ChatGPT could be used to improve learning in schools - AI expert

OpenAI's ChatGPT - a chatbot that answers questions - could be a chance to rethink how school assessments are done, some in the education sector say.

US researchers found ChatGPT was capable of passing - or at least nearly passing - the US medical licensing exams.

But fears over cheating have meant bans on the publicly available and free technology - which was released in November last year - are coming into force in the US and Australia.

Charles Darwin University's Stefan Popenici has published a book exploring the opportunities and risks of using AI in education.

Popenici believed schools should embrace the technology and use it to improve assessments and foster original thinking in students.

"We have the opportunity to rethink what we are doing in education. Why do we have the assessments that we have that are so easily replicated by AI?

"It's just the same technology that's used when you're writing an email and then you have words completed, it's just an elaborate algorithm and it's much more developed but basically this is it."

Assessments needed to be more meaningful and test people's critical-thinking skills, Popenici said.

"We need new solutions, we need minds capable to finding solutions rather than writing an essay with meaningless words."

Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) president Melanie Webber told Morning Report she had tried the tool herself, using previous exam questions, and saw there was an opportunity to provide students with a richer learning experience.

"I started out by chucking in an essay question ... then I looked at wasn't there in it, what would need to be added to improve it," Webber said.

"So what I'd do [if ChatGPT is used in classrooms] is I'd get the kids to the create the bones of their essay using that and then go in and create their own understanding and add that into it and develop it through so they wouldn't get stuck."

But some universities in Australia are allowing use of AI tools in assignments, as long as it is disclosed.

Although one of the risks these tools pose would be clogging communication channels with misinformation and "manipulative messages", Popenici said it could also be used to teach children about distinguishing misinformation.

"So it is possible to use it [AI tools] to our advantage and to nurture higher learning and higher thinking."

As for the concerns over cheating, Webber said plagiarism had always been a problem for schools and that had got worse with the internet.

"As Stefan was saying, it's about working out better ways to assess students [rather] than just trotting out essays.

"We've had issues with memorised essays forever, this isn't a new issue. I don't believe simply saying we won't use this technology is the way to go.

"I've been teaching long enough to remember when we were banning YouTube in schools. Well I don't know we would've made it through the pandemic without YouTube as a teaching tool."

Webber believed using AI tools like ChatGPT would encourage teachers to get creative, as much as the students.

"We're already looking at different ways of assessing so this will fit into that, how can we do that without just regurgitating words."