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The implications of ChatGPT in teaching and learning

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Picture: Dado Ruvic/REUTERS/Illustration/February 23, 2023 – ChatGPT logo displayed on a smartphone. OpenAI chatbot ChatGPT was unveiled on November 30, 2022 in a monumental leap toward technological advancement. However, alongside its rise in popularity, ChatGPT is facing a growing tide of skepticism and apprehension linked to the broader field of AI, the writer says.

By Anthony Kaziboni

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a transformative force driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The tech empowers us to analyse more efficiently complex data, integrate information, and assist us in decision-making with unparalleled precision. In the realm of education, AI-driven tools are not only revolutionising traditional teaching methods but also reconfiguring the essence of learning as they transform the way educators and students interact and engage with each other and their work, pushing conventional pedagogical boundaries.

The highly-anticipated OpenAI chatbot ChatGPT was unveiled on November 30, 2022 in a monumental leap toward technological advancement. It swiftly amassed a user base of over 1 million within its inaugural week and has since surpassed the 100 million user mark. This uptake demonstrates the widespread enthusiasm and intrigue surrounding this groundbreaking innovation.

However, alongside its rise in popularity, ChatGPT is facing a growing tide of scepticism and apprehension linked to the broader field of AI. Notably, Dr Geoffrey Hinton, widely recognised as the “Godfather of AI”, resigned from big tech firm Google, seeking a platform to address openly the potential risks associated with this technology. Moreover, the global landscape has witnessed a measure of hesitance and reluctance from countries including China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and even Italy as the first Western nation. Their concerns primarily revolve around privacy issues and misinformation propagation, reflecting a profound tension between AI’s advantages and potential drawbacks.

Within this context, the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Institute for the Future of Knowledge (IFK) in South Africa held a thought-provoking hybrid public lecture on May 18, 2023, entitled The Implications of AI Tools in Teaching and Learning: A Case of ChatGPT, which I chaired. The main speaker was Dr Helen Crompton, an international authority in educational technology. She is a Senior Research Associate at IFK and Executive Director of the Research Institute for Digital Innovation, Department of Teaching and Learning Old Dominion University, Virginia, United States. The opening remarks were delivered by Professor Thea de Wet, Senior Director of UJ’s Centre for Academic Technologies (CAT). Professor Grace Leung, Vice Dean of Teaching and Learning at UJ’s Faculty of Science, played a crucial role as the discussant, adding depth and nuance to the discourse. To conclude the lecture, Professor Arthur Mutambara, the IFK Director, delivered closing remarks.

Professor de Wet’s insights set the stage for an intriguing lecture on the intersection of AI and education, highlighting the potential for groundbreaking advancements in pedagogical practices. She indicated that in an era characterised by an ever-accelerating pace of technological advancements, AI has emerged as a powerful force shaping numerous aspects of our lives. Among its many application domains, education stands as a critical field that the integration of AI tools has considerably transformed.

Professor de Wet also articulated the complex nature of incorporating AI tools in education, highlighting the dualistic nature of this technological advancement. Drawing attention to the growing sentiment, she underscored that AI tools could be both a powerful asset and a potential liability. For her,

While technology can potentially improve education, achieving this outcome depends on how technology is harnessed, regulated, and utilised responsibly and inclusively.

The main speaker, Dr Helen Crompton, portrayed ChatGPT as a globally recognised “hot topic”, emphasising the significance of engaging in meaningful discussions surrounding its implications. With fervour, she highlighted the criticality of delving into the profound impact of this innovative technology, encouraging open dialogues that facilitate a deeper understanding of its potential ramifications and possibilities.

In describing the efficacy of ChatGPT, Dr Crompton mirrored it with Google search, demonstrating the remarkable advancements this cutting-edge AI tool achieved. While both platforms facilitate posing questions, Google primarily retrieves relevant websites, a feature that has remained relatively unchanged over the past two decades. In stark contrast, ChatGPT exhibits a transformative capability to synthesise comprehensive answers. Furthermore, ChatGPT can generate multiple response iterations to cater to the user’s satisfaction.

The name “ChatGPT” encompasses the acronym “GPT,” which stands for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer.” The “Pre-trained” is important – the tool was trained with about 570GB of text data, including web pages, books, and other textual resources. The education expert described the chatbot’s conversational nature, likening the experience to engaging in a dialogue with an expert. This distinctive characteristic enables users to ask questions and delve deeper into subsequent inquiries, mirroring the dynamics of a genuine conversation.

Dr Crompton also discussed the importance of addressing the misuses and limitations of ChatGPT. In a passionate plea, driven by the understanding that many educators are gripped by fear when contemplating its potential impact on the sacred realm of learning. Cheating, plagiarism, inaccuracies, bias, and even harmful use emerged as pressing issues that should be confronted and addressed if we are to use the tool effectively. She also described how some users have started using the tool negatively. For example, the prompt DAN, which stands for “Do Anything Now”, makes the chatbot act beyond its restrictions and moral ethics while interacting with the user.

The knowledgeable speaker also drew attention to the long-standing lack of transformation in education, highlighting the persistent static nature of our teaching and learning methods over time. The post-Covid-19 pandemic landscape is a difficult time for educators as technology is now transforming education at an unprecedented rate. Dr Crompton reflected on the ability of educators to adapt, engage, and empower learners, as this was key to paving the way for a future where education becomes a genuinely transformative journey, empowering individuals to reach their fullest potential. She remarked,

This is a very difficult time for educators; an exciting time for education. So, this is a time we are going to remember in education for history. This, to me, is the same as Gutenberg Printing Press, the Internet…

Dr Crompton highlighted five significant areas that ChatGPT can contribute to education: Content Creation, Personalised and Engaged Learning, Tutoring and 24/7 Support, an Assessment Tool, and Task Automation. By leveraging AI for educational purposes, ChatGPT contributes to advancing Sustainable Development Goal 4’s vision of inclusive and equitable quality education for all, while empowering individuals to become lifelong learners.

The discussant, Professor Leung’s expertise in computer science and software engineering, provided a critical lens through which the audience could appreciate the technical intricacies and possibilities of AI tools in educational settings. She emphasised the undeniable presence of ChatGPT in our midst, and education in particular, and stressed the impossibility of turning a blind eye to its existence. In a thought-provoking stance, she implored educators to embrace their responsibility as torchbearers of knowledge and seize the opportunity to be forward-thinking.

In essence, Professor Leung’s message was clear: ChatGPT is here, and educators must proactively engage with it. By taking the initiative and adopting a pioneering mindset, educators can unlock the possibilities it offers, revolutionising educational practices and enhancing the learning experiences for students.

Renowned Roboticist, Professor Arthur Mutambara, hailed the chatbot as a revolutionary force while characterising the lecture as a groundbreaking catalyst for transforming education. The lecture sparked conversations about the potential of ChatGPT to spearhead revolutions in various sectors: finance, governance, marketing, management and manufacturing.

Despite acknowledging the presence of existential threats accompanying AI and other technological advancements, Professor Mutambara urged an open-minded approach, encouraging us to recognise the abundance of opportunities that lie within: “Once a technology has been invented, you can’t uninvent it.” He emphasised the importance of combining the strengths of both humans and technology to achieve positive, sustainable outcomes. In doing so, he underlined the significance of human augmentation, highlighting its pivotal role in unlocking the fullest potential of this remarkable technology.

As the debate surrounding ChatGPT and AI at large intensifies, we must engage in an informed discussion on the benefits and risks of this technological marvel. While AI holds the potential to revolutionise various aspects of our lives, it is crucial to navigate these uncharted waters responsibly and address the concerns that arise, ensuring a balanced and ethical deployment of such transformative innovations. The road ahead calls for a collaborative effort between learners, teachers, researchers, policymakers, and the public to forge a path towards an AI-powered future that upholds principles of privacy, accuracy, and the responsible dissemination of information. By acknowledging legitimate concerns and fostering an environment of transparency, we can as a society collectively harness the immense potential of AI while mitigating its risks.

Dr Anthony Kaziboni is Head of Research, Institute for the Future of Knowledge, University of Johannesburg

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