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Permit or Prohibit: AI in the Classroom

Technology has skyrocketed since the 1900s, and one popular advancement is Artificial Intelligence. Some are excited about these developments, while others fear what is next. Believe it or not, AI surrounds our daily lives, from typing an email and getting “suggested words” to finish a sentence to unlocking your smartphone with facial recognition.  

The recently developed AI program, Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer (ChatGPT), has spiked some concern. Will this program take our jobs? Is it the future of efficiency? Whether you use ChatGPT every day or are boycotting its development, AI programs like this are being used daily. 

No matter where you stand on this new technology, now is an important time to discuss what this means for children and students. Should elementary, middle, high school, and college students be using this technology? Or should it be banned from academics?

“Students at every level can benefit from using ChatGPT for interactive learning experiences. Banning ChatGPT from academics might limit innovative educational approaches; it could be a valuable supplementary tool for learning,” – ChatGPT’s response to the questions above. 

Keep ChatGPT’s opinion in mind while learning what the experts think about AI in classrooms. 

What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is a free AI program that can respond to prompts, answer questions, and perform mathematical calculations, among other things. By asking ChatGPT to answer a question or respond to a prompt, it is able to understand, generate, and write human-like sentences. 

“The first thing that’s surprising is that it writes in perfect grammar,” says Darrell Whitley, a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Colorado State University. “It has no knowledge whatsoever of grammar, at least no explicit knowledge of grammar. That means it’s learned to mimic language structure just by looking at an awful lot of language structure, and in some sense, learning the underlying statistical patterns that produce grammatical sentences. And once it learns those patterns, it can write perfect language better than humans every time.”

The program can write coherent sentences by pulling information from a large dataset. 

Does ChatGPT Plagiarize?
Technically, this program does not plagiarize. If a student wrote an article using ChatGPT and copied it word-for-word, the plagiarism websites and programs teachers and professors are accustomed to using would not catch any signs of plagiarism. 

“It’s sort of like if you talked to 10 friends and you wrote down a summary of their opinions, borrowing from all of them. You didn’t plagiarize from anyone; you just used multiple sources. That’s what ChatGPT is doing,” Whitley says. 

There are ChatGPT-detecting websites and programs, like GPTZero, to prevent cheating, but according to Sarath Sreedharan, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at CSU, these different programs aren’t 100 percent accurate all the time. 

Because there are no completely reliable programs that can check to see if a student used ChatGPT for an assignment, there are some concerns that students can cheat more easily than ever. What does this mean for middle and high school students?

Should ChatGPT Be Encouraged At Schools?
During primary and secondary school, students build a foundation and learn basic and vital skills for the future. For example, many schools require students to take core subjects like English, math, science, and history. Yet, when it comes to younger students using AI in the classroom, Sreedharan points out that if they are constantly using AI programs like ChatGPT, these students might not be able to build a strong foundation. 

“There’s a difference between being a person with a skill who is using the system to improve themself versus not developing those skills – not developing your voice as a writer or not having the basic skills as a programmer and things like that,” Sreedharan says. 

The ChatGPT program is especially being used to write papers, but if middle-to-high school students rely on AI to write their essays, they may not have the literacy skills needed for later in life.

According to the organization Education Week, 58 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 18 have used ChatGPT in the past. 

ChatGPT was launched on November 30, 2022, and this survey was conducted in May 2023. In less than a year, more than half of middle and high school students are using this program.

For high school students who have built a solid academic knowledge base, ChatGPT can be an important skill for them to master. But it’s not benefiting students, long-term, who are using it to cheat and copy-and-pasting. 

Should it Be Used in College?
The conversation changes when we are discussing college students. By the time students are receiving higher education, more likely than not, they have built a strong academic foundation. 

“In terms of cheating in school, it used to be that you weren’t allowed to use a calculator during a math exam because you might cheat,” Whitely says. “I think the same thing is true with ChatGPT, that it should be viewed as a tool…and with all tools, there are possible problems, but also advantages.”

AI is becoming increasingly popular, and these programs and advancements aren’t stopping anytime soon. Whether you accept AI into your daily life or not, talking about programs like ChatGPT with your family is important. For older students and adults, AI can be a tool that allows them to surpass peers and colleagues. But for younger children, programs like ChatGPT might steal vital learning years from them. 

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