Experts say artificial-intelligence programs, such as ChatGPT, could usher in new methods of educational assessment and curriculum that test creativity, though students will also have to develop literacy for the technology’s limitations and biases.
ChatGPT is an AI chatbot that has caught the interest of people worldwide for its ability to construct succinct, informative answers to even subjective or complicated questions in plain language. The program comes up with thoughtful answers in seconds for such questions as, “Was Romeo and Juliet a good play?” or “Who was the most important Canadian Prime Minister?”
Earl Woodruff, chair of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, said that while AI programs are a real cause for concern around cheating, they’re also an opportunity for educators to better prepare high school and university students to use the tools available to them in society.
He also said it can allow students to spend less time sifting through the immense amount of information accessible on the internet and focus instead on creativity.
Mr. Woodruff compared AI to calculators. At first, the devices were banned in classrooms because they were thought to be detrimental, but today they’re incorporated as an important part of learning math.
“If you rely only on a calculator and didn’t have good number sense, then yeah that would be a concern,” said Mr. Woodruff. “But we’ve evolved so that it can be used appropriately and enhance what’s going on in mathematics.”
Lesley Wilton, an assistant professor at York University specializing in integrating technology into learning, said teaching AI literacy will be an important aspect of future classes, especially in terms of limitations.
One major flaw is bias. Programs such as ChatGPT draw on existing information online, and since there are less records for a topic such as Indigenous history, AI could play a part in further erasing certain voices.
“We want our students to understand these tools are out there, but to think critically about them because those answers we’re getting from an application like ChatGPT may not be reflective of our community, our culture, it may not even be true,” Ms. Wilton said.
Ms. Wilton also said that while ChatGPT could be used to cheat on short essays without being detected, it will further push educators to develop other kinds of assignments, such as digital or video presentations that focus on a student’s ability to synthesize the wealth of information available online.
“Maybe in a couple years, AI will be able to write essays for people and the skill of writing an essay won’t be as important as putting content together,” she said.
“I think essay writing will be important in some contexts, but it won’t remain important in the way it’s been in the past, because today we can ask students to put together video explanation or other multi-modal representations of their knowledge.”
Brock University’s vice-provost of teaching and learning, Rajiv Jhangiani, said his school is already switching from an emphasis on closed-book exams to other forms of assessment that assume students will have access to any knowledge on the internet. Some of these future assignments could include making an instructional video on a topic that’ll be posted on the web, or writing op-eds that could be published in a local newspaper.
In traditional assignments with formulaic and simple questions, Mr. Jhangiani said there was already a risk for cheating when students share answers. As a result, he sees AI as a great motivator for educators to find more creative ways for students to learn.
“In the age of information abundance, if your assessments are based purely on the retrieval of existing information, that’s something that many educators have already moved beyond,” said Mr. Jhangiani, who welcomes that AI is nudging educators beyond traditional models.
Provincial governments across Canada have taken note of the increasing prevalence of AI, and say they’re looking at curriculum changes at the high-school level.
The Ontario Ministry of Education said recently revised curriculum will make learning about AI mandatory for Grade 9 science students, and announced last week that a Grade 10 computer-sciences course that investigates AI, cybersecurity and emerging digital technologies will launch in the next academic year.
Alberta Ministry of Education spokesperson Emily Peckham said that while students have the option to learn about AI in some high school courses, the government may consider adding more learning into its curriculum in the future.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Ministry of Education said in a statement that AI is not a specific curriculum topic, but that teachers can make the decision to teach about it.
Mr. Woodruff said AI will ultimately transform how society functions, and said the way education is viewed will undoubtedly change as a result.
“It used to be that education was about getting information to your fingertips,” he said. “We have the opposite problem: there’s too much information. And it’s our job to try and work through that, and these programs can work through it, too.”
The Globe and Mail, December 17, 2022