ChatGPT: A Teacher's Experience

by Megan Fisher, Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Chatter around ChatGPT has been buzzing recently, with a focus on the question of how it might fit into the Education space. Will students use ChatGPT to cheat, and will teachers be able to tell? Will ChatGPT make assessments less effective? Will ChatGPT outsmart our teachers and their systems? The answers to these questions are yes; but, only if we fail to adapt the systems in place to accommodate a new tool, like ChatGPT. Used dishonestly or nefariously, ChatGPT poses a risk to students in school systems, wherein plagiarism is already a harshly punished offense. But, if we change the lens through which we look at ChatGPT, for students and teachers, we have on our hands a powerful tool for student learning, and for teacher wellbeing.

It is no secret that ChatGPT poses a new challenge to teachers and administration: students can seek well written, accurate, complete answers to essay prompts that are otherwise untraceable, and unrepeatable. Part of the difficulty in enforcing an academic dishonesty policy is that the teacher must be able to prove that the student’s work is not their own; ChatGPT makes that incredibly difficult to do.

But, you know what they say: we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because ChatGPT adds challenges, particularly in regards to plagiarism, does not mean that it is a net negative in the school setting. 

Let’s look at teacher burnout.  

I am married to a High School English teacher. On any given day, he teaches three different classes - from 9th grade English to Modern American Literature - to three different grade levels. The required planning for him to be prepared for all of his classes, every single day, is crushing, and leaves little time during his work day for important things like grading, calling parents, differentiating for his students’ specific needs, or even drinking water. What does that mean? It means that he either brings work home, or he finds shortcuts to help him create valuable, effective teaching materials in a short amount of time. And, with two kids under 3 years old, we all know which choice he’s going with. 

Teaching is an art, and there are elements that cannot be delegated to ChatGPT, because they would lack the nuance, artistry, and personal experience required to be effective for use. But, by the same token, there are elements of effective teaching that do not require that level of artistry to be effectively done. That’s where ChatGPT comes in, to save some time and mental energy. 

Here’s an example: Mr. S taught Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, using Sigmund Freud’s theory of development as a lens to analyze the text. Did he turn to ChatGPT to provide a thorough and nuanced script to speak to his students about the impact of the text? Of course not - that would be inauthentic, and frankly dishonest. Instead, he used ChatGPT to quickly and accurately produce a resource to help students with background knowledge; he efficiently found the necessary factual information to provide his students with an understanding of the context in which the text was written, and the basics of Sigmund Freud’s ideas, without having to comb the internet himself. ChatGPT even made the PowerPoint slides for him, saving him valuable time, which he poured back into his students, providing them with things that ChatGPT simply can’t. 

Using ChatGPT in the education setting is not a simple quick fix; rather, it is a nuanced process of integrating a brand new tool that will take time to thoroughly understand. Its use in the school setting mimics our belief about its use in the world: as we discover new tools, and uses for them, we must also carefully consider their impacts in both the short and long term, carefully placing value in the right places. 

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