Design a site like this with
Get started

ChatGPT: Educational Affront or Opportunity?

Robot with binary code behind it
Reggie Williams smiling with a cat

Reggie Williams is a Philosophy Professor at Bakersfield College, and the Director of BC’s Norman Levan Center for the Humanities. Reggie holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Illinois, as well as Master’s degrees in Philosophy and English. Reggie has written on a range of social issues and enjoys his family, music, obscure film, and travel.

*Note: This blog was not composed with ChatGPT—I promise—though surely it could have been.

My introduction to ChatGPT began with a text. It was from a dear friend with whom I teach a course on futurism, and it came through on a Saturday evening, fast approaching his bedtime. The text read, simply, “Can I call you?”

My first thought was, “Is my friend okay? . . . Does he need a ride? . . . Is the singularity in fact upon us?. . .” In a sense, perhaps it was. First, my friend was awake and calling after 9:00. Second, the call was about ChatGPT, which might well prove to be a revolution in education.

ChatGPT is an interactive, AI-driven learning tool/composition aid. One can feed it text and ask for corrections in mechanics: grammar, punctuation, and the like. One can feed it an awkward sentence, receiving multiple revisions within seconds. One can feed it an entire assignment and receive a surprisingly decent paper. I know faculty who have already used ChatGPT to compose syllabi, revise curriculum, and draft student learning outcomes. ChatGPT can do a lot.

Such technology stands to revolutionize writing, teaching, and tutoring services. If ChatGPT can fix students’ punctuation, do they need to learn punctuation rules from professors? Professors—to date—can explain the principles behind punctuation better than ChatGPT. But students and professors alike rely on spellcheck when writing papers. They don’t rely on semantic theory or phonetics. What will prevent ChatGPT or its successors from antiquating the traditional teaching of grammar, punctuation, and writing fluidity, as spellcheck effectively antiquated spelling lessons post-grade school? As calculators antiquated the traditional teaching of basic math?

Many educators oppose, even fear, this new technology. The concern is often said to be cheating. How does one keep students from using ChatGPT and submitting better papers than they know how to write? How does one measure a student’s compositions skills, rather than their skills at getting ChatGPT to provide them with a well-written paper? The worry is also a fear of being replaced: a fear of discovering that one’s teaching services, and career, are no longer needed in a world with software that can provide a clear paper faster than someone with a Ph.D in English.

These concerns are important, but there is perhaps a better way to navigate the era of ChatGPT. Perhaps we should ask ourselves more deeply what cheating and teaching mean, and why cheating is an issue.

The standard answer is that cheating is dishonest. But ChatGPT is out there. People are using it, students and professors alike. If professors are using ChatGPT, can we expect students not to use it?

I am an instructor who values accurate grammar and punctuation, but not for its own sake. I value these dimensions of writing because, to a large extent, writing precision and the truth value of one’s claims are a function of them. What interests me in a paper is its reasoning, its depth of insight, its analytical rigor—the critical thinking displayed. I thus welcome an era in which I can focus on students’ reasoning, depth, and critical thinking, instead of writing mechanics. If there is anything more difficult to teach and assess than mechanics, though, it is these areas of scholarship. Reading a paper for the quality of its reasoning is much more arduous than scanning a paper for MLA format, for one-inch margins, and in the old days, for misspelled words.

ChatGPT will not replace good writing instruction, but it will require that we rethink what it means. It will make writing instructors work harder too: not pursuing cheaters, but assessing the thinking that goes into an insightful paper, the way in which the research questions were conceived, the implications of asking those particular questions instead of others, and the novelty of the research that students undertake. I welcome this extra work as an opportunity to help students hone their thinking, just as I would welcome grading math theory, rather than multiplication tables, were I a math professor in the era in which the calculator was invented.


2 thoughts on “ChatGPT: Educational Affront or Opportunity?

  1. Thanks for this post! Loved it and am sharing with my team…have also begun experimenting with ChatGPT to see how it may be applied to institutional research and effectiveness work.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: