Learning and Teaching in the Age of AI: Exploring the Use of ChatGPT in Class

Categories: Teaching Effectiveness Award Essays

By Meg Everett, Berkeley School of Education

Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2023

Washed in sunlight and seated in a bright room, the man smiles sanguinely at the camera and describes GPT-4 as a simple tool that solves real human needs. “The obvious one where these systems have incredible potential is in education,” he says optimistically. It is difficult to reconcile the ingenuous positivity displayed in OpenAI’s promotional video with the furrowed brows and hand-wringing of educators and instructors managing the integration of AI chatbots into the classroom. But whether we utilize GPT-text detection software or retool our assignments to circumvent its use by students, AI and its tools are available to students and here to stay. Afterall, when I asked my class if they had tried using ChatGPT, every hand but one went into the air. Rather than foreclose our minds to its utility for fears of plagiarism, what would happen if we involved students in the conversation about the pedagogical possibilities and pitfalls of using ChatGPT to accomplish their learning goals in our class and at large? 

To answer this question, I had my students first engage with multiple texts and perspectives on ChatGPT in order to place it within the broader historical and sociocultural context. They viewed OpenAI’s website, read an investigation on the company’s exploitation of workers to filter traumatic content, and contrasted articles bemoaning the death of the college essay with strategies on how ChatGPT can be incorporated into classrooms. After discussing these broader debates, we examined its use within our own course content. We viewed the ways that instructors and/or students can develop guiding questions for the complex texts they were required to read (quite successfully) and place the authors in conversation with one another (fairly superficially). We evaluated how well ChatGPT could complete class tasks and debated what is gained and lost by using ChatGPT for the creation and completion of assignments. Students spoke to the importance of understanding the tool as a large language model in order to approach its outputs with an eye for revision, correction, and bias. The conversation traveled dynamically across the room as students called upon one another to share their experiences using ChatGPT as a support or scaffold and posed questions about its potential and limitations. 

To both assess and learn from their expertise as students who have the tool at their literal fingertips, I posed the following reflection question regarding our objective at the outset: What changes do schools need to make to accommodate new technology and equip students with the digital literacies needed to thrive in the 21st century? In their responses, students voiced that instructors must not avoid ChatGPT, but make an effort to guide students to use it in a critical, responsible, and ethical way. Using the chatbot for homework seemed to be the least of their concern, pivoting instead to what the proliferation of AI tools means for the future. As media scholar Henry Jenkins wrote, “A focus on expanding access to new technologies carries us only so far if we do not also foster the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to deploy those tools toward our own ends.” As educators it is our responsibility to not only convey our disciplinary content, but support students in learning to learn, as we learn to teach, in the age of AI.