The other day, I asked two of my philosophy students (they are 15 years old) what they thought of ChatGPT and, more precisely, what the implications of OpenAI are for education. They thought about it for a few seconds and then gave a clear answer. There are two approaches to take. One is to make sure that everything done by students is handwritten, to ensure that they have no access to ChatGPT, and to use the phrase of my students, to “pretend that artificial intelligence is not there.” The other would be to design more creative assignments that use artificial intelligence or are fashioned in such a way that it is impossible to have them done by OpenAI. They added that OpenAI like ChatGPT is becoming rapidly pervasive in the workplace, and so not using it in school, “pretending it is not there” (the phrase was repeated) is not preparing students for the real world.
This leads us back to the larger question of the purpose of technology in education and, fundamentally, the purpose of education itself. On the one hand, the goal of education is to create learning conditions away from the pressures and anxieties of the adult world so that young people can enjoy their childhood and learn in an incubator-type space, much in the tradition of ancient models. However, on the other hand, its purpose is to prepare young people for the world and to make authentic connections with the world around them. A good education seeks to strike a balance between these two approaches.
However, the former notion prevails to a much greater extent than the latter in most of what happens in classrooms around the world, not so much in the content that is learned but the manner in which it is assessed. Students are still filling in blanks on photocopies, copying notes off the whiteboard, sitting in silence and listening for hours, trudging through textbooks, and learning past examination paper questions by heart.
To embrace change, tasks need to be reformed. Examples were given by my students in our conversation. In history, rather than have students fill in blank spaces on photocopied pages with descriptions of events, ask them to create their own timelines. Another example was given. Create an essay or internal assignment title and ask ChatGPT to write the essay. Then, analyze the essay, see what is wrong with it, and what is strong in it as a way of preparing for your own essay. Rather than constantly generating responses to questions, get artificial intelligence to respond to a question and critique the response.
Curriculum relevance (a curriculum that is student-friendly, teacher-friendly, and designed to engage with the world and the various challenges we face in terms of sustainable development, inclusion, world peace, and creative and ethical use of technology) means rethinking the actual tasks we are asking students to do in the classroom. A well-designed task assessing innovation, personal engagement, and originality that is unGoogleable or unChatGPTable cuts to the quick and ensures some degree of this much-needed curriculum relevance.
In the final analysis, using technology and not trying to ban it is not only a preference but also a necessity.
Read more about education technology in Artificial Intelligence and the Automaticity of Skill Development and Artificial Intelligence and Society: Implications for Educators.
Conrad Hughes (MA, PhD, EdD) is the is the director general of the International School of Geneva. He has been a school principal, director of education, International Baccalaureate diploma program coordinator, and teacher in schools in Switzerland, France, India, and the Netherlands. Conrad is a Senior Fellow at UNESCO's International Bureau of Education, a member of the advisory board for the University of the People, and a research assistant at the University of Geneva's department of psychology and education. He teaches philosophy.