The twice-monthly pedagogical café, which takes place in the morning or during the lunch break, is a time for Excelia’s Faculty to enjoy relaxed discussions on any subject whatsoever. On the 9th of February, however, the theme for the café was deliberately chosen… the hot topic of ChatGPT!
ChatGPT: pedagogical innovation or potential plagiarism and cheating?
“Everyone has been talking about it since its launch at the end of last year”, say Caroline O’Neill, Head of IDEE (Digital Innovation, EdTech and Experiential Learning) and Thomas Petit, Instructional Designer working within Excelia Lab. As the instructional design office is located amongst the offices of the Faculty, they have heard the many questions raised by the appearance of this conversational tool, created by the Californian startup OpenAI, capable of writing text on demand using cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI).
So, aside from sharing resources, the organisers of the pedagogical café wanted to satisfy a ‘possible’ need to just talk about it… and they were absolutely right! Some twenty professors and teachers were present in person, plus another 90 online, for this inter-campus café entitled ‘ChatGPT and Higher Education: Let the debate commence!’… which took place in HyFlex format and lasted just one hour so as to easily slot in to the teachers’ timetables. “Given the interest shown, there will definitely be a Stage 2 of the debate on this interesting subject, either in the form of a Webinar or an enhanced workshop”, assure Thomas and Caroline. This first little ‘appetizer’ has enabled the Faculty to voice fears such as ChatGPT will ‘do students’ homework for them’ or perhaps ‘destroy student creativity’. Of course, anti-plagiarism tools are already available to check that students have not ‘copied and pasted’ material from the internet when completing assignments. However, it’s not so easy to spot such plagiarism when ChatGPT has been used, even though there have been cases in universities, where the teachers involved have noticed identical reasoning and very similar ideas. “It all depends on how you use ChatGPT”, explain our Instructional Designers. “We tried to steer the debate towards the potential of this tool… it exists, now what can we do with it?
Rethinking Instructional Design
ChatGPT has paved the way, so we can now expect the emergence of other conversational tools of this type. “This certainly accelerates the need to rethink instructional design, to move from the assessment of knowledge by mere ‘recall’ to an assessment at higher cognitive levels, by demanding reflection and analysis”, explain Caroline and Thomas. One such example of this is learning irregular verbs in English: “We recite them off by heart, but we don’t necessarily know how to use them”, they emphasise.
However, it appears that higher education has, for some time, been moving away from the ‘written test’ method of assessment. Students are no longer asked to regurgitate knowledge they have learned off by heart, which is, in any case, readily available on the internet, but to look at things critically, to compare concepts and theory with their own personal experience, to put things into context through intellectual output such as reports or dissertations, and to develop original ideas of their own.
So yes, everyone can save time. ChatGPT will perhaps provide a basis for producing work, but it is the teacher who is in charge and must be responsible for making students aware of seizing every opportunity to improve their learning… and to be smarter than AI!