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C'est la Z


So, since we discussed cheating and chatGPT and decided that there shouldn't be a ban, how can it or similar tools be used productively?

General use

The first go to seems to be as an alternative search engine. It hasn't been uncommon seeing people say they use chatGPT instead of searching StackOverflow. This makes sense. ChatGPT gives answers and the natural language interface can make it easier to form some questions or ask for results in a particular format. Interesting though is that it seems, and I have no evidence for this, that people will more accept a "written text" answer from chatGPT as factual as opposed to a listed search result. This is worth thinking about since chatGPT doesn't always give correct answers to questions so buyer beware.

In non CS classes

For more interesting ideas, I'll start outside of my comfort zone - non CS classes. One of the big fears of chatGPT is that it will write student essays. Why not leverage that as a feature, not a bug. As chatGPT to write an essay and then have students analyze and critique it.

We've all seen stories on how chatGPT sometimes gets the facts wrong. How about leveraging that? Do some fact checking.

I asked chatGPT to write an essay and to include at least three errors. It created a reasonable essays and at the bottom listed the errors. Of cousre, there could always be more. Take those essays and have the students not only critique but fact check. Better, don't initially fact check but have students build arguments based on the documents you give them and let them learn to be critical of resources when they discover they're not always correct.

I'm sure there are many more creative ways one can leverage generative systems like chatGPT in educational settings but now let's move to CS classes.

In CS classes

I wondered if chatGPT could help create problems. I asked it to create a parsons problem. That was an epic fail. It gave me a Java program in order. I guess I could then scramble the lines but that wasn't the point.

On the other hand, the answers it gave could be used as code tracing examples so there may be some value there.

I also asked it to generate test questions and small programming assignments but I didn't find the output useful.

What else?

There's also been talk about creating lessons to either support or one day replace teachers and with this, we're a long ways off.

I asked chatGPT to write lesson plans on a number CS and non CS topics and each time the result was the same.

I got a formulaic lesson plan that technically covered the material but I found them less than worthless. Yes, technically one could kind of sort of work off the lesson plan but they were bare bones - no interesting motivations, questions, possible tangents, or examples. No potential segues or pitfalls and certainly nothing specific for any teacher's actual students.

To a non teacher the lesson plans might look alright but to any decent teacher, they're worthless. If you're a teacher, you already know the bare bones outline of any given lesson and if you don't you shouldn't be teaching that subject. What makes the lesson work is everything on top of the bare bones skeleton - the motivations, the examples, the activities and here, chatGPT is of no help.

The killer app

So far, it looks like chatGPT can be useful but it certainly has limitations. I did find, however, the chatGPT killer app for education. By find, I mean I saw someone else tweet out the idea. Sorry I can't give credit but I didn't end up saving the link.

ChatGPT can be used to create all the garbage that administrators and politicians insist are important in education but are crap.

Hey, chatGPT: "Write me a lesson plan introducing loops that aligns to the New York State Computer Science and Digital Literacy Standards."

Hey, chatGPT: "Write me a sub lesson plan on conditional statements in Java."

These are great. Sure, they're lousy lesson plans but they'll have the references to the standards that administrators and other education reformers love and now teachers don't have to waste their time on it.

That's the killer app!!!!!!!

Final thoughts

So there it is. A few thoughts on how we can productively use tools like chatGPT. I'm sure there are more and better ones out there and I'd love to hear about them so feel free to share yours.

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