On 30th November 2022, ChatGPT – an AI chatbot – was launched by San Francisco-based company OpenAI as an open access, free service; within 5 days it had over 1 million users (BBC, 2022). It also fuelled a wave of panic among the academic and pedagogical communities: Professor Mike Sharples of the Open University in the UK accuses ChatGPT, which can produce ‘a flawless looking academic essay’ in seconds’ (Stock, 2023), of ‘democratis[ing] plagiarism’ (cited in Stock, 2023).
As a teacher of our Core programme – Theory of Knowledge, Approaches to Learning and (Global) Perspectives, all of which focus on academic skills – I’ve been following the debate with interest. Rather than a threat, in my opinion AI represents a really exciting tool both for developing academic skills and generating ethical discussions. And this positive approach seems to be one shared among the IB and the international school community: in an online, student-led symposium hosted by Frankfurt International School and attended virtually by a group of LIS staff, the message from students, teachers and the IB was that AI is an exciting opportunity to experiment with how we learn, what we learn and how we assess learning.
We don’t yet know quite where it will lead us, but just as the Internet and advances in technology have already done, there can be no doubt that AI will change what our students can do and the ways in which they can do it. In my subjects this is particularly obvious: in a pre-Internet age, students could not have independently carried out the types of research reports on a wide variety of current global topics that they do at grades 8 and 10, nor could they have collaborated so easily on team projects, and the final products – the video campaigns, the online surveys, the websites – would have been significantly more limited in scope. Who knows where AI will take both their learning and our guiding of these projects?
That’s not to say that there aren’t some challenges along the way. It can’t be denied that AI adds another level of complexity to the eternal issue of academic dishonesty. However, in the context of LIS, the journalistic prophecies of doom seem vastly exaggerated. The Core subjects deal head on with important questions surrounding academic integrity. We talk explicitly about these issues, not just in terms of practicalities of how to cite sources, but also as a point of ethical discussion: what does it really mean to respect intellectual property, whether that’s an essay, an image copied from the Internet or downloading music? And what are the implications, both for yourself and others, when you don’t?
In addition, built into all of the Core subjects is the requirement to focus on process, often above outcome. Most of the assessment is based on process and reflection journals in conjunction with (or instead of) the final outcome – whether that’s an essay, a project, a poster or a presentation. While ChatGPT probably can write a reflection for you, the amount of time it would take to explain the necessary personal details means that you might as well have written it yourself (and would represent using ChatGPT as a tool, more akin to Deepl, rather than a substitute for your own brain).
We know that our students know about Chat GPT, we know that they are using it with curiosity and excitement. To be honest, wouldn’t it be a bit disappointing if they weren’t? Curiosity, risk-taking and learning from your mistakes is what being at school is all about. But it is our task as educators to prevent students from making mistakes in the manner with which they use these tools; the Core subjects offer a forum in which to do so through open conversations about the opportunities and the challenges that come with using ChatGPT and its wider AI family.
So the question – an exciting but, given the fast pace of AI development, challenging one – is what can we do to help students to use AI as a support to enhance, rather than to substitute, their learning? AI in its many forms offers an array of pedagogical tools which we all need to learn how to use to best effect. It also fuels a complex, challenging and exciting debate about a wide range of ethical issues which I believe our students, as a community of creative and critical thinkers, are well-equipped to join.
Marche, S. (2022) ‘The College Essay Is Dead’ in The Atlantic, 6.12.22. Available at https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2022/12/chatgpt-ai-writing-college-student-essays/672371/ [Accessed 17.2.23].
Stock, L. (2023) ‘ChatGPT is changing education, AI experts say -but how?’, Deutsche Welle, 24.1.23. Available at: https://www.dw.com/en/chatgpt-is-changing-education-ai-experts-say-but-how/a-64454752 [Accessed 17.2.23].
Vallance, C. (2022) ‘ChatGPT: new AI chatbot has everyone talking to it’, BBC, 7.12.22. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-63861322 [Accessed 17.2.23].