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C'est la Z

Teaching with chatGPT - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The plan was to talk about what we can and should do in CS classes with respect to chatGPT type technologies but after seeing so much discussion on how to and not to use chatGPT I thought I'd insert this additional post on classroom use.

We already talked about the good. I love the idea of making an essay with errors for proof reading and it can be a great search resource, albeit one that needs to be error checked and I'm sure many other productive teaching and teaching support applications will turn up.

We also talked about the bad. The big one being potential cheating - crossing the line from research or understanding aid to using it as an inappropriate shortcut. It also just plain out fails at times to do what you wnat it to do but that's really reasonable given what it is.

What about the ugly?

Ugly is probably the wrong word. I'm talking about using chatGPT or any technology because it's new and cool and not because it's actually the right tool in the right place at the right time.

This is nothing new and not restricted to education. Years ago, my parent's taxes were audited. The auditor has one of those new fangled electronic calculators and he was so enthralled with it that he kept showing it off and all it could to do my parents throughout the audit. My parents were pretty sharp overall and my dad was very good with numbers. At the end of the day the auditor determined that my parents didn't owe taxes but actually were due a sizable refund. When all was said and done, my dad pointed out all the times that the auditor messed up with the calculator which resulted in the refund. The truth was that the taxes were filed correctly to begin with but my folks weren't going to turn away free money. The auditor should have just gone old school.

I've seen some examples already of "the ugly" and I'm sure there will be more to come. Also, I want to emphasize that "the ugly" doesn't necessarily mean bad, I just wanted to use that turn of phrase.

A friend of mine suggested using chatGPT to evaluate essays for when students aren't comfortable with other people viewing their work. Assuming that we're confident that chatGPT will do a good job this could work but I'd have some concerns. True, this could alleviate a student's fear of peer grading but building a supportive community of peers that can support you is important and I'm leery of using technology too much as a crutch. Also that while this might offload work from the teacher, it also removes an opportunity for the teacher to build more of a relationship with the student through the interaction and through their work.

I'm not enough of an expert on language/english classes to really judget that bt here's a similar CS related example that I saw suggested online. Have students enter programs in into chatGPT and ask the system to add comments.

I tried this with a couple of small intro type programs and each time I got the same style of comments. Things like a comment on top of a loop saying "loop from 1 to n" or on top of a line like sum = 0 saying "initialize the sum to 0." Not good comments at all.

This, I'd describe as ugly. If chatGPT consistently gives these types of comments then it's pretty worthless as an activity if the goal is to help students understand commenting and writing good code. On the other hand, if chatGPT sometimes gives these ridiculous comments and at other times gives good comments, well, that's pretty bad as well.

Now, if it always gives bad answers it could be a fun activity. Solve the problem in class, have chatGPT comment it, and then you can discuss good and bad coding styles and the limits of programs like chatGPT.

Generating lessons plans also counts to me as ugly, unless you use it to add standards to your plans to fulfill requirements from above. Yeah, it's cool that this program can make a bare bones bullet point lesson but you then have to read it, evaluate it, check it for errors and then still add all the meat to the bones and customize it for your students. I'd argue that if a teacher knows their stuff it'll slow them down.

Normally, when using a new technology an educator should ask themselves if it saves time and/or effort and does it improve instruction/learning and make sure that there's some real benefit to the use. It's fine if that benefit comes later and requires some dues to be paid now but if it's just a cool new technology, the new shiny if you would, I'll pass.

As a final note, even when the ugly doesn't save time or improve instruction it's not necessarily bad. A good teacher knows when a class needs a break and also when they themselves need one. It's fine to burn some time on a fun but not productive activity either for mental health, community building or other positive reasons. It's not healthy to be 100% on task 100% of the time and a good teacher gets this. What's important to also understand is when a new technology or tool can be used productively and when it's just a diversion.

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