In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights Series video, Mike Vizard talks with Perpetual Baffour, research director for The Learning Agency Lab, about how generative artificial intelligence (AI) platforms such as ChatGPT could be a boon for education.
Mike Vizard: Hey folks, welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights video series. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today I’m with Perpetual Baffour who is a researcher for The Learning Agency lab. And we’re talking about ChatGPT and the impact AI is going to have on education in general. Perpetual, welcome to the show.
Perpetual Baffour: Hi, thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to have this conversation today.
Mike Vizard: There’s a lot of focus, of course, on all the potential negative things that go on with AI, and everybody’s kind of worried schools are going to ban it. And students are just going to do their homework and copy and paste, essentially, through an AI algorithm and the sky is falling. Yet, there are possibly good things happening here with all this stuff, in terms of the impact that it can have on education. So, why don’t you give us the flip side of this whole perspective and say, “Hey, guys, there’s some things here that have value.”
Perpetual Baffour: Absolutely, I mean, keeping in mind that with any new technology, there are going to be fears, they’re going to be concerns, they’re going to be anxieties. And there are, you know, some valid reasons why people might be a little worried or concerned about the presence of AI in classrooms. I think ChatGPT is a revolutionary chatbot technology. It’s sparking a lot of controversy, a lot of debate. I mean, New York City going as far as to completely ban the use of the chatbot in schools. But I think really, if we take careful consideration of what this technology like ChatGPT can actually perform, it can show the promise of AI to actually strengthen and accelerate student learning, rather than limit it. So ChatGPT is just one example of the recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing. And these technologies that can help students learn, see their specific features and being able to perform tasks at an intelligent and very high speed. Right? So if we look at ChatGPT, and think about ways it can actually be used in the classrooms to support students and support teachers, I think one example is using it as a tool to help assess, evaluate and provide feedback on student writing. So if we change our lens here and consider ChatGPT and these natural language processing tools as assisted writing feedback tools, we can see that they can actually help teachers by providing supports, and providing feedback on many different areas of writing, word choice, clarity, cohesion, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and more. Right? These technologies are powered by these large language models that are trained on massive amounts of data across the web. And because of this training, these models are able to have an intelligent understanding of almost any subject with sufficient information across the web. And because of that, they can be a valuable addition to the classroom by identifying areas of student writing that need improvement, and providing automatic suggestions for improving them.
Mike Vizard: And let’s be honest, not everybody is a great writer. A lot of folks that I talked to have great ideas, and they’re engineers, and they’re all kinds of things, but they’re never going to be great writers without some help. So are we kind of limiting the sharing of ideas, because we’re hanging people up on the fact that they are not great writers? But maybe if we can find a way for them to express those ideas in a way that’s clear and concise that people can consume, maybe we’ll all be better off for it.
Perpetual Baffour: That’s a really great point. And I 100% agree. And if we look at the data, the data on how students in the US currently are performing at writing as writers, I’m sorry, I should say it’s actually quite sobering. So according to national data, less than a third of high school seniors are actually proficient in writing. If we take, for example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress – many consider that as like the Nation’s Report Card – it gives us information on how students across the US are currently doing, and we’re seeing that less than a third of them can actually write at a competent level. Low income black, hispanic, latino English language learner students; they’re actually faring far worse with less than 15% of them scoring proficiently on these national writing exams. So the data tells us that many of our students in the US need more support, need more feedback on their writing, need more help to identify the areas that they need to improve in. If we also look at data on teachers, we see that many teachers are overwhelmed. They already have so many tasks on their plate, they have a lot of burdens in terms of grading many different exams and essays, we actually conducted a survey and found that more than 70% of educators feel overwhelmed with grading and providing feedback. So once again, I think that raises the argument that ChatGPT can actually support teachers and support students, many who are struggling as writers, by assisting in the process of assessing student writing.
Mike Vizard: You mean teachers don’t want to read yet another poorly worded paper from some students somewhere? They’d rather get to the meat of the topic and the subject; is that where we’re going with this? It seems kind of just, that’s just too radical a thought.
Perpetual Baffour: Right? I think that teachers who are in the classrooms, they have a very, very large responsibility in helping students grow as learners and develop. And I think teachers enter that profession for that cause. But unfortunately, with all of the other tasks on their plates, with all of the overwhelming climates with classrooms and schools, especially at a time like this post COVID, I think that ChatGPT can be something teachers can look to as a support tool. So that, as you mentioned, rather than dealing with these routine, low level tasks, and grading essays, they can have more time to provide feedback and deliver instruction that meets students’ individual needs.
Mike Vizard: Do you think, collectively, we might all learn faster, because we do spend a significant portion of time researching things and looking for things, and a lot of it is just kind of rote? And, you know, we’ve all done that Google search thing and it comes back with 10 links, and probably only six of those are useful, but it’s very hard to do the actual research. So maybe if we’re spending less time on the actual research, we can get to the next level of knowledge and thought sharing, and that next great idea.
Perpetual Baffour: That’s also a really good point. I think, to a certain degree, yes, we can make the argument that ChatGPT can support with the research stage and writing and can help with citations, too. Important things to consider though: ChatGPT trained on data up until 2021. So I think when it comes to research and more current events, or thinking about the future, that may be a potential weakness of ChatGPT, or other natural language processing tools. They can only report on what they’ve been trained on, up until that moment in time. And then, as with any technology, it’s always important to cross check and cross reference. I think even the creators of ChatGPT have mentioned that ChatGPT may report information that may not necessarily be accurate. But ChatGPT can still speed up the process by providing ideas, by helping students brainstorm by helping students find sources that they can then locate, read more for themselves, develop that critical thinking ability to figure out how to then develop and synthesize their final writing.
Mike Vizard: Well, the reality is, these machines are going to get faster, I think version 3.5 is already starting to use stuff from 2022. And more recently, I believe there’ll be a GPT 4 coming along, and probably 5,6,7 and 8 not too soon after that. And we’ll have text and video. And I just don’t understand how you’re going to ban people from using that. I mean, I might have a tool that could detect it. But I think that’s a 50/50 proposition to begin with. And so people are going to be home and they’re going to go find this thing. So how does one actually enforce a ban on something of this ilk when maybe that’s just the wrong way to think about it all together, because it just kind of shines a light on it and says, “Oh, maybe I should go use this thing they don’t want me to.”
Perpetual Baffour: I agree. I think in terms of the actual feasibility and enforcing such a ban, I think there will be a lot of challenges. Because it is a super popular tool, more and more people are using it. And as mentioned before, ChatGPT can really help students learn and write better. ChatGPT, if used properly, like with any technology, there are ways to use it correctly, there are ways to abuse it. But if we focus more on how ChatGPT can be a positive in the classroom, rather than a negative, I think more and more educators and administrators will embrace it. I think because it’s a new technology, because it’s associated with AI and technology and and these, you know, “what are these robot technologies really doing?” It can cause a lot of unnecessary anxiety and concern and fear. But with any new technology, there’s promise for society as a whole to improve. And I think the quality of education in our classrooms can improve when we use discernment and understanding, use these AI technologies for specific tasks and specific assignments that can help students and support teachers.
Mike Vizard: So looking at the coming year, get your crystal ball out; what do you think is going to be the tenor of this conversation this time next year? Where are we all going to be? Are cooler heads going to prevail? Do you think? Or we’re gonna see maybe an entire year of bans, this ban and that, until somebody kind of sits down and realizes that that’s never going to work?
Perpetual Baffour: That’s a really good question. I think right now it’s hard for me to have a strong conviction or prediction about what will roll out in the future. I do think it’s important for these developers of ChatGPT, or more scientists and researchers in the field of data science, in the field of machine learning, in the field of learning sciences, to work with educators and administrators to help them learn more about these tools, what’s going on with them and how they can be actually a valuable addition to the classroom. So what I hope – I don’t know if this is in the foreseeable future, but what I hope is that we see more people on the technology side, partnering with people in the education field and the education classrooms to work together to see how to leverage these technologies and scale them so that they can be used for students. ChatGPT – there are concerns that it’s going to encourage plagiarism, and it’s going to encourage copy and paste. But maybe if more of the scientists and researchers work with educators, they can see how these tools can actually improve student writing by providing quality feedback, particularly to traditionally underserved populations. So I hope we see more dialogue like this, more communication, where we’re able to better inform each other about ChatGPT, natural language processing tools and the promise of AI and technology and improving student learning.
Mike Vizard: Alright, folks, the AI genie is out of the bottle and isn’t going back in, so we better figure out how to live with it. Hey, Perpetual, thanks for being on the show.
Perpetual Baffour: Thank you so much for having me.
Perpetual Baffour: And thank you all for watching this latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights video series. Again, I’m your host, Mike Vizard. You can find this episode and others in the digitalcxo.com website. And, as always, thank you for spending some time with us. Take care.