Large language models are infiltrating K-12 education. These tools are pervasive, powerful, disruptive, and awe-inspiring. They have passed professional exams given to our doctors and lawyers. They can write computer code, compose music and produce essays on any topic. And our schools are not ready for it.
In case you haven't been following the topic, large language models (LLMs) utilize a number of recent innovations in machine learning to generate text. The models are trained on massive sets of human text, which create predictive models with billions of parameters. These models allow the software to accomplish a range of tasks, in response to a human prompt. And the output, while not always factually correct, is almost indistinguishable from human-produced language. Tech companies have made LLMs widely available in the last six months. Examples include GPT-4, BERT, Bloom, PaLM and LaMDA.
Most of us have been through a few tech fads in our lifetime. Often the 'next big thing' turns out to be the next big failure. Recent busts include 3D television, Google Glass and Meta's Diem/Libra. But LLMs are here now and getting traction in areas like financial data (BloombergGPT), Life Sciences (BioNeMo) and HealthCare (GatorTron). Almost all large companies are scrambling to develop AI strategies to leverage the power of these tools. And there is huge adoption. Within two months of its launch, ChatGPT attracted 100 million users. And that includes our students.
As so-called technology natives, our kids readily adopt technologies they find useful. And they find ChatGPT extremely useful to complete school assignments! In a survey of students by Study.com, 89% of students said they had used ChatGPT to help with a homework assignment, 53% had it write an essay, and 48% used it to help with an at-home test or quiz. A few teachers (less than 10%) are adopting it too, to help write lesson plans, develop assessments or to create essay prompts. While these are national statistics, I am confident that ChatGPT is very widely used by our students in UCF. And not widely adopted or understood by our educators.
ChatGPT has been unleashed, but we are not moving fast enough to respond. The consequences of letting ChatGPT run wild are two-fold. First, because ChatGPT is world-beating cheat-bot, many students will likely take the path of least resistance and continue to use it to complete school assignments and as a result, learn less than otherwise possible. Second, by failing to incorporate ChatGPT into the curriculum, we are missing opportunities to help students properly harness its power and accelerate their education. Opportunities to improve student learning include:
Provide tailored feedback, explanations and instruction to students through math practice apps, to drive concept mastery
Provide exercises and drills on a wide range of topics ("Ask me questions from Miller & Levine's Biology Text Book, Chapter 4")
Provide assistance as students complete assignments and get stuck ("Show me how to simplify this equation.")
Support students with disabilities by providing rapid text-to-speech or speech-to-text
Use Chatbots to critique one's writing and provide suggestions for improvement
Ask Chatbots to provide counter-arguments to your thesis, so you essay can address them
Help teachers discover engaging content and assess student work
Provide students new avenues for skill development, such as becoming a "Prompt Engineer"
Ask students to grade assignments submitted by Chatbots, to point out the factual errors based on their own mastery of the material
Our UCF administration recently outlined some tentative guidelines and next steps with ChatGPT, beginning with educating teachers on what the technology is, and reviewing our academic code of conduct. While these first steps are fine, I believe we are moving too slowly. This technology is not going to wait for us to move at our usual public school pace. LLMs are evolving rapidly. If we are to help our students now, and put them in a position to ethically leverage this technology to their advantage, we need to move much faster than normal.