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ChatGPT: good or bad?

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Hands typing on a laptop displaying a chatbot on the screen

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chat bot which was first developed in November 2022. However, it has really started to grab attention within the last couple of months and has sparked a race among many tech companies to develop their own, better versions. More people are starting to use ChatGPT as they discover the extent to which it can be used, this has ranged from writing a joke to solving a maths equation. This forms the basis of a debate around whether ChatGPT is useful or not, and the challenges that it raises within education especially as young people could start to use it to solve homework. In this blog, Adam Little (Physics subject expert lead at Stem Learning) discusses the uses of ChatGPT as well as it's effectiveness.

Artificial Intelligence! As a person of a certain age, my main experience of this was linked to, often very scary things that Hollywood pushed on us. Skynet in Terminator 2, Johnny 5 in Short Circuit, Ash the Android in Alien, Robocop or even the agents The Matrix.

Will the robots rise up and take over? I’m not entirely sure that will happen just yet, but we’ll see. I know STEM Learning has taken delivery of some AI rabbits…they might nibble our toes or take out the local living and breathing bunnies but once again that seems doubtful.

Instead, my recent foray into the land of AI involved being told about Chat GPT online from a colleague. When I asked “What does it do?” they replied “You can literally ask any question and it will answer it, or do a task for you such as write and essay, a song or even a lesson plan!”.

“Write a song about dark matter in style of Kylie Minogue” might not be the first request that most people would try, but I wanted to see how it coped combining my two loves (physics and Kylie). Twenty seconds later it returned with:

Well, if it can do that…what else can it do? If I can’t live off the royalties for this smash hit…actually where does the copyright lie? This is a good point. Could I have got it to write my final year dissertation at university? Now places are getting software in place to detect this, and others are embracing it saying using AI is a good thing, as long as you quote it as source, like you would with any others. There is a short story here in the Guardian about that!

How will schools cope? Will tech savvy students outsmart their teachers? There was this tweet showing what a concern it might be.

On the flip side, could AI help frazzled teachers plan their lessons? I know there were, and please whisper this, times when I hadn’t planned a lesson fully and going on to TES or STEM Learning to find a useful resource was frantically undertaken during the break before the lesson. Could I ask AI to plan something for me, especially if it’s outside my specialism? Here’s a snapshot of a section of lesson plan for 11 year olds on electricity.

I know there will be teachers out there who have pretty much taught this lesson from a purchased scheme of work, or even come up with these ideas themselves. It’s an impressive piece of software in my eyes with lots of potential if used effectively. Personally I doubt I would get it to write me a scheme of work due to the variance of the students in front of me, and being able to adapt and change to their needs is a skill you learn as you gain experience in the classroom. I think it is useful for teachers as they begin their career, if just to ask questions like what misconceptions do students have about energy, or for help when students ask the ever present question of “Why do I need to know this, how will it help me in life?”. When I asked it “What careers use specific heat capacity?” it came back with this:

So, whilst Chat GPT won’t necessarily end the world with a nuclear dawn (thankfully), it’s use in education going forward will be interesting to see. I look forward to seeing the developments in this field.

About the author

Adam Little: National Professional Development Lead (STEM Learning) and potential co-writer for Kylie Minogue!