ChatGPT in the Wild - A Student’s Perspective of AI's Impact on Education
ChatGPT has arrived, and it's changing the landscape of education whether we like it or not.
While educators, developers, and entrepreneurs are leading most of the conversation around AI in education, one voice seems to be underrepresented—that of the students. As I sit in Reid Library, it's hard to ignore the reality—ChatGPT is everywhere. I can see at least 10 students around me using it, and it's time we talked about what that means for us.
ChatGPT and large language models provide both an opportunity and challenge for education. In this post, I'll tackle two pressing questions:
- Has ChatGPT changed the way we learn, or is it just a glorified search engine?
- And the elephant in the room: How is ChatGPT reshaping our views on academic integrity and 'cheating'?
Has ChatGPT changed the way we learn?
To put it simply, yes. For me, ChatGPT's influence is as transformative as the transition from offline to online learning. The main advantage I've discovered is the decreased cognitive load, influencing how we manage and process information. It's so much easier to find the information I want, and to make it into a form that is digestible for my current skill level. There are two main ideas that I'd like to discuss - streamlined access and adaptive complexity.
Streamlined Access to Information
Google revolutionised information retrieval by making physical libraries nearly obsolete. I believe that ChatGPT represents a similar paradigm shift for digital information. Just as Google reduced the need to physically go to the library, ChatGPT has reduced the need to digitally move around the web. Instead of sifting through multiple websites, I can simply ask ChatGPT.
I can focus all my attention and effort into understanding ideas rather than deciding which button to click or video to watch.
Complexity of Information
At its core, ChatGPT is a large language model capable of generating content based on the prompts its given. But to me its true strength lies not just in generating content, but in its adaptability. It can tailor explanations to an individual's current level, building a a solid foundation to pave the way for deeper understanding. Personally, I've leaned on ChatGPT when diving into research papers that excite my interest, yet fall outside my current knowledge. It allows me to grasp the fundamental concepts without getting tangled in the intricate details.
Take, for example 'Interpretability Beyond Feature Attribution: Quantitative Testing with Concept Activation Vectors (TCAV)' by Been Kim et al. It's an amazing technique used to create interpretable machine learning models by identifying and testing concepts that activate certain neurons. Read through the original version, and then try the easy-to-understand version. It is clear just how valuable a tool like ChatGPT can be in demystifying challenging subjects.
ChatGPT and Cheating
ChatGPT, especially GPT-4, is skilled at generating essays and explanations that are almost indistinguishable from human-written content. For educators, this poses a serious problem.
Here's the reality: cheating is rampant, and goes largely undetected. These tools were trained to emulate human text, so it's no wonder why it's difficult to create tools to detect them. Students who are smart enough to review and subtly modify their AI-generated work before submission become even harder, if not impossible to catch.
Beneath the Surface: Why Students Turn to AI
Behind every student's decision to cheat, there's a story. As the competition in education intensifies, so does the pressure to excel. It's not just about securing a good grade anymore; it's about scholarships, future job prospects, and sometimes, meeting the exceedingly high expectations of family and peers. When the stakes are this high and a tool like ChatGPT can seemingly offer a shortcut, the temptation can be overwhelming.
I recall a particularly hectic mid-semester night at the library. A friend, usually on top of his studies, had multiple screens open. Among the jumble of windows was ChatGPT. He was using it to generate code. "It's for this CITS project," he said, overwhelmed. "Two other assignments are due tomorrow." It wasn't laziness; it was academic pressure pushing him to the edge.
Depth or Deception?
The barriers for understanding difficult concepts have seemingly vanished. For avid learners, it's a blessing; they can dive deeper into topics at breakneck speed. But for those content with skimming the surface, it's a mask. They can present a facade of understanding without truly engaging with the material. It's a wake-up call for our education system.
As technology continues to zoom ahead, it's clear that our classrooms, assessments, and perhaps our very approach to education need to adapt. After all, in the end, it's about ensuring genuine learning and upholding the true spirit of education.
Quick note from Zac: While I've mentioned ChatGPT throughout, keep in mind that any leading large language model can fit the bill. I highlighted ChatGPT simply due to its widespread recognition.
While ChatGPT unveils a wealth of opportunities for modern learning, it's not without its challenges. After building personal projects like a UWA chatbot to collaborative ventures such as a service desk bot during a hackathon, I'm convinced we're just scratching the surface of what's possible. The journey of learning has become not only more enjoyable but also incredibly efficient.
However, as with all tools, its true value lies in how we choose to wield it. As we stand at the crossroads of technology and education, one must ask: Are we prepared for the profound changes AI brings to the classroom, and are we ready to guide its influence for the betterment of all students?