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Weekend edition July 28, 2023 | Shannon Smith

ChatGPT revolutionizes education with advanced AI technology

I didn’t write that, ChatGPT did, but the sentiment remains.

As artificial intelligence (AI) technology continues to advance, it’s no surprise that it’s having a significant impact on education.

One of the most notable examples is ChatGPT, a large language model developed by OpenAI, based on the GPT-3.5 architecture. With its advanced natural language processing capabilities, ChatGPT is changing the way students learn and engage with information, providing new opportunities for personalized learning and improved educational outcomes.

I didn’t write that, ChatGPT did. It also wrote the headline. It probably could have written this entire article, but it would have continued to sound a little robotic and one-sided. Almost like a textbook that forgot to include the darker parts of history.

But that’s not really the point of this software.

“There are very few cases where you can just easily put in some prompt to ChatGPT and it spits out something that is just perfect,” said Lynne Parker, Associate Vice Chancellor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), and Director of the AI Tennessee Initiative.

Parker is our area’s expert on AI, which in itself is not new. She said what’s really new about ChatGPT is that anyone can access it, currently for free.

“So what it is, is an AI tool that has been trained with data from across the internet, from books, from literature and speeches and so forth, and it has synthesized all of that in a type of model that humans can’t understand but somehow the AI system has figured out patterns,” said Parker. “Then it’s able to produce text that seems very human-like. It can answer questions, it can create poetry, it can write a screenplay, it can summarize the literature. I mean, the scale of its capabilities is kind of mind-blowing, because we haven’t had anything that’s very similar to this in the recent past.”

For example, I asked ChatGPT to write a haiku about wine. Here’s what it gave me:

Grapes ripen with time,

Fermented to perfection,

Wine, a gift divine.

Pretty good, right? Then I asked ChatGPT to tell me about a few well-known journalists in Knoxville. It didn’t do so well. For example, it listed some reporters as starting their careers in years that they weren’t even born yet.

“It’s quite likely to just very confidently spit out incorrect information,” said Parker. “And so this is the danger of it. If people expect to use it in such a way, then there are all kinds of problems with that. You could create misinformation.”

The creators of ChatGPT are well aware of this. OpenAI’s Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman testified before Congress that as AI advances, should be regulated by the government in some way.

Parker said similar regulation discussions are going on in the education space.

“We’re in the process right now at the university of really stepping through and thinking about, well, what are the impacts on research and on education and on policy?” she said. “And how should we approach it at the University of Tennessee?”

We now have a clearer answer to that questions with newly released generative AI guidelines published by the university. According to those guidelines, teachers can approach the use of ChatGPT and other similar AI software in three different ways, all up to their discretion:

  1. Embrace and encourage AI use in assignments, with the requirement that students disclose any AI assistance, permitted with attribution
  2. Encourage AI use in specific assignments, but not all. Students must disclose any AI assistance, permitted when assigned with attribution
  3. Discourage AI use in this particular course, not permitted

Parker knows better than anyone that AI isn’t new, it isn’t going away, and we might as well all learn to use it for the better.

Under Parker’s leadership, UTK joined the AI Education Project (aiEDU) with nine other universities in a historic call to bring AI education to every K-12 student in America.

“Students from all geographic regions of the country deserve access to cutting-edge AI education that will prepare them for the workforce of the future,” Parker said.

One person already using AI in education is John Tolsma, who runs Knoxville company Knowledge Launch.

“We have spent the last 20 years trying to really focus on experiential education primarily in the corporate education space,” he said.

Tolsma knows AI in the workplace is something many adults are encountering for the first time thanks to ChatGPT. He also thinks it’s a fascinating tool that, as Parker mentioned, if harnessed for good, can make a true impact.

“This introduction of generative AI becomes a wonderful kind of playground for us to start to think about, ‘how do we use this tool that everybody’s trying to get their hands around right now to think differently about how it can be used in education?’” said Tolsma.

He, like Parker, sees the benefit of using generative AI in education at all ages and sees ChatGPT’s occasional creation of misinformation as a great learning tool.

“I think what this allows us to do is to bring the scientific method to the humanities,” said Tolsma.

He suggested an exercise where instead of writing a paper about a historical figure, let ChatGPT do that, and then the students would need to find the sources and fact-check what the software is reporting. Instead of using the internet to be the fact checker, you become the fact checker for ChatGPT, strengthening early research skills.

“What I think really creates an environment for learning is when they get to wrestle, they get to disagree, they get to argue tools like this help set the table with the facts,” said Tolsma.

As Tolsma and Parker continue to play with ChatGPT themselves, they both know there’s a real place for this tool and other types of generative AI in their fields and in education. It’s just a matter of refining it, recognizing the good and the bad, and finding out how to make it work best for any given situation.

I’ll let ChatGPT finish up this article in its own words:

As ChatGPT continues to revolutionize education, its transformative impact promises to shape a future where learning is augmented, personalized, and accessible for learners of all backgrounds and abilities.

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