A quarter of a century ago, when we presented interactive distance learning in the public education system of Western New York State, we encountered a lot of resistance from those who had a vested interest in the status quo. Even I, as a member of the teachers union, expressed apprehension that this would result in job losses. Our initial distance learning classrooms were limited to a maximum of twelve students, when the typical class size for secondary education was twice that number.
There will always be naysayers and alarmists who forecast doom and gloom when new technologies emerge in education. I remember when an uproar arose over children carry cell phones in schools. They could call their parents without coming to the office and asking permission. Students were using video conferencing apps to communicate with each other. They were texting in class and the presumption among many was that they were cheating. Cell phones were confiscated and held in school district offices.
I thought all of this over-reaction was nonsensical and regularly lobbied school administrators to rethink their reticense and instead teach children how to use these new devices for their benefit. Eventually I was given the opportunity to do just that and in 2009 designed and implemented one of the first digital citizenship classes in New York State. Our classroom even got visited by Deputy New York State Education Commissioner John King. It was one of the high points of my career.
Here we are again at a inflection point in education with the introduction of ChatGPT and similar technologies which are deemed equally disruptive by the naysayers. “Students will cheat” they say! That’s nothing new. Students have been cheating since Christ was a corporal. Maybe it’s time to rethink how we educate and more importantly how we assess education. If your tests are multiple choice, true false and essays maybe artificial intelligence agents threaten your methods.
Maybe you ought to be testing your students at a higher level. I am licensed to drive a car. I read a book, took driver education classes and had to pass a written examination and then demonstrate that I could actually drive. I learned how to drive a 1965 Volkswagen Beetle. The dimmer switch was on the floor. Later they put those controls on the steering column. My vehicle today can steer itself and has collision avoidance (artificial intelligence agent) built into the car. When I learned to drive we used written direction and maps to navigate. Now Siri and Waze aid my navigation and I don’t want to go back. My headlights automatically dim at night.
In short we’re living in a new world and our students need to know how to navigate in that new environment. We have technologies today that translate web pages. We have intelligent devices and programs that allow visually impaired folks to read books, periodicals and newspapers. I wear digital hearing aids that make it possible for me to hear better.
ChatGPT and technologies like it are going to revolutionize our education and our environment. Our students need all the opportunities we can give them to succeed. We cannot know at this stage how these developments will impact our culture but we can be certain that they will. Are we depriving students and teachers of opportunities to learn in new and different ways?