ChatGPT, the new language model created by OpenAI, has rightfully taken the dialogue around artificial intelligence to another level. The tool is capable of uncannily human-like responses to questions and can create anything from recipes to short stories in a matter of seconds, if given the correct prompts. It can also draft essays.
As the founder of D2L, a company that uses technology to continually find new ways to help make learning more accessible to people everywhere, I’ve become very accustomed to seeing the promise in new tools, including AI. In fact, D2L Brightspace uses lots of AI already. For example, AI automatically provides closed captions for all video content uploaded to Brightspace. It also powers tools that help educators identify when and which students are falling behind so learners can get the personalised help they may need to succeed, and more.
ChatGPT is very good at what it does, and because it’s so good, it is already raising multiple questions for those of us in the education and learning sphere. As the New York Times reported recently, some students are trying to pass off work generated by ChatGPT as their own, prompting higher-ed institutions to consider how they monitor its use and also how they might incorporate it into their courses.
I believe it’s in this latter approach, incorporation, where those of us in the education sphere will find the most success in the future. Granted, ChatGPT propels AI into totally new territory, but does it mean that “the college essay is dead” (as one headline from the Atlantic recently predicted)? Personally, I wouldn’t welcome such an outcome, nor do I think it will come to that. For one thing, I have a lot of faith that educators around the world will see ChatGPT in more positive than negative terms—as an opportunity to make learning even more meaningful rather than as a threat to its existence.
I think the general fear we collectively need to address—and hopefully will put to rest—is a familiar one, even if ChatGPT is very new. It’s the fear that modern technology will somehow replace learning or make it possible for people to disengage from learning entirely. There were similar fears when calculators were introduced. Yes, some students will use new technology to do their work for them, but more will just do their work differently. There are now already some ways to catch ChatGPT-generated content, perhaps limiting its unethical uses, but I still think it will be important that we focus on both adapting to this new technology and shifting how we support and assess learning.
Most students will probably think about ChatGPT in a constructive way. They’ll find the introduction of recent technology as a tool into their academic worlds exciting, not to mention helpful to them as they navigate our ever-changing world. For humanities students, ChatGPT is a great prompt for lessons on media literacy and ethics. For computer scientists and engineers, it might open a whole new world of coding, programming and the burgeoning field of deep learning technology.
Educators may also find that ChatGPT offers a way to expand the scope and depth of their courses without adding to their already heavy administrative burden. In fact, in some cases, it may even help provide some relief. ChatGPT could be used to create assessments, thought starters or text that students can analyse as part of critical thinking exercises, for example.
In any event, it’s important to remember that no matter how clever it may appear to be, technology cannot do our learning for us. Whatever tools you employ to accomplish it, learning is a human endeavor. At D2L, we have always built our technology and platforms on this idea. Learning lives inside each of us, not within the technologies we use. Learning can be a shared experience between a teacher and student as well as a personal journey of discovery. Both can be helped along by amazing and wondrous technology, but never supplanted by it.
As always, I’ll stay curious about ChatGPT and other new AI tools—because when it comes to technology and its role in shaping education around the world, there’s always a lot to learn.
John founded D2L in 1999, at the age of twenty-two, while attending the University of Waterloo. D2L is a global software company that believes learning is the foundation upon which all progress and achievement rests.
A strong believer in community involvement, John devotes both his personal and business efforts to supporting young entrepreneurs who are developing and applying technology to improve society worldwide.
He was appointed to the Governing Council of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Member (Entrepreneurs’ Circle) of the Business Council of Canada, Business Higher Education Roundtable, Past Chair of the Board of Communitech, and is a board member of Canada’s National Ballet School.
John was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year (Ontario for Software and Technology), Young Alumni Achievement Medal from University of Waterloo, and Intrepid Entrepreneur of the Year in Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.
John graduated from the University of Waterloo with an Honours B.A.Sc. in Systems Design Engineering, with First Class Honours and an option in Management Sciences.
LinkedIn: John Baker
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