What to do About ChatGPT?

What to do About ChatGPT?

Parents need to be aware of artificial intelligence and how it can affect their kids' education

As the school year kicked off last year, parents found themselves in a new era of education where Artificial Intelligence (AI) was becoming increasingly common in their teenagers' academic lives. Discussions around the classrooms and at home centered in large part around whether new AI programs, in particular those that could write and “think” for themselves, would complement traditional learning or become a shortcut to achievement that would be more damaging than complimentary to a student’s development.

Defined by IBM as a branch of science and engineering that makes intelligent computer systems that mimic problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind, AI had previously been relegated to the sphere of science fiction. But increasingly, real world applications are becoming popular for larger parts of the population. 

Evidence of the increased use of AI and, in particular, ChatGPT - a natural language processing tool driven by AI that allows for human-like conversations and writing - could be found in a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center completed in November 2023. The findings were staggering — one in five U.S. teens had not only heard of A.I. but had also used it for their schoolwork. This revelation potentially meant a significant shift in the education landscape, and left parents now grappling with the need to understand and manage their teenagers' use of AI.

Many parents prefer their children not to engage with AI at all, at least until more information on how it can affect their education is known. For these parents, communication is key. Openly expressing concerns about the potential negative impact on traditional learning is crucial. Parents need to clarify the importance of problem solving and critical thinking in their kid’s development and warn of potential consequences if AI is used in ways that go against school policies. Failing assignments or classes and, in extreme cases, disciplinary action leading to expulsion are real possibilities of use of AI without permission.

Although it may be tempting to view using AI or ChatGPT as cheating, parents should also know that their children have increasingly been taking shortcuts even before the current issue dominated headlines. Research by Stanford education scholars points to the proliferation of cheating way before AI became an option - with as many as 60 to 70 percent of students over a 15-year period saying they engage in some kind of cheating during just the previous month. 

Parents should also consider that in the long run treating AI as an outright villain like Agent Smith in the Matrix movies will not benefit their children and could actually be counterproductive.  Just like with other AI applications, ChatGPT and other similar programs will likely only get more popular and an ability to manage them could be a better option than trying to ban them outright.

Parents who view AI as a valuable tool for academic support often believe that learning to use it will be a skill that can give their children a competitive edge in the future. These parents should engage in thoughtful conversations with their teenagers, establishing guidelines for responsible AI use, according to their own values. For them, it is essential to convey that AI should be a supplement to traditional learning, not a replacement.

An article in The 74 entitled “3 Ways to Use ChatGPT to Help Students Learn - and Not Cheat” encourages parents to have their children treat ChatGPT as a learning partner that can prompt more discussion and practical applications rather than a finished essay or term paper. It also says that ChatGPT can help students review their original work and can be prompted to create positive feedback to boost confidence.