There has been a lot of advice around teaching since ChatGPT was released in November. As we are approaching fall term I wanted to curate some of it but also consider it from a critical lens. I agree with much of the advice out there, but find that what I agree with is often nothing new; it is the same good teaching advice that we have been giving for a long time. But I also sometimes hear advice that draws on problematic practices which draw from poor digital literacies around privacy and data collection and will likely perpetuate harms.
Advice Professors May Want to Question
ChatGPT is inevitable/resistance is futile/you can’t put the genie back in the bottle – or can you?
L.M. Sacasas calls it the Borg Complex and it is often a very tempting line of rhetoric to accept or to perpetuate, but I think it does more harm than good. I’m talking about the “it is inevitable”, “resistance is futile”, “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle” narrative. Advice that comes from this perspective should raise an eyebrow (or two) and those perpetuating this line of thought should think twice. Faculty are smart people and I think this comes off more as sales rhetoric to many of them. Plus, no one likes to feel like they are being forced into something and that they have no choice or control.
Nothing is predetermined and this technology is shifting and changing every day from global regulation, market forces, and public opinion. The “it” is doing a lot of work in the “It is inevitable” narrative. We have already seen OpenAI roll back intrusive features of data collection by allowing users to opt out of contributing their prompts to the training of the model. We have already seen paid tiers introduced and we know the costs of running these models is significant. What exactly is it that is here to stay? Is it cost-free access? Is it data collection? Is it integrations with other tools?
Those who perpetuate this narrative will often give examples like calculators but leave out examples like educational television, InBloom, and Google Glass all of which were predicted to “change the educational landscape” and were mostly big flops (a nod to Mr. Rogers and Mr. Dressup as exceptions). This line of thinking is not wrong necessarily, something is changing, but the thing is… something is always changing. Maybe this is harsh, but for me, it is just intellectually lazy and a red flag that the person giving this advice is not thinking about things very deeply.
Run your assignments through ChatGPT – but wait…
Over and over I see the advice to run your own assignments through ChatGPT to get an idea of what kind of answers you might get. It is not the worst advice but at its best, this advice is given to inspire reflection on the assignment and maybe help the instructor realize the need for some assignment redesign. Alas, at its worst this advice is given in hopes that the professor will develop a sense of ChatGPT’s “voice” so that an instructor can recognize it and call out students who are using it to “cheat”.
This advice gives me pause because simply prompting ChatGPT with statements like “revise this text to have a more academic tone” or even “rewrite this so that it sounds more conversational” can change that tone. I also think that some faculty might be careful about prompting ChatGPT with their assignments knowing that prompts are collected and used to train the model. Those with worries about academic integrity or who want to hold on to their intellectual property may want to wait on this advice.
You have to use the tool to learn the tool – or do you?
In countless articles, websites, and in overheard conversations I have heard the question “What can I do to prepare myself” answered by “Go create an account and start playing with it”. Indeed, I’ve even seen some who have gone so far as to say this is the “only” way to prepare for how AI might affect your class. Now I want to preface what I’m about to say by stating that if people want to go create an account and play with ChatGPT then go for it. I’ll even admit that this is what I’ve done myself. But there are lots of reasons why someone might not want to and I’m not sure that encouraging everyone to run out and create an account is such a great idea.
I do think that you have to inform yourself about this technology, and I will get to that in a moment, but using it comes with concerns and those giving this advice rarely talk about those. Data privacy concerns around companies running the models that most of the public have access to are real. Creating an account tied to personal information with any company opens individuals up to data collection and sale, it also perpetuates surveillance capitalism. The FTC has just this week opened an investigation on OpenAI about the harms the tool may be inflecting. This should especially be considered if you are asking students to create accounts. Additionally, there are real human labor costs and climate costs that some may not want to contribute to. If we are going to give this advice to run out and create accounts and play with this technology I think that we should start with some of these concerns first.
Finally, I will say that I do think that using ChatGPT can be a great way to learn about these tools but I’ve seen this advice backfire so many times. The truth is that all of these bots (ChatGPT, Bing, BARD, etc.) are really easy to use poorly but using them in interesting and unique ways takes some thought. Prompt engineering is a bit of an art. I’ve seen many people use poor prompting to explore these tools and then write them off as nothing special because they stop too soon and don’t ask the right questions in the right way.
Evergreen Teaching Advice
Learn about ubiquitous tools, their uses, and impacts
Every once in a while a technology comes around that impacts larger society through sheer volume of usage. Think social media, mobile devices, and even the internet itself. These are technologies where your students are likely to come in with direct experience or at least questions about using it. And so you might want to know a thing or to about it before you get into class. As mentioned above, a lot of folks say just go out and use the tool and that is one way but I’m not here to force anyone to do anything they don’t want to and I’m also just not convinced it is the best way to learn about generative AI.
There is plenty to be learned by reading about how this tech functions, various impacts to industries/society, as well as pedagogical uses. Besides just reading about the tool there are plenty of demo videos on YouTube and TikTok that actually show you how people are using it. There are free courses on prompt engineering which are filled with examples of inputs/outputs. You could also partner with a friend or a colleague who is using the tool and ask them to show you examples of ways it has benefited/failed them.
Let students know where you stand
No matter if you are 100% embracing or rejecting ChatGPT you should know enough to take some kind of stance, or at least start a conversation, or respond to student questions. Because of the variety of ways that it can be used and the variety of ways that different classes may approach it, you should make it clear what use of ChatGPT means for your class especially if you consider some uses to be cheating. Don’t be afraid to let students know if you are still making up your mind about it. It is still really new and many of us are trying to figure out what it means for our disciplines and fields.
Don’t Freak Out About Cheating
- Don’t fail all of your students
- Don’t use GenAI tools as detectors (see section about learning how the tools actually work)
- If you use actual detectors don’t rely on them solely to determine cheating
There is a place for assignment/course/assessment design but I think that it is trickier than many are making it out to be and that it is going to take some classroom trial and error to really figure out. I do think that in some cases we have let writing stand in for knowing and this technology will upset that. Some disciplines will move to assess without writing and instead move to projects and presentations. Yes some will move to surveillance but I’m hoping that will be at a minimum.
Focus on Care
Care about your students. Trust them. Have conversations with them.