Navigating the Risks and Rewards of ChatGPT – TC Columbia University

ChatGPT, a newly popular artificial intelligence program, may help teachers plan lessons and grade papers. But it can also help students cheat and introduces numerous other challenges, leading districts across the country — including the New York City Department of Education — to ban the software altogether.
“These are hard decisions schools need to make, but they should not be made out of fear,” said TC’s Lalitha Vasudevan, Vice Dean for Digital Innovation and head of the Digital Futures Institute, in an interview with the Washington Post. “They should be made within the scope of improving student learning.”
We followed up with Vasudevan and other education technology experts from throughout the TC community to weigh in.
Paulo Blikstein, Associate Professor of Communications, Media and Learning Technologies Design; Lalitha Vasudevan, Vice Dean for Digital Innovation and head of the Digital Futures Institute; Ezekiel Dixon-Román, Professor of Critical Race, Media, and Educational Studies, and Director of the Edmund W. Gordon Institute for Urband and Minority Education; Renzhe Yu, Assistant Professor of Learning Analytics/Educational Data Mining; Ellen B. Meier, Professor of Practice; and lecturer Jin Kuwata. (Photos: TC Archives) 
For some, perhaps yes — but the complex advancements of ChatGPT may just provoke new, but needed questions and answers about the future of teaching.
“The danger is that [educators] start relying on those tools before they have the in-depth knowledge about teaching and classroom management and lesson planning design,” TC’s Paulo Blikstein, Associate Professor of Communications, Media and Learning Technologies Design, told Education Week. “The danger there is that the technology will drive the teaching and not the other way around.”
But education has often been wary of technological advancements in the past, notes Vasudevan of the graphing calculator — which has become foundational to high school math classes across the world. Educators may not need to work against ChatGPT, but rather learn how to minimize the risks it introduces and welcome the opportunity to be critical of its use in education.
“Exploring the question of what it means to be a good collaborator with machines reintroduces the idea of what it means to teach, learn, the relationships we have, as well as where and how we focus our efforts,” says TC’s Jin Kuwata, who also teaches in CMLTD. “I see these kinds of tools as not just things that complete tasks, but entities we learn to work with in partnership to enrich our understandings of the world.”
OpenAI, the program’s parent company, is already working on accompanying software that can help educators detect text that was generated by ChatGPT.
That plus building trust between students and teachers could be key. For Blikstein, the unspoken social contract between an educator and student is built upon mutual “human” investment in working together. AI tools complicate that.
“If we start using AI for both sides — student and teacher — these kinds of ethical contracts need to be reconsidered and made transparent to both parties,” explained Blikstein. “It becomes this weird learning environment [where] people don’t trust each other anymore.”
Additional tools and trust for the future, sure. But for right now, can school districts rely on bans to limit academic dishonesty?
Many districts have simply blocked the platform from school-issued devices and networks, but — as with any banned entity — demand and usage likely persists, especially if students can still access the platform from other internet networks and devices.
“The ban is a realistic policy reaction in the short-term, when we are uncertain about the tool’s value and risks, but it is not a longer-term solution,” says TC’s Renzhe Yu, Assistant Professor of Learning Analytics/Educational Data Mining, who is encouraging his students to try ChatGPT themselves to explore potential uses.
“It’s researchers who are responsible at this point to work with teachers to understand the best way to incorporate these AI tools to leverage its power, to better help students in mastery of knowledge, AI literacy and other kinds of things.”
(Photo: iStock) 
Several, to be short. A few top concerns include:
“We cannot put the genie back in the bottle. [This software] is an opportunity to engage more of our teaching, more of our educators in understanding the power and potential of technology,” says TC’s Ellen B. Meier, Professor of Practice. “If we don’t think about new pedagogical opportunities, we end up doing more transactional teaching in which information is just presented to students and they’re not necessarily learning.”
Thus, changing how students are taught — even if it’s through programs as innovative as AI — is just another chapter in the rigorous journey of improving education.
“If the things that we used to put so much effort into in teaching can be automated, then maybe we should rethink what the actual goals and experiences are that we should work toward in the classroom,” explains Vasudevan.
So what does that process look like? “We have a real chance to say ‘Let’s center student and teacher voices and experiences about their concerns and their interests, and that’s how TC can play a role,” says Vasudevan, who is focused on that work with her colleagues at TC’s Digital Futures Institute — which will soon release a guide for educators and create “open spaces for discussion” to demystify and engage with AI tools.
“We’re still in the relatively early days of this consumer-accessible AI, but our everyday lives have been saturated with this kind of AI for a while…Now, we have an opportunity to upend that a bit to support teachers to be inquirers the same way they would inquire a text for a subject,” says Vasudevan. “The key question now is how can we improve the context in which people are brought in — so students and teachers are partners in the decision-making about how to use these tools rather than just users.”
— Morgan Gilbard
Tags: Digital Learning Digital Media / Media Literacy Digital Learning Ed Tech
Programs: Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design
Departments: Mathematics, Science & Technology
Published Tuesday, Jan 31, 2023
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