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GPT in Higher Education

ChatGPT has caught our attention in higher education. What will it mean in 2023?

January 18, 2023

First, let’s do a quick review on the technology. GPT has become the internet’s best-known AI language-processing model. The initials stand for generative pretrained transformer. That’s not a very descriptive title to the non-AI person. OpenAI developed the hot new model of text interface, ChatGPT. OpenAI is an AI research and deployment company based in San Francisco with a self-described mission to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity. Previously, OpenAI had developed DALL-E2, an impressive image generator that creates illustrations and artwork following a text description provided by the inquirer.

According to Alex Hughes writing in Science Focus, “ChatGPT is a “state-of-the-art language processing AI model developed by OpenAI. It is capable of generating human-like text and has a wide range of applications … The model was trained using text databases from the internet. This included a whopping 570GB of data obtained from books, webtexts, Wikipedia, articles and other pieces of writing on the internet. To be even more exact, 300 billion words were fed into the system.”

The system can write cogent summaries of information that is gleaned from the massive database. It can give a reasoned response to questions and can even put them in the form of poetry or a variety of languages. It can write essays and modest research papers in a matter of seconds.

One of the investors in OpenAI is Microsoft. The company reportedly has plans to integrate ChatGPT into its search engine, Bing, with a March release. For higher education, this may mean that students will be able to simply use the Bing search engine to generate whole paragraphs and, perhaps, pages of text for a class assignment. Clearly, the technology will continue to evolve and advance, yet we have now reached a point at which as educators we must develop pedagogy, practices and policies regarding generative AI in both text and visual forms.

For those seeking to follow the rapidly emerging applications that are built around GPT, educational developer Doug Holton, who tracks the emergence and applications of new technologies in our field, posted on Mastodon some valuable sites for those following this field: one a searchable list of rapidly growing AI applications and another providing a regularly updated list of GPT products.

We are not without precedent confronting the dilemma of how to respond to a new technology that impacts learner responses in traditional quizzes and exams. In the mid-1960s when hand calculators were developed, and later programmable calculators, educators in math and science were confronted with a similar challenge. At first, some educators attempted to ban the use of the devices by students. Eventually, realizing that these had become ubiquitous, they were integrated into instruction and assessment. It has become clear that advances in technology are rarely, if ever, denied by society. I am confident that generative AI will be embraced by business and industry in ways that will enhance efficiency and accuracy in services. So, our learners, as they pursue careers, will do so in an AI-rich environment. They will be expected to make the best use of these technologies to perform effectively on the job. Thus, it is incumbent on us, as educators, to ensure that our learners have experience with the technologies as well as develop effective practices for their optimal use.

That, of course, will cause some effort for us to adapt to student access to GPT as they submit papers and responses to class assignments. We need to rethink our assessments in terms of the tools and strategies that the learners in our classes will be using in their careers in the coming years. They certainly will have access to generative AI for text and images, also perhaps video and VR. So, our assessments should evolve toward more authentic learning assessments.

Founder and CEO at Moodle Martin Dougiamas writes in Open Ed Tech that as educators, we must recognize that artificial general intelligence will become ubiquitous. “In short, we need to embrace that AI is going to be a huge part of our lives when creating anything. There is no gain in banning it or avoiding it. It’s actually easier (and better) to use this moment to restructure our education processes to be useful and appropriate in today’s environment (which is full of opportunities).”

We are now beginning to confront the question of which jobs will be replaced by GPT-powered technologies. In this NPR interview, Ethan Mollick, professor at the Wharton School of Business, notes that he was informed all of the questions that were asked were formed by ChatGPT. He couldn’t tell during the interview that they were not written by the interviewer.

AI technologies will continue to improve and expand. I believe that it is important that all disciplines in higher ed from the liberal arts to engineering examine the changing nature of the workforce that awaits their learners. We must adapt to update our learning plans, outcomes and assessments to include the advances that are upon us and our students.

Who, at your institution, is examining the impact of AI, and in particular GPT, upon the curriculum? Are instructional designers working with instructors in revising syllabi and embedding AI applications into the course offerings? What can you do to ensure that your university is preparing learners for the future rather than the past?

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