School Climate & Safety

It’s Not ChatGPT That’s the Problem. It’s Binary Thinking

By Lauraine Langreo — May 24, 2023 2 min read
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A lot of binary, dichotomous, either-or arguments have been playing out in K-12 education over the past few years.

For example, early in the pandemic, debates occurred about whether students should wear masks in school: On one side, there were people who said students should wear masks everywhere in school. On the other side, there were people who said mask-wearing is a threat to personal liberty.

More recently, this binary thinking has seeped into discussions about using artificial intelligence in classrooms. Some districts quickly banned the use of ChatGPT—an AI-powered tool that can mimic human writing—in schools to address concerns about cheating and plagiarism. Others have allowed access without setting strict guidelines and expectations about how it should be used.

Why do people tend to have rigid, knee-jerk responses to new developments like ChatGPT or COVID masks? It’s how our brains work, according to researchers. People have a tendency to jump to conclusions with limited evidence, which denies us the opportunity to consider the nuances of a problem or issue.

During an Education Week Leadership Symposium session this month that challenged the tendency to think in binary ways, Deputy Managing Editor Kevin Bushweller engaged district leaders in a discussion about whether schools should ban ChatGPT.

While a few district leaders said it should be banned, the majority seemed to agree that it’s time to recognize the technological shift and have a conversation about how educators and students should be using ChatGPT and other AI-powered tools.

“You really can’t stop this from happening,” said one district leader. “It’s coming, it’s getting more progressive as the minutes go by.”

He said educators should start using ChatGPT and other AI technologies to their advantage. AI can be used to prepare lesson plans or compare textbooks, for instance.

Other district leaders added that schools should also start teaching students how to use these tools properly the same way schools have embraced other technologies, such as the internet.

Across the country, school districts’ responses have become more nuanced since ChatGPT became a hot topic late last year. For example, the New York City school system was one of the first to ban ChatGPT in schools in January, citing concerns about the negative effect it could have on student learning and the safety and accuracy of its content. But this month, the nation’s largest school district said it will allow ChatGPT in classrooms after “careful examination” of the technology’s benefits and risks.

Surely, there are plenty of topics of conversation that will continue to ignite either-or arguments in K-12 education.

What can schools do to upend this way of thinking? Here are five tips from experts:

  1. Listen more and talk less.
  2. Scale back the use of social media and encourage students to do the same.
  3. Give kids opportunities to challenge their own beliefs.
  4. Teach students the science of how their brains work.
  5. Practice intellectual humility and model it for your students and communities.

More From Education Week's Leadership Symposium

On May 10-12, 2023, Education Week brought educators and experts together for three days of empowering strategies, networking, and inspiration.
Below is a selection of sessions from the symposium that are available on-demand. Access the entire event here.
Featured Speaker: A Leader’s Agenda: Cultivating Joy, Resilience, and Learning at School
Featured Speaker: ChatGPT, A.I., and How Schools Should Be Thinking About Digital Learning
Panel Discussion: Successful Responses to the Student Mental Health Crisis
Panel Discussion: Getting New Teachers Off to a Strong Start
Leadership Interview: Best Practices for Supporting Students in Gifted and Special Education
Leadership Interview: How to Build a Bench of Diverse Educator Talent

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