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Teaching in the era of ChatGPT: A classroom story

Sonal Bakshi

Tools based on artificial intelligence (AI), like ChatGPT, are becoming increasingly popular among students, perhaps to a fault, causing rising concerns among educators. Can educators leverage these tools to augment teaching and learning without letting students become over-dependent on them? In this article, an educator shares her experiences with trying to achieve this fine balance.

Sonal Bakshi_chatgpt

Teachers, especially in higher education, face some unreasonable expectations from students. Learning is seen as easy, requiring minimal effort; access to information is equated with acquiring knowledge; acquiring knowledge and skills is viewed as equivalent to gaining experience; and prosperity is thought to require no hard work or sacrifice – as R. Natarajan, former chairman of All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) aptly remarked during the 10-year celebration of Nirma University in 2013. 

The decreasing reliance on textbooks, and easy access to bite-size content are a major concern for me as a biology teacher in postgraduate and PhD programmes. Automation of information processing, which bypasses the need for language proficiency adds to these concerns. With the advent of generative AI tools, the challenge is to identify the use of ChatGPT in students’ assignments, and making students aware of the lacunae in using these sources viz., data covered in these algorithms are only till 2021, among others. Seeking some guidance, I came across a webinar hosted by the India Didactics Association.

The webinar, held on 31 July 2023, was tailored for higher education leaders on the topic Future of Higher Education: Impact of Generative AI on Skills & Future Jobs in Higher Education. Engaging in the webinar by participating in the discussions and gathering insights from the panellists, several key takeaways emerged: 

  • It is better to be curious rather than sceptical about the new technology.
  • Teachers can be trained to use ChatGPT for automation and personalized teaching and to save time on repetitive tasks.
  • AI can assist course building, e.g., by parsing long videos into short pieces and creating an automatic glossary of keywords, 
  • Translation of courses is much faster and cheaper with generative AI.
  • While more than 3 million jobs were taken up by ChatGPT, this was only true for redundant and repetitive kinds of jobs.

In addition, the webinar discussed challenges like infrastructure, bandwidth, connectivity, the need for feedback on student’s tasks, and the necessity to tweak curriculum and modes of assessment

I shared my concerns about the increasing use of generative AI in students’ assignments with the panellists. To this, a panellist suggested giving such assignments to students that test their creative skills, where the use of ChatGPT, will only augment their learning. I implemented this suggestion by offering first-semester M.Sc students the following topics for class presentations: 

Sure enough, a student remarked spontaneously and innocently, We did not find Google or ChatGPT useful, we had to use the given material only!!” It was hard to hide the winning smile from listening to their candid comments! 

Images from the student seminars. Photo: Sonal Bakshi

Despite the satisfaction of seeing students engage with the assigned material, each time I identify external help’, in their write-ups or email conversations, I can not help but feel frustrated over their reliance on shortcuts to learning. It is the collective responsibility of parents and teachers to nurture Generation Z to be good users of technology and not get used by technology. That technology is only as good as its user, is true to this day! 

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