Brianna Cairns, Bachelor of Commerce student at Smith School of Business, and Runner-up in the 2023 CoBS Student Article Competition, looks into how students can learn to assess the limitations – but also the opportunities – that ChatGPT can offer.
Chat GPT – The biggest disruptor to education since the calculator by Brianna Cairns.
ChatGPT’s impact on education can be paralleled to a double-edged sword – on the one hand, it’s a powerful tool that can cut through the toughest academic challenges like a hot knife through butter. But on the other hand, if not used responsibly, it can dull the sharpened mind of a student, leaving them with a blade that is ineffective in the real world. So, it’s up to educators to wield this tool with care and precision, guiding their students to use it wisely and effectively, while still honing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Or at least that is what ChatGPT says when asked to “write a clever analogy to explain the impact of Chat GPT on education”.
ChatGPT, a large language model developed by OpenAI, has taken the world by storm since its launch in November 2022. And academia has been no exception; the powerful tool that can generate human-like responses to a wide range of prompts has sent many educators into a panic. The advent of ChatGPT has revolutionized the way students learn and threatens to disrupt the basis of the modern education model right down to its core. Universities must adapt their curriculum and academic integrity policies to meet such innovation or risk becoming obsolete.
ChatGPT – The over eager intern every student wishes they had
Chat GPT, much like an over eager intern working their first corporate job, is happy and willing to remove monotonous busy work from the life of its superior. When this superior is a student, ChatGPT can make a profound impact on daily life. Students will no longer have to spend hours searching for information, as ChatGPT can provide them with the answers they need in a matter of seconds. Not only can ChatGPT provide answers, but it can also go as far as formatting these answers into any desired academic format including citations and references.
Numerous types of assignments that would normally be challenging and stretch the mind of the student, have simply become a task of generating a clear prompt and proofreading the response. As the New York Times explains, “this type of A.I. really is disruptive — to classroom routines, to longstanding pedagogical practices, and to the basic principle that the work students turn in should reflect cogitation happening inside their brains, rather than in the latent space of a machine learning model hosted on a distant supercomputer” (Rose, 2023).
Academia: Woefully unprepared
A student wielding this type of power in an education system that has not yet been able to adapt to the innovation presents a wide variety of challenges, with plagiarism as a primary concern for educators. Students can easily use ChatGPT to produce essays, papers, or other academic works; work that without proper citation or attribution, would be considered plagiarism. Further conservation has centered around how much a student can be inspired or pull from ChatGPT before their submission is no longer considered their own.
Defining where the line sits is an important yet divisive topic. The underlying question that plagues these debates is often left entirely unanswered and oftentimes even unaddressed. Has the structure of independent schoolwork as we know it become redundant? Now that this technology exits can we truly expect students to not exploit it, and would we want to stop them?
Understanding the “intern’s” limitations
ChatGPT is not a magical omniscient program that can function above the restrictions of the average person, it is a technology that is very advanced but still deeply flawed. The perception that ChatGPT has all the answers creates a wide subset of problems, particularly in the hands of students.
A false sense of security can be developed in students who may detrimentally rely on the program for their learning, without developing independent critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This can lead to a lack of deeper understanding and hinder students’ ability to think critically and creatively. Ultimately this creates and promotes a culture of complacency and laziness that can quickly come to plague higher education.
ChatGPT has a list of limitations that need to be considered. While ChatGPT can provide students with a wealth of information, it may not always provide them with diverse perspectives or opinions. This can also continue to limit students’ ability to think critically and consider multiple viewpoints (Hamdan, 2023). Also, to widen the scope, ChatGPT may sometimes provide students with incorrect or incomplete information, which can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. The understanding that any output can be fundamentally incorrect and deeply flawed is imperative for the user.
ChatGPT can create very convincing outputs, even creating an explanation of a fake phenomenon look so compelling that Teresa Kubacka, a data scientist based in Zurich, Switzerland, needed to double check it was not actually real (Dr. Jason Wingard, 2023). Having the ability to decipher the real from the fake is a skill, as students become more dependent on this software, there will be a reduced ability to exercise and develop the wisdom to distinguish the truth from the fabricated.
Education is improving one AI at a time
Revolution is not always a bad thing, and the education revolution ChatGPT is set to insight has the potential to improve the learning process significantly. ChatGPT can be a beacon in modernized education that streamlines tasks and personalizes curriculum to match the student’s needs. Students armed with ChatGPT have the potential to remove monotonous tasks from their routine and instead focus more on what adds to their knowledge.
For example, students can ask ChatGPT to make flashcards from a textbook chapter to use when studying or even make an essay outline to help organize their thoughts. ChatGPT has great potential as a learning companion; it is an unprecedented multiplier of ability that can fundamentally change how students approach education (Bowman, 2022).
ChatGPT is designed to adapt to the user’s language and preferences, meaning students can receive customized learning experiences based on their needs (Hamdan, 2023). For example, if a student struggles with a particular topic, they can ask ChatGPT to explain it differently or provide more examples until they fully understand the concept. This can help students take charge of their learning, by providing access to real time unlimited one-on-one support, potentially reducing the need for office hours, and teaching assistants. Students can go as far as submitting textbook questions and their answers and ask ChatGPT to explain where they went wrong.
Despite the positive potential of the program, there is still an apparent need to mitigate challenges that exist within and because of the technology. Managing this technology-driven disruption will not be a smooth process for educational institutions, even if it can make us better off in the long run. Among the worst things educators could do would be to let the drawbacks of these technologies deny students their benefits (Brickman, 2022).
ChatGPT – just another phase of human evolution
Humans at different stages of evolution have had to deal with varying levels of complexity; when humans were first learning how to apply basic arithmetic in industry, there were numerous people employed exclusively to write out handwritten calculations to be applied to what, at the time, seemed to be very complex industrial processes. Then the modern-day calculator was invented, and people still needed to learn how to do handwritten multiplication and division and understand the properties. But the emphasis shifted, once you learned the mechanics, the expectation was that you would have access to and would use a calculator. Humanity is at a similar stage again. The overall level of complexity we can manage is drastically increasing due to a new disruptive technology.
Now that ChatGPT exists, it is the university’s responsibility to adapt and prepare students for the world they will be entering after concluding their education. Ethan Mollick, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, stated, “large language models aren’t going to get less capable in the next few years; we need to figure out a way to adjust to these tools, and not just ban them” (Rose, 2023).
From now on, students will graduate into a world full of AI programs. They should be prepared for how to utilize this type of technology in their everyday life— learning AI’s strengths and weaknesses, its hallmarks and blind spots — to understand how to best work alongside it. In order to be good citizens, students require hands-on experience to learn how this new AI works, what types of bias it contains, and how it can be misused and weaponized. This adjustment won’t be easy. Sudden technological shifts rarely are. But who better to guide students into this strange new world than their teachers (Rose, 2023)?
Managing ChatGPT in academia
As aforementioned, some of the pillars of modern-day education may no longer be effective at judging a student’s learning but rather a judge of their ability to prompt ChatGPT. This insight exemplifies the need for modernization in education to reflect the realities of the new learning environment. Universities should treat ChatGPT the way they treat calculators — allowing it for some assignments but not others and assuming that unless students are being supervised in person with their devices stashed away, they’re probably using one (Rose, 2023).
If teachers want to ensure that students understand a topic and are not relying on AI technology, and it can be reasonably assumed that the given assignment could be done entirely by Chat GPT, it is likely becoming a less and less effective assessment. Assessment formats that have been a cornerstone of education need to pivot to remain relevant. Interactive assessments can be used to ensure both academic integrity and individual student learning.
For example, a traditional discussion post often used for students to reflect on the module learnings can be replaced with live group discussions where students are graded on the quality of their contribution. This would ensure students have read and absorbed the module content, as ChatGPT cannot tell them precisely what to say due to the random nature of a live group discussion.
Additionally, any take-home assignment or examination which is primarily theory implementation with little critical analysis should be pivoted to an in-person environment where students are either proctored or will not have access to a computer. This can help ensure that students still gain an understanding of the fundamental mechanics of a topic without entirely relying on AI.
That being said, there are a variety of assessments for students that already understand the general mechanics of a subject that need to be adjusted for modernization. AI is the new tool, and students should be trained on how to use it effectively and safely. This is an area where case-based learning can be very effective.
A case-based approach engages students in discussing specific scenarios that resemble or typically are real-world examples. This method is learner-centred, with intense interaction between participants as they build their knowledge and work together as a group to examine the case. The instructor’s role is that of a facilitator while the students collaboratively analyze and address problems and resolve questions with no single answer (Case-Based Learning | Centre for Teaching and Learning, 2020). This format is ideal in a post-ChatGPT world for many reasons; cases have layers, there is often a variety of conflicting perspectives to consider, it will likely require a multi-pronged solution, and a variety of theories to be applied to different sections of the case. AI such as ChatGPT is likely many generations away from being able to comprehend the level of complexity to give students an answer to complex issues.
Ultimately, ChatGPT is just the beginning of the forthcoming AI revolution. Education as we know it has already changed, now the question remains how universities will respond. ChatGPT is forcing modernization to occur in academia, society is on the precipice of an exciting new outlook on learning.
- Link up with Brianna Cairns on LinkedIn
- Read a related article: Artificial Intelligence – how worried should we be?
- Read this and other articles in the special issue of Global Voice magazine #26
- Discover Smith School of Business, Queen’s University, Canada.
Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
Member schools are all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.
- ESSEC Business School, France, Singapore, Morocco
- FGV-EAESP, Brazil
- School of Management Fudan University, China
- IE Business School, Spain
- Keio Business School, Japan
- Monash Business School, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia
- Olin Business School, USA
- Smith School of Business, Canada
- Stellenbosch Business School, South Africa
- Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
- Warwick Business School, United Kingdom.