I have been reading many articles about Chat GPT, which is the Artificial Intelligence (AI) writing App that was recently developed. At the end of one of these articles, I clicked on the Comments section, something I enjoy doing when I have the time. There happened to be only two comments, and what was interesting about these comments, was how opposite they were to one another. One said that this AI program would be a good thing for learning, and the other said it would be bad. Here they are:
The first comment was this:
“Kids are no longer learning what they need to learn in school: Reading, Writing, History, Arithmetic, Social Studies, Etc. Let’s get back to basics before it’s too late. Get cell phones and calculators out of the classroom, and no test or paper should be allowed to have the help of a Chatbot, or any online cheating.”
The second comment was this:
“Most of the successful people today are those that embraced and learned new tools and processes (internet, web searches, calculators, etc.). This isn’t going to be any different. Our responsibility is to figure out how to get the kids to learn what we need them to learn, in the face of these tools – not to the exclusion of them.”
So, which one is accurate – no AI, or all in on AI? I believe both statements are correct. And for the simple reason that young students will learn without these tools, but older students, increasingly, will not, and should not.
Common sense tells us that children must learn basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, and this simple learning has always been done with pencil and paper. When calculators came out, everyone thought that mathematics was doomed. Students would no longer want to do their own calculations, when they had the ease of the calculator in their reach. But the use of calculators naturally evolved to what they are best for: assisting older students. In fact, calculators have allowed people to perform more difficult math because the calculator performs the easier math, which frees people’s brains to take on the more difficult parts of the problems. Now calculators are regularly allowed when students take ACT and SAT tests, and they allow the students to focus on the more difficult parts the problems and complete more problems in less time. However, students must still understand the basic math in order to utilize calculators properly. Simple math learning must be done first, and with traditional methods of paper and pencil, I believe.
A second example of a learning app that has greatly benefited teaching and learning is translation software. I have experience in this area, because I’m a technical writer who has long worked with translators to translate the manuals I write. Translators have repeatedly told me that translation software has made their job easier and more satisfying. After they run a document through the translation software, they can edit the material to ensure it has the best meaning. Since these programs translate word for word, they can get the meaning very wrong, and that is why the content still needs to be edited by a person. When translation software generates basic word translation, which is a time-consuming and not a particularly interesting part of the process, the entire translation process becomes cheaper, easier, and more satisfying for the translators.
But, of course, translators would not be able to edit the translated text unless they had a solid mastery of the foreign language, and that is why simple reading and writing of a foreign language must be done first. After mastery of these basics, a translator can use the software to make the translation process more efficient and enjoyable.
This brings us to the latest learning app invention, which is AI writing tools. In relation to writing, I would love to work with something like Chat GPT in my job. Writing is hard work, very hard work. When someone gives me some content to start with, that I can edit to my standards, it is a much easier and satisfying process than writing from scratch, which is something that I usually do. Unfortunately, I write manuals for new products, and there would be little information on the Internet that an AI tool could reference, but I’m going to try to find ways to use this tool in any way I can in the future.
I believe this approach can apply to everyone. AI can make the writing process easier and more enjoyable. Most of the people that I work with in business really hate to write, and the written materials we have are usually in very poor shape. We rarely have enough time to polish our written documents to the highest level. Having some of the writing done with AI would allow us to focus on the more interesting parts of the writing process, like personalizing the text by adding stories and antidotes.
So, I wouldn’t fret about AI within learning. It is simply the latest evolving application that can be used to make academic work easier and more satisfying. But, I still believe that basic reading, writing, and arithmetic can best be learned through traditional methods, that have successfully been used for generations. We can have the best of both worlds. However, as for AI’s capability to create the next Terminator, I have no comment on that.
Read more about using technology with older students and adults in my book: Individualized Learning with Technology — Meeting the Needs of High School Students.