speak and make decisions from a place of confidence.
Then we need to understand its implications. Both for bad and for good. This should be shared with each other and with students. For example, ChatGPT can do a pretty good job of writing an essay for a student. Fact. We can’t change that.
So what can we do?
Let’s think about the assignments we are setting and how we would like them done. Let’s consider wider methods of assessment that don’t solely rely on tasks such as these. Let’s be clear about expectations that for certain tasks ChatGPT is not to be used because the skill development is dependent on a student doing it for themselves. The vast majority of students will understand this and follow these rules.
We can then look at leveraging this tool. It does some amazing things. As part of a history assignment students can use it to interview someone from the past. It can write passages that students can critique. Students can be taught how to ask high level and probing questions through the program (more difficult than you think). Students can fact check information it produces from a known reliable source. Students can use it to gather specific information very quickly. The possibilities are enormous.
“It’s a brave new world” is A phrase that has been used by every successive generation. There is no doubt that ChatGPT can be a threat and will create some challenges. I’d like to think that we can pinpoint the threats, mitigate the challenges and be excited about what it may bring us in new learning and approaches. I think we can be the masters of our own destiny if we think in these terms.
Last question. Was my post today written by ChatGPT?
I’ll let you decide.
Have a lovely weekend everyone.
Head of School