After the release of ChatGPT last November, the education world was taken by a wave of uneasiness and doubt. I realized that many of my fellow educators are worried about the technology’s use in a classroom setting. But students’ use of this new generative artificial intelligence tool to plagiarize, to take shortcuts, and to not do the actual writing they need to do is only one of the many interpretations of this tool’s implications for education. As a person who tends to be surfing on the edge of new technological waves, I found this to be the most exciting technology I have ever encountered.
What we teachers desperately need, though, is an ocean of examples and training. We need to see and share examples of generative AI—any type of artificial intelligence that can be used to create new text, images, video, audio, code, or data—being used across the curriculum. We need catalogs of new lesson plans and new curriculum.
And we need training on theoretical and practical levels: training to understand what artificial intelligence actually is and where it stands in the development timeline and training about how to integrate it into our classes.
Anecdotes from peers, administrators, and news stories aren’t helping. They are confusing and often sensationalized projections of doom and rampant plagiarizing.
Students will naturally try their best to make use of any technology they can to make their life easy. I’m not naive about that. Right now, we are all experimenting with AI, and I’m OK with my students’ occasional lapses.
Remember that we had to deal with this in the early days of the internet when anyone could lift the words off a research paper and drop them into their own essay. But then, just as now, we teachers started having conversations with our students. The basis of that conversation was being able to spot the plagiarism, but the rest was on us.
The problem is that my fellow teachers and I cannot have those productive conversations about generative AI if we do not understand it. We need models of what is or isn’t acceptable when using this technology. At this very moment—and completely on the fly—we’re setting the standard of what is acceptable, and each one of us has a different perspective. Consequently, drawing the line between cheating and not cheating cannot be universally standardized.
My contribution to this conversation, then, is to share my experiences. When ChatGPT first launched, I told my students, “Go for it!” Go ahead and use the technology but then not only cite the sources, get to the primary source. Don’t settle for the article reporting the study, find the original study. Then, when you get the primary source, report that.
Here’s what happened: Students had to start thinking more about the information presented. In fact, they had to work harder to confirm the source and the information the bot gave them.
This lesson—how to track back to a primary source and evaluate the information presented—is one of the most essential skills students can learn today. We are constantly bombarded with fake information presented as fact even by previously trustworthy media outlets. There is no standard of truth on the internet, and generative AI has absolutely no ability to confirm the veracity of what it is presenting as fact. Sometimes, it’s not even presenting fact at all. Humans do that, and my students are learning how to be cynical readers, perhaps better now than ever.
So, my advice to teachers is to use any and all the generative AI you can get your hands on. Then experience—for yourself—verification of the information. Track it back to the source because in doing so, you’ll land on the adjustments you need to make in your classes next year.
If you use an AI detector like Turnitin or GPTZero or even ChatGPT itself, when it identifies a segment or even an entire paper as written by AI, also consider the citations that go along with it. Run a plagiarism check, too. I realize this is extra labor, and it adds time, but this phase will be short-lived. You’ll quickly start to see how to adjust your lessons, how to recognize generative AI with or without detection tools.
The mechanics of writing are absolutely essential skills, but the ability to evaluate and recognize truth is the skill that students may need the most, now and in the future.
A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 2023 edition of Education Week as AI Can Teach Students A Powerful Lesson About the Truth