Conversational AI has the potential to revolutionise the way we think about education. For example, at Noodle Factory, we use conversational AI in our “Walter” platform to provide teachers, course instructors, and students with AI-powered teaching and learning assistants. These assistants perform various tasks: consolidate course content, create lesson plans, generate knowledge bases, offer personalised tutoring, provide online course assistance, moderate virtual study groups, and more.
One of the significant benefits of using conversational AI in education is that it can adapt to the unique needs of individual students and align better with individual learning style preferences. This personalised teaching approach can significantly improve the learning process's effectiveness and efficiency.
Another advantage of using conversational AI in education is that it can be available 24/7, allowing students to get help and support whenever needed. This is especially useful for students taking online courses or who may not have access to traditional teaching resources.
Conversational AI in education is undoubtedly NOT without controversy or concern, however. For example, some schools and school districts, such as the New York City and Los Angeles School districts, have banned the use of ChatGPT on their networks. While I understand this type of response, many metaphors come to mind–the genie is out of the bottle, Pandora’s box has been opened, the ghost has exited the machine–it may be a better strategy to manage the use of these tools rather than ban them altogether. In fact, this is a conversation I had today with an investor when explaining our approach to using conversational AI–specifically GPT-3 powered tools–in the structured environment that Noodle Factory’s “Walter” platform provides rather than simply leaving it to chance that students are encountering the correct information and/or answers “in the wild”.
Think about previous innovations that were initially viewed as the “beginning of the end” for learning: the calculator, the personal computer, the spreadsheet, the Internet, and search engines (notably Google), to name but a few.
When the calculator was first introduced, it was seen as a potential threat to the traditional methods of teaching and learning mathematics, particularly in relation to the use of the slide rule. The slide rule was a mechanical calculating tool that was widely used in schools and universities to perform mathematical calculations, including multiplication, division, and the extraction of roots. It was seen as an essential tool for students and professionals in a wide range of fields, including engineering, science, and mathematics.
However, when the calculator was invented, it quickly became apparent that it was much faster and more accurate than the slide rule for performing various mathematical calculations. This led some people to worry that the widespread adoption of the calculator would lead to a decline in the use of the slide rule and other traditional methods of teaching and learning mathematics. They argued that the calculator would make it too easy for students to perform complex calculations, leading to a decline in their ability to understand and apply mathematical concepts. However, over time, the calculator became widely accepted as a valuable tool for teaching and learning mathematics, and it is now a standard part of the education landscape. The calculator has also helped to make complex mathematical calculations more accessible to a broader range of people and has played a role in advancing the study and application of mathematics in a variety of fields.
Personal computers were initially seen as a potential threat to education because they offered a wide range of new capabilities and tools that would almost certainly disrupt traditional teaching and learning methods. For example, computers made it possible to deliver educational content in new and innovative ways, such as through online courses and multimedia resources. This led some to worry that the widespread adoption of computers would lead to a decline in the use of more traditional teaching and learning methods, such as lectures and textbooks.
When spreadsheets were introduced, they were also seen as potential threats to traditional teaching and learning methods, particularly concerning business and financial subjects. Spreadsheets, particularly, were seen as a powerful tool for organising, analysing and presenting data. Still, some educators worried that their widespread adoption would lead to a decline in understanding core business, financial, and mathematical concepts at the heart of expertise in using things like ledger books and financial statements.
Overall, the introduction of spreadsheets and personal computers significantly changed how business and financial subjects were taught and learned, and they have had a lasting impact on education more broadly. However, these technologies have also had many positive effects on education, such as making it easier for students and teachers to access and share information and enabling more personalised and interactive learning experiences.
The advent of the Internet and search engines like Google significantly impacted education, and a range of concerns and fears accompanied their widespread adoption. One concern was that the Internet and search engines would make it too easy for students to access information, which might lead to a decline in their ability to think critically and independently. Some argued that the Internet and search engines would create a "culture of laziness," in which students would rely on them to do their thinking rather than develop their own knowledge and skills.
Another concern was that the Internet and search engines would make it too easy for students to plagiarise or cheat on assignments and tests. With the vast amount of online information, some people worried that it would be difficult for teachers to ensure that students were using their own ideas and words rather than copying from online sources. This led to concerns that the Internet and search engines would undermine the integrity of the education system and the value of academic degrees.
Overall, the Internet and search engines have had a complex and multifaceted impact on education. While they have made it easier for students and teachers to access and share information, they continue to raise a range of concerns and challenges related to critical thinking, plagiarism, and the role of technology in education.
TurnItIn and other plagiarism detection tools have helped to encourage academic honesty in education by providing teachers and instructors with a way to identify and address instances of plagiarism in their classrooms. By using these tools, teachers can check the originality of students' work and ensure that they are using their own ideas and words rather than copying from online sources or other sources of information.
Additionally, using TurnItIn and other plagiarism detection tools can help educate students about the importance of academic honesty and the consequences of plagiarism. Using these tools, teachers can help students understand the value of using their own ideas and words and encourage them to develop their original work.
As with the advent of tools like TurnItIn, over time, conversational AI tools could be deployed as valuable tools in education to encourage academic honesty, discourage the propagation of false information, and limit the spread of harmful information by providing students with resources to help them verify the accuracy of the information, detect instances of plagiarism, and participate in online discussions responsibly and respectfully.
Here are three potential examples:
- Plagiarism prevention: Conversational AI tools could be used to help detect instances of plagiarism in student work. For example, a chatbot or virtual assistant could be programmed to analyse the content of a document and compare it to a database of other sources to identify instances of copied content.
- Fact-checking: Conversational AI tools could help students verify the accuracy of the information they come across online. For example, a chatbot or virtual assistant could be programmed to provide students with reliable sources of information on a particular topic or to help them verify the accuracy of a specific claim.
- Moderation: Conversational AI tools could help moderate online discussions and prevent the spread of false or harmful information. For example, a chatbot or virtual assistant could be programmed to monitor online conversations and flag comments that contain inaccurate or harmful information or to provide students with resources to help them evaluate the reliability of the information.
The use of AI in education should not simply be accepted “as is” or uncritically. As with anything new or something not well understood in an educational context, we should ask tough questions about the use of conversational AI in teaching and learning. However, as with other technological innovations over the last century, we should also aim to realise the potential of these tools while safeguarding against misuse or harm.
Overall, the future of conversational AI in education looks bright, and it has the potential to improve the way we teach and learn significantly. If we can adequately manage the journey of the genie out of the bottle, the contents of Pandora’s box, the ghost that has emerged from the machine, or whatever your favourite analogy is, our teachers and students are the ones who stand to benefit if we will allow it.
We hope you enjoyed our series about GPT-3! If you did, make sure to mention us and share the post on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Read the third post of this series here: GPT-3 and Me: Opportunities and Risks Associated with AI in Education (Part III)
We are also excited to announce that we will be adding GPT-3 capabilities to our award-winning AI teaching platform, Walter. Join our waiting list to gain early access when it's launched!
Dr Jim Wagstaff lives in Singapore and is the co-founder of Noodle Factory, an AI-powered teaching and learning platform. Jim is also the co-founder of Jam Factory and a founding board member of Up 2 Speed–companies that focus on corporate training. Until 2010, Jim was Vice-President and General Manager of Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s data storage business in the APJ region. Jim earned both his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Liverpool (UK). His ongoing research focuses on how organisations harness the power of digital capabilities to better serve customers, students, and users.