Seattle Schools Ban AI Chatbot ChatGPT, But Could it Be a Helpful Learning Tool?

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Seattle Public Schools has joined a growing number of school districts and universities that have banned ChatGPT. ChatGPT is an OpenAI-developed artificial intelligence chatbot fine-tuned for human interaction. April Murdock, the Chief Information Security Officer at Seattle Public Schools, defined it as “Google on steroids.” Trained on more than 570 gigabytes of text, ChatGPT can answer complex questions, write essays and produce content instantly. It is smart enough to pass the bar and medical licensing exams, alongside AP exams and the SAT’s. So why is it getting banned? 

The concerns mainly revolve around the fact that educators believe that students will use websites like ChatGPT to do their schoolwork. Because it is so remarkably good at producing content, a student could input practically any question and receive a well-developed response in return. ChatGPT can write whole essays in a matter of seconds. This is a very appealing prospect to students who don’t want to spend hours on an assignment. But because of ChatGPT’s tendency to use common sentence structures and phrases in summaries or essays, tools like Turnitin can generally tell whether a submission was written by AI or not. To counter this, websites have been created to edit ChatGPT’s content into a more human-sounding submission. It’s understandable that some educators would want it banned. The trouble with banning ChatGPT is that there are students who will find work-arounds, possibly facing consequences if caught. University of Washington Professor Jason Yip warns, “Banning ChatGPT is like using a piece of paper to block this flood that is coming.”

However, a conversation has been emerging around the country about how to use sites like ChatGPT as a tool, rather than a cheating device. People have been quick to note that tools like Google or Word autocorrect also seemed like cheating at a time. Now these are seen mainly as tools that can help students succeed. Perhaps ChatGPT’s massive capabilities could be used to help students learn instead of cheat. Then, it could be implemented into curriculums rather than being banned. It could be presented and taught as a helpful learning tool rather than a cheating website.

Say you are struggling to come to terms with a topic. Right now, you can open ChatGPT and ask, for example, “Explain (this topic) like I was a child.” As a college student taking anatomy, in which there are many complex physiological processes to learn, I’ve found that asking ChatGPT to explain it in simpler terms has made a massive difference in my understanding of the subject. Similarly, you could ask it to put information in tabular form or create summaries of texts you’ve already read to refresh your memory. If you find that you memorize information better with mnemonics, you could ask ChatGPT to come up with one for you. People have used GPT to create to-the-minute, efficient daily schedules, which could help students better manage their time.  

Since COVID, online learning has become more and more popular, but it comes with drawbacks, like sometimes being unable to get immediate responses from your teachers about content. You are left at the mercy of Google and conflicting answers until then. But ChatGPT might be able to serve as a clarifier when it comes to the content. It is capable of generating explanations of varying lengths, which can be helpful if a student is struggling to grasp a concept. 

However, ChatGPT is still being polished. While it usually draws upon correct information, it can, rarely, be confident about answers that are not correct. Sometimes it can make up references that do not exist. It has also been demonstrated to display certain biases that could affect its accuracy. So, while Bill Gates has predicted that AI will be teaching kids to read in 18 months, there is still some work to do before it can be safely implemented as a learning tool.