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Here's how Coquitlam schools are using ChatGPT. Hint: not to cheat

Schools and universities are figuring out how to use the ChatGPT app to write code and text — but experts say AI is just getting started and more uses will be found.
Students will likely do some of their school work using AI technology. It will be up to teachers to set boundaries.

Artificial intelligence (AI) text and code-generating tool ChatGPT has become a social phenomenon in the last few months, grabbing headlines and generating plenty of hand-wringing as well as excitement.

The free, powerful online app is already passing law exams and fixing computer code.

But those worried it will be used to cheat on essays and math questions can relax.

While the language model developed by OpenAI is just now exploding onto the world, it is already being taught in some Coquitlam district schools and at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

The Tri-City News spoke with tech expects who say ChatGPT is being used for good, not to get homework over with or game the system.

"If leveraged properly, it could be used as a powerful tool," said Stephen Whiffin, director of instruction for technology at School District 43 (SD43).

According to Whiffin, some teachers are already using ChatGPT in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as well as classes where students are learning second languages or for history debates.

And he takes issue with those who worry about it being used to cheat or get around assignments.

While there may be some creative use of ChatGPT to whip off essays and reports, teachers have assessment tools to identify issues.

"They put assessment structures in place to make sure it doesn’t get misused,,' he said.

"I think in K-12 education, we are better equipped to navigate the use of these tools than much of society as we have kids in places where we can supervise them," Whiffin added.

ChatGPT used to improve writing

Teachers will likely teach students how to use ChatGPT properly, such as how to identify prompts that will hellp them generate credible and appropriate responses from the language tool.

It's also not the job of the school district to tell teachers how to use ChatGPT, Whiffin said, nor to dictate whether or not to even allow it in the classroom.

"The approaches by individual teachers are more nuanced, they have to deal with their own strategies. What they need from us is to participate in those discussions," he said.

At nearby SFU, Terri Griffith is encouraging her students to use ChatGPT, as well as a myriad of other AI tools, including image creators.

"If you don’t cite your sources you’re cheating," said Griffith, "But if using that tool is going to help you do more effective work, that is what you should be doing."

Griffith, who is a professor teaching MBA students about managing technology innovation, uses multiple AI apps.

Her workflow includes ChatGPT as well as WriteSonic, to write blogs, and DALL·E 2, to create images to go along with them.

In blog posts, Griffith says it's OK to use these tools to get to that "final stage," in fact it should be encouraged as smart business practice.

However, academic integrity requires scholars to carefully cite their sources, said Griffith, noting that these apps don't always provide accurate and up to date information.

Their responses need to be checked and verified, she said.

Griffith said instructors need to set boundaries on the use of ChatGPT for their students — such as allowing them to use it to draft an outline.

However, she also marvelled how much of a time saver it could be for basic essay writing, whittling work on a 10 page essay from a few days to a few hours.

The future for everyone will be AI technology

Whiffin and Griffith say AI technology, such as ChatGPT will usher in a similar transformation as Google did for changing how people work, learn and connect.

For Whiffin, it's important to teach students how to use these apps so they aren't manipulated by them but instead become familiar enough with them to stay ahead of technological change.

"AI is going to be pervasive in our lives and we have to be prepared to help our kids navigate it for their future success," Whiffin said.

Similarly, Griffith encourages open discussion and use of AI technology, and she's optimistic that the future of AI technology will be exciting as more people adopt it.

"Through human technical innovation that’s when things get interesting," said Griffith. "When people are grabbing on to it, It’s going to be amazing."

How does ChatGPT work?

It's easy to set up a free account with an email and password. 

You can ask it to write anything from a screen play to a poem with a few descriptive words.

For example, I asked ChatGPT to write an opening sentence and second paragraph introduction to this article, which I decided not to use. Arguably with a few more prompts, I could have refined the output.

Here's what it wrote:

"Educators are increasingly excited about the potential of using ChatGPT to enhance learning experiences for students, despite concerns about potential cheating.

"As the use of AI technology becomes more prevalent in education, students may be among the first to explore the potential of using tools like ChatGPT to assist with their homework.

However, it will be up to educators to guide and instruct students on how to properly utilize these tools in a way that supports their learning and understanding of the subject matter.

This may involve incorporating the use of AI into lesson plans and curriculum, providing students with specific guidelines and guidelines for how to use ChatGPT in a way that is ethical and does not compromise their education.

Additionally, educators can play a key role in helping students develop critical thinking skills and the ability to evaluate the accuracy and credibility of the information generated by ChatGPT.

Overall, the use of AI in education has the potential to greatly enhance the learning experience for students, but it is essential that educators take a proactive approach in guiding and supporting its use in the classroom."

Not a bad summary for a bot.