The current big news on ChatGPT is around the decisions by K-12 school districts to pause, think, push back and sometimes “ban” ChatGPT. I’ve mostly heard about NYC Department of Ed because they have actually put a “ban” in place but other districts are now considering their approach. What does it mean to “ban” a technology in a school? In this case it means blocking it on their networks and on all school issued devices. Another way of pushing back though is simply spreading the message that this tool is not aligned with the school’s values.
Responses that I’ve seen are mostly dismissive of the schools who are considering or implementing a ban and often buy into the techno-inevitability frame. This is the future; you can’t fight it? But I’m more sympathetic to these schools’ stance. While I do think that they have set themselves up for a Streisand effect, and I realize that there are other ways to access the tool on cell networks and personal devices, I also feel the need to defend this approach.
I think others who are sympathetic to banning are doing so because of cheating concerns but I’m not so interested in the “cheating” angle. I do think that this tool could be used to assist in critical thinking and in the drafting process. But I’ve worked in edtech for 15 years and if I know anything I know quickly throwing new technology, at scale, into a learning environment is a recipe for disaster. It takes people to develop meaningful curricula around technology use, imagine harms and try to avoid them, and that takes time. I’m all for slowing this bus down.
I wrote about some concerns that good intentioned higher ed instructors, who want to use ChatGPT with their students, might want to think about. There, I mostly cited privacy and larger labor concerns which I think are heightened for K-12. But another concern for both higher ed and K-12 might be that this is a “free for now” product. Some are estimating that it costs $3 million dollars a month to run the thing. They are going to start charging for it at some point. What if it is in the middle of your term?
I’m okay with some schools considering and even deciding to attempt to throttle ChatGPT usage – especially K-12 schools. OpenAI is pretty open about the fact that this whole thing is a big experiment around the effects of releasing ChatGPT on society. They are quoted as telling CNN:
“A spokesperson for OpenAI, the artificial intelligence research lab behind the tool, said it made ChatGPT available as a research preview to learn from real-world use. The spokesperson called that step a “critical part of developing and deploying capable, safe AI systems.”
OpenAI says that their mission is “to ensure that artificial intelligence is a benefit to all of humanity” but I’m not sure how that tracks with running experiments on the general public (in higher ed this would never pass IRB) and drawing a line at extending this experiment on kids is okay in my book.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
4 thoughts on “In Defense of “Banning” ChatGPT”
Thanks for your thoughts, and you are correct about K-12 schools in the US having firewalls in order to get federal funding, and some schools are more strict with firewalls than others. I hadn’t read through their terms of service and privacy notes, so that was helpful for you to give the links and framework. Given the experimental mode, I don’t have much problem with holding back some access for now, but I hope it gives schools time to plan for when this and its brethren are integrated everywhere. None of my colleagues even knew what I was talking about, and I suspect most of our administrators are always unaware.
Thanks for weighing in Kevin. I don’t really think “banning” is what most people think it is. Hence the scare quotes. I think it is mostly slowing down and drawing some boundaries. Those boundaries are likely to flex and change over time but to suggest they should not exist is pretty agressive.
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