I became interested in ChatGPT because it has become such an issue in pre-sessional courses. There are great, valid, concerns about ChatGPT in education but, when used appropriately, it can offer some interesting benefits.
The Rise of AI
There has been a definite rise in the use of AI writing and translation apps in pre-sessional courses. It’s not been an issue in my usual courses (Business English, IELTS and Cambridge exam courses etc.). Perhaps it’s because students who take one-to-one courses throughout the year have different priorities: they’re genuinely committed to learning and understand that there’s no point in gaming the system, also these courses tend to have lower stakes (and there’s no chance of using AI during IELTS and Cambridge exams).
The Temptation of ChatGPT
I generally consider myself a bit of a Luddite, certainly I’m a late-adopter of technology, but I’ve been amazed at how easy it is to use ChatGPT. I’m glad it wasn’t around when I was at school or university; I can see how tempting it would be to sit back and let it do its thing. ChatGPT can compose writing in any register you request, adhere to any word limit you require and adopt any perspective you choose, responding to detailed prompts in mere seconds. But you miss out on the chance to develop your own voice. And if there’s any point to education, or language, isn’t it to find and cultivate your own opinion and expression?
The Challenges of ChatGPT
I think there are three main issues with ChatGPT
- It can sound a bit generic. Even when you are very specific in your prompts, it does produce work which tends to read like it’s been constructed by a team of marketing consultants.
- It’s not always correct. It is basically crowdsourced and tends to take the popular answer over the correct one. You need to read with a critical eye and for that you need to know your subject.
- There’s an issue of authenticity – it’s not your own work.
These are very real challenges at the moment, they can’t be ignored.
Our Response to AI
What is going to be interesting is how schools and universities respond to advances in AI. There will have to be more emphasis on critical thinking and the ability to evaluate sources. Student evaluation will also have to change. Assignments will need to be more specific, perhaps involving original research which is not available to AI, and its likely courses will include more ongoing assessment, including assessment of speech in real time, answering targeted questions, contributions in class etc, rather than relying on final papers.
ChatGPT as a tool of Language Teachers
That said, there ChatGPT offers some real benefits for Language teachers.
Lesson Planning: It can assist in creating materials like cloze exercises and quizzes at different CEFR levels. It can create prompts for speaking and writing activities. It can identify keywords, parts of speech and even aid in producing phonemic transcription (although you need to be careful here as it uses a Standard American accent). You can even ask it to plan a lesson for you but I have not been very impressed by its offerings so far.
Marking: ChatGPT can evaluate a piece of writing and offer suggestions for improvement. It can, in fact, rewrite a whole text for you. As I said before this tends to be quite a generic rewrite and I’ve not found this useful but some of the criticisms it offers on my own text have been useful.
Classroom activities: It can help students collaboratively create original stories and poems. It can simulate conversations and interviews, it can turn a piece of informal writing into formal and vice versa. However, I don’t think it can do this for students alone yet as it tends to forget instructions about language level or misunderstand student contributions. At the moment I think, with lower level students, using ChatGPT should be teacher-mediated.
Some of the exercises I’ve used with Students
For a one-to-one reading class with a ten year old. We’ve been reading a book about great explorers. I used ChatGPT to pose as Marco Polo and the student interviewed it about its experiences. Some of the questions asked, ChatGPT could not answer as there is no record of Marco Polo’s thoughts on the subject but it was a nice activity which really brought alive the subject matter and historical period.
For a one-to-one General English class with a child. I used ChatGPT to give me the story of Cinderella in emojis. The child translated the story into English. We then used ChatGPT to create an interactive story of Cinderella with the child as Cinderella making her own decisions, we used this as a prompt to think about how the story could be different if set today with the child as protagonist and created an updated Cinderella for a more anarchic 11 year old.
For a one-to-one Business Class. We used ChatGPT to pose as an interviewer for a marketing company to interview the student. It asked pertinent questions and evaluated the answers. We then discussed the relevancy of the suggestions offered, some were great, some not so.
For a one-to-one writing course we looked at an Italian translation ChatGPT offered of the students work and compared it to a translation from Google Translate and then discussed the effect of each and the differences with the English text the student had written.
Technology is here to stay and it’s changing the way we teach and learn whether we like it or not. In response to this we need to inculcate critical and creative thinking, encouraging students to master AI, rather than be mastered by it.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can harness the power of ChatGPT in the classroom, I really recommend Nik Peachey’s course ‘ChatGPT in the Language Classroom’, it’s very thorough and inexpensive, available at peacheypublications.com