top of page

"The Procrastinator's Dream"

ChatGPT's Impact on Education and the Debate Over Its Use

Computer Sketch

by Calvin Murphy, 2023

It's 2 am and you have a paper due in 8 hours. You’re stuck and desperate, so you go to this website your friend told you about. You type in a prompt and in 5 seconds your work is done and you can finally get some sleep. 


ChatGPT, a language model developed by OpenAI, sounds like the answer to every procrastinator’s dream, and it is making waves in education. Its processing capabilities allow it to answer questions and provide students with instant access to information. However, the use of ChatGPT in education has raised concerns about student privacy and the potential for misuse. 


According to the ChatGPT website, “ChatGPT was optimized for dialogue by using Reinforcement Learning with Human Feedback (RLHF) – a method that uses human demonstrations and preference comparisons to guide the model toward desired behavior.” ChatGPT has been trained on massive amounts of internet data and is still being trained on the new data people enter into the tool itself.

Many people in education are questioning what role this technology should play in the classroom. 


Garrett Smiley, the co-founder and CEO of Sora Schools, said he is optimistic about the potential for ChatGPT and tools like it in education, even if the tools aren’t quite there yet in terms of accuracy. 


"How I currently think about it is, it's an amazing dialogue partner. It's exceptional at generating ideas and critiquing thinking and giving suggestions. But its accuracy is not always the best. So it's almost like you have access to an infinite supply of middle school interns,” says Smiley.  


As ChatGPT’s accuracy improves, it could become even more helpful as a writing partner, helping students find their own writing style. 


“Working with ChatGPT is a way for you to develop your own voice to distinguish it from that,” says noted education futurist Bryan Alexander. Using ChatGPT can give students a starting point to develop their own style and ideas. 


Others, however, take a more skeptical view of this software. Autumm Caines, a professor at The University of Michigan who has published research on educational technology and student privacy, urges student users to consider how their use of ChatGPT will provide OpenAI with their information. 


“People are comparing ChatGPT to Google for a reason. The questions that you ask tell OpenAI a lot about you. And OpenAI is pretty clear in their terms of use, that the data that they collect is theirs. Then you know, of course, they say they respect your privacy, but they also say they'll sell your data to third parties if they want to,” says Caines.


ChatGPT’s privacy policy clearly states that they can sell individual personal information to third parties “without further notice to you.” Although the ChatGPT terms of use state that you must be 18 years or older to use the application, in reality, nothing prevents a minor from creating an account. 


While Autumm’s concerns are about privacy, others are more worried that ChatGPT could interfere with the human element of teaching. Chris Gilbert, Curriculum Designer for Sora Schools, commented that ChatGPT isn’t able to see the big picture in course design. Although he acknowledges that it could be useful for tasks like rubric creation and developing discussion questions, he still thinks that curriculum design needs a human component. 

While many people are discussing the implications of ChatGPT, others are taking a hard stance against it. Some school systems are starting to regulate the use of the app.


According to a recent article in Forbes, school districts in Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and Northern Virginia have banned the site on school devices. NBC has reported the creation of new tools to detect AI-generated text. These tools are flawed, though, and although they are in the early stages of development, they are often prone to false positives and false negatives. 


According to one source, many of these tools will flag translated text as having been generated by an AI. And there are often so many false positives and negatives that the software becomes virtually useless. 


Alexander thinks it’s important that educators have a seat at the table during discussions of this software.


 “We have to think about this because it's going to be regulated at some level. And so educators have to have input on that regulation,” he states.


Perhaps the most balanced approach to using ChatGPT in education comes from Chris Gilbert: “I would like to see students figure out how to use it effectively and ethically, as a supplement, but not a substitute for their own thought and for their own learning.

“I would be very troubled if the human element was completely removed, to be honest.” He also echoed some of Autumm’s concerns about privacy and ethics. 
bottom of page