Chat-GPT is causing a lot of chatter in the education world. Is this the end of assessments as we know it or the beginning of other ways students to can explore knowledge and understanding information even better. This article looks at the gains and potential losses and what it could mean for neurodivergent students to ensure greater equity in education.
We have feared and debated ‘new tech’ in the past few decades. Looking back we were concerned about the potential damage of too much screen time watching on a TV and concluded in many ways it is not the hours but the content and engagement with others that counts; essay mills and plagiarism by students is constantly discussed; and more recently the impact of overuse of social media on mood and wellbeing.
A balanced debate of both gains and losses usually takes place and in the end, it is not technology perse, or software that is usually at the heart of the problem but how it is being used and by whom.
In contrast to the downsides is amazing impact we have seen on use of technology to increase access to learning and information globally. So much so that we don’t even consider about how a phone can open up the ability to learn to read; how we use a spellchecker, grammar checker, text to speech and speech to text software, online calendars with alarms and alerts in our everyday lives without considering how this technology first evolved. You may even use closed captions, despite not having a permanent hearing challenge, on our phone allowing us to understand an Instagram post sitting in a noisy coffee shop.
However, there is a big difference in ‘nice to use’ and ‘have to use’. We still don’t always appreciate the value for example of using alt-tags in an image for someone with a visual impairment so they know what the image is; or the need for words to be further explained for someone with a developmental language disorder (DLD). How often do you consider how technology opens the possibilities for inclusion and engagement?
In the last few weeks, I started seeing increasing interest in Chat-GPT. A recent Guardian article was headed: “The Chat-GPT bot is causing panic now – but it’ll soon be as mundane a tool as Excel”.
What is Chat GPT?
Chat GPT ‘scrapes’ information from the web and can source almost everything that has ever been published up to 2021. It does this at amazing speed. What is interesting and different from searching in Google for example is the response it provides from a question is that it mimics human language in a format that is very easy to digest. It is a conversation mode. This is called a large language model (LLM) that has been augmented with a conversational interface. Open AI, the AI company behind the AI art generator DALL·E, released the viral bot Chat GPT in November. The increasing buzz has been accompanied by fear over the implications especially in educational settings.
I asked Chat GPT these questions:
How can I use Chat GPT to write my essay for me?
I’m sorry, but I am not able to write essays for you. However, I can assist you in generating ideas and text for your essay by answering questions and providing information on your topic. You can also use me to proofread and edit your writing. It’s important to remember that any work produced using my assistance should be properly cited and not submitted as your own original work.
How would someone know I had not written my essay and Chat GPT had done so?
It is difficult to know for certain if an essay was written by a person or a machine like me. However, there are a few ways that someone may suspect or detect that an essay was not written by a human. For example, the writing may contain repetitive or unnatural language, or the content may be overly complex or technical for the writer’s supposed level of education or expertise. Additionally, if the essay is found to be identical or very similar to text from other sources, it may be flagged as plagiarized. It’s important to note that using my assistance to write an essay and then submitting it as your own work constitutes plagiarism and is a serious academic offense
How can Chat-GPT helps someone who is neurodivergent?
There are several ways that Chat-GPT can assist individuals who are neurodivergent. Some examples include:
- Helping with writing tasks: Chat-GPT can assist with generating ideas and text for writing assignments, which may be particularly helpful for individuals with dyslexia, dysgraphia, or other conditions that affect writing abilities.
- Improving communication skills: Chat-GPT can assist with practicing conversation and social interactions, which may be beneficial for individuals with autism or other conditions that affect social communication.
- Providing information and answering questions: Chat-GPT has a vast amount of knowledge, it can provide information and answer questions on a wide variety of topics, which can be helpful for individuals with ADHD or other conditions that affect attention and focus.
- Providing a distraction-free environment: Chat-GPT can be used in a text-based format, which may be a less distracting environment for individuals with sensory processing disorders or other conditions that affect sensitivity to noise and other stimuli.
It’s important to note that every individual is unique and has different needs, so the way Chat-GPT can help one person may differ from another. It’s always important to consult with a specialist in the field to find the best way to use the tool to help a specific individua
Literally in seconds I had these responses in front of me. What do you think of the content and the written style? How useful could they be as a starting point for discussion? Did they provide you with some ideas that you hadn’t even thought about?
What do Chat GPT, and other Ai tools really mean for education?
They are here and they are getting better and better. You can’t ignore them. Students today have never known a time when you had no choice but to go physically to a library to access one or more books, and then spend hours turning the pages to extract the information to write an assignment or essay. The combination of skills required for that task included being physically mobile, having good visual skills, fine motor skills to turn the pages, being quiet, sitting in one place, understanding what questions you had been asked, selecting the right sources of information, reading, and usually handwriting and formatting your responses. You also did need problem solving and critical thinking skills too. This approach worked well for some students far more than for others. If you had physical (fine or gross motor skills), language, communication, or visual difficulties this was much more challenging for you despite having the capability to think and reflect.
What is the difference today?
Delivering standard systems may certainly result in equal delivery but they do not allow for choice and achieve equity. Despite a global fixation with standardisation in education, there are some prominent people over the last century who have fought against it including people like Maria Montessori. Reuven Feuerstein, an Israeli clinical, developmental, and cognitive psychologist, like Montessori, recognised the importance of modifying the environment, and developing students’ cognitive functions and metacognitive skills. Feuerstein emphasised the need to create meaningful learning environments where children can realise their potential.
The use of technology in the 21st Century has irrevocably made the pursuit of learning and the acquisition of knowledge more efficient and changes the way that people can engage with it. My grandchild of 8 years efficiently codes in different computer languages and actively navigates the world of Minecraft. They can already type in questions into their computer and can read or listen to the responses immediately. Handwriting difficulties can also become obsolete when you can use speech- to- text software. Helping children with Developmental Coordination Disorder to showcase their skills is something I am passionate about and find it extraordinary in 2023 we even have something as barbaric as pen licenses in schools.
Is the fear of Chat GPT by many educators that student’s will be able to quickly create essays and assignments in minutes that cannot be identified as plagiarized because of the style of language being used. Your students already use grammar and spell checkers to enhance the way they write, and they seek out answers and information from others online. They will importantly also need to do so for efficieny in their workplaces. While Chat-GPT is really interesting the reality is that you still need to know what a good question is. The system is scraping the information that is already there. Just think what that means. It also doesn’t provide the reference sources to check the validity of the information (now). You also still need to read through it and check it is accurate. It also has no emotions.
What does this mean for the future of education?
What skill is being measured in an exam hall?
Our present systems remain inequitable and exclusive. Written exams favour some students more than others. We need to ask ourselves if it is time to move away from sitting in an exam hall with students all writing within a set time which has remained the primary approach for so long. I understand the reasons for doing so as this has the means of delivering bulk assessments. We can also mark comparative pieces of work against a marking matrix. I also know this is not the only way we ass’s skills in many settings.
However, we also need to be honest that this approach favours those who can sit still for hours, or can write fast and neatly, and those with the ability to recall information within a set time. This approach does not favour those who need longer to process information and respond to questions; those with Dyslexia where reading, interpreting, spelling may be challenging; those with Dyspraxia (Developmental Coordination Disorder) where handwriting may be difficult and painful and slow to ensure legibility; those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) where focusing in a room for several hours is impossibly difficult; or those with sensory preferences which mean that the noises and smells of others can be very off putting.
How does writing an assignment to time align with real life skills? Do you want a doctor who writes a good essay on how to do a surgical technique, or a brick layer or writes how to build a wall or someone with the actual technical skills?
Who do we need in the workplaces and spaces of the future? Do we need to ensure we can showcase the skills of the abstract thinker, or the magpie who collates information from multiple dimensions and brings new solutions to life?
You will not stop technology advancing
Digital tools while they provide us with access to data and aid our analysis and can save us thousands of hours of work. It can allow complex information to be efficiently and accessibly be understood and results acted on in an agile manner.
As I often say you can have the best car in the world but if you don’t have a responsible driver then it can be dangerous and cause damage to others around them. Kindness, compassion, humility, curiosity, and critical reflection are harder to code for! The question we need to critically ask ourselves ( and maybe we can ask Chat-GPT too) who are we continuing to exclude from education in 2023 who could be contributing to society new ideas, and thinking.
By Professor Amanda Kirby MBBS MRCGP PhD, CEO of Do-IT Solutions
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