Artificial Intelligence and technology have and will continue to have a massive effect on education. We can choose to ignore it, live in fear of it replacing us, or harness its power. Gerhard Erasmus suggests a few ways how we can do just that.
I had originally planned (and actually had it basically written) a blog about the deaf frog that got stuck in a pit with other frogs and how it got out. This would then have been followed by an analysis, a few uplifting lessons from the story, and hopefully, a job well done. However … Two days ago, I was having a few beers with teacher friends, and they mentioned ChatGPT which is basically an AI engine that can produce amazing pieces of writing. They told me about the doom and gloom effects on teaching essays and other kinds of writing, and I read a few articles about the negative impact this will have on plagiarism (it is not picked up as plagiarized by Turnitin) and how students will be able to produce essays as their own work even if it was written by the AI engine. I thought, well, if it is that good, maybe it can write my blog for me. So, I registered and entered my blog topic. The response took all of 7 seconds. Here it is:
The story of the deaf frog in a pit is a variation on the story of the frogs in the pit, with the added element of the frog being deaf. The story goes that a group of frogs were trapped in a pit, and despite their efforts, they were unable to escape. However, one of the frogs was deaf, and could not hear the others when they gave up and stopped trying to escape. The deaf frog continued to jump and try to escape, and eventually managed to jump out of the pit, while the others remained trapped.
One lesson from this story is the importance of not being influenced by the negativity or defeatism of others. The deaf frog in the story was able to escape because it was not influenced by the others when they gave up, and continued to try and escape. This demonstrates the value of staying focused on one's goals and not being swayed by the opinions of others.
Another lesson from the story is the power of determination and perseverance. Despite the challenges it faced, the deaf frog in the story did not give up, and continued to try and escape from the pit. This illustrates the importance of never losing hope, and of continuing to strive towards one's goals, even in the face of adversity.
Additionally, the story highlights the importance of communication and cooperation. Although the deaf frog in the story was unable to hear the others, it was still able to escape because the others helped to create a "ladder" with their bodies, allowing the deaf frog to climb out of the pit. This shows the value of working together and supporting one another, even when faced with obstacles or challenges.
Overall, the story of the deaf frog in the pit offers valuable lessons about determination, perseverance, and the importance of communication and cooperation in achieving one's goals.
Now, as a blog, that’s a bit dull. I would need to add bullet points, and all the niceties of a blog, but if this was an essay for an English class, it would be considered pretty solid. And again, it took 7 seconds.
The writing is not that great … yet!
Let’s quickly look at the second last paragraph. It is disconnected from the overall essay, and if anything, also makes the point of using or even abusing others to achieve your goals as a positive. The deaf frog climbed out of the pit on the dead bodies of his friends!
But the AI engine will learn. It will get better, and soon, it might actually be fantastic. So, does it spell the end of writing teaching as we know it? Especially when it becomes more refined?
Reasons you shouldn’t be worried (with a hint of sarcasm)
The engine is very expensive to maintain. In all likelihood, it will end up as something you have to pay for. Which basically means richer students will be able to pay to use it, they will claim you can search as a teacher on the engine to see if an essay was produced by the AI engine, but teachers wouldn’t be able to afford membership.
If you ignore a problem for long enough, it might go away. Like I said in the heading, with a touch of sarcasm. This is not going away. If anything, it will become more refined, better at what it does, and will have a massive impact on not only teaching writing, but actually writing in general. How long will it be (I hope this blog is posted before that actually happens) before AI writes a best-selling novel? That might actually solve the issue of cost mentioned above. An AI engine that is expensive to maintain but it sells books to support itself.
Schools can update their plagiarism policies and teachers can complain about how lazy students are nowadays and how none of them have any desire to write. But is this really new?
How has technology influenced writing?
We often claim that our assessments represent real life tasks. That is the purpose of communicative language testing. Then why do we turn autocorrect off in writing exams? Now we can claim that spelling awareness has decreased because of autocorrect, but let’s be honest for just a second. It doesn’t matter what your language ability is. Predictive text and autocorrect has had a massive impact even on how people write in their first language. There is very little evidence that students are either better or worse at spelling because of autocorrect. There are studies that indicate both, but also many other factors that could be contributing to either and increase or decrease of spelling ability and awareness. My main point here being changes in how we approach writing is not new. We have dealt with them before, albeit not always in the most effective way.
Another example of this is applications like Quizlet or Memrise. It is near impossible for a teacher to have perfect spaced repetition in a course, especially if you are dealing with a class rather than an individual. These apps allow you to upload word lists and the app calculates the repetitions, keeps track of words students ‘know’ and allows for the relearning and review of other words. However, I don’t see it used very often. To me, this is another example of technology being available but not optimised. If anything, we sometimes view things like Duolingo as a competitor to our roles, rather than as a supplement.
Is acceptance resignation?
This is here to stay. I think it is a good time to sit back, accept what is happening and then have a very serious look in the mirror. Because in the end, I think this is a great development. If we want our students to be more creative, then we need to get more creative. So here are a few ways of doing this.
Use oral exams rather than essays to assess students. The time it takes you to mark essays can be replaced by a 5-minute chat about the content. Rather than giving an essay like ‘Discuss the themes in Animal Farm as it relates to modern life,’ sit down with the student and ask them about it. And they can bring notes. You can ask probing questions and get a much better idea into their insight and knowledge.
Redesign your questions so it cannot be written by an AI engine. Rather than an essay on assessing materials in a teacher training course, give them a class profile and a course book unit, and ask them to assess the unit, make suggestions for supplementation and adaptation, and suggest changes to the unit.
Highlight how to use your voice in writing. It isn’t just about the content. It is also about your view of the content. One big benefit a student has over the AI is that they often actually know the reader. I know the person I am sending an email to, or the manager I am writing a report for. This is your strength. And it is something we can teach a lot more explicitly.
Accept that more changes are coming. Imagine where the AI can actually answer the question about materials above. I would say that’s brilliant. Imagine a world where we can upload a class profile and a set of materials, and the AI makes suggestions on supplementation and adaptation, and better even, produces the worksheets or texts that we can use to supplement our lessons. All we need to do is refine our class profile and learner profile, really get to know our students, and feed that into the AI engine. Its ability to remember everything far exceeds ours.
And my second last point (although I could probably write another 20 at least), use the AI to produce texts for your classes. I will use the example of animal farm again. Get an essay that discusses the themes. Ask students to find examples of the themes from the book. Or get essays with the examples as well, let students match them to themes and discuss how it relates to the world. Or even to their city, their university or the class. Who in the class would play which character in a movie and why have they chosen this person. What characteristics do they have that is similar to the characters in the book. I feel like the possibilities are endless.
Finally, use what the AI has produced to teach critical thinking skills. The example above from the second last paragraph in the frog story could easily be used to discuss how we view people differently because of our perception of them. One is terrible, because they stepped on the dead bodies of their friends to reach their goals. The other a hero. This level of creativity has also been around for years. Have you ever used the story of Goldilocks and the three bears to have a discussion on the themes of white privilege? Or little Red Riding Hood and the dangers of online grooming? Because I have, and it is amazing to see what adult students come up with when given the opportunity to be creative. But for that, we need to be creative.
I am sure there are many benefits, but I will focus on only a few. I cannot even try to count the number of times students have done a proficiency exam and were disappointed with a speaking or writing score. Now, I am not saying they are always right, and the scores are wrong, but I have seen the things below happen quite a few times:
- An examiner examined Cambridge Advanced (CAE) and then switched to Cambridge Key (KET). And for that first test or two, they’re a little harsher because of having examined a much higher level a few minutes earlier.
- An examiner has a loved one that passed away and they are distracted while examining speaking or writing.
- A candidate accidentally says something that irks the examiner, and it impacts their score.
- An examiner is feeling sick, and it impacts how they assess.
While there has been lots of criticism of computerised marking of speaking and writing, the technology has developed to such an extent that examiners will probably be replaced completely, and in terms of consistency, this is great. The AI marker doesn’t know the colour of your skin, your gender, or anything about you that could make it bias. It doesn’t suffer from any of the issues mentioned above. Scores will be much more consistent. And exam board would probably have to review their marking criteria.
Another benefit is it allows us to reinvent ourselves. Technology doesn’t replace us. It allows us to reinvent ourselves. When ATMs were invented, bank tellers became obsolete to an extent. However, banks soon realised that tellers could do more than just give and take money, and with ATMs it was cheaper to open more branches. So, the technology that were supposed to replace bank tellers actually increased their numbers and their skill sets. We should be doing the same.
Don’t be the frog that gives up here. Keep jumping. You don’t have to completely ignore the negatives and don’t step on your dead friends to get out of the hole. But perseverance, cooperation, and a desire to optimise what we have will more than likely make us much more effective as teachers. We will also be much better able to deal with all the changes still to come. Keep jumping and create a better more creative future – in the year ahead and beyond.