Nobody is prepared for how AI will transform . . . . . . .
High school; The world of generative AI is progressing furiously. Last week, OpenAI released an advanced chatbot named ChatGPT that has spawned a new wave of marveling and hand-wringing, plus an upgrade to GPT-3 that allows for complex rhyming poetry; Google previewed new applications last month that will allow people to describe concepts in text and see them rendered as images; and the creative-AI firm Jasper received a $1.5 billion valuation in October. It still takes a little initiative for a kid to find a text generator, but not for long.
Academia; And now there’s GPT-3. Natural-language processing presents the academic humanities with a whole series of unprecedented problems. Practical matters are at stake: Humanities departments judge their undergraduate students on the basis of their essays. They give Ph.D.s on the basis of a dissertation’s composition. What happens when both processes can be significantly automated? Going by my experience as a former Shakespeare professor, I figure it will take 10 years for academia to face this new reality: two years for the students to figure out the tech, three more years for the professors to recognize that students are using the tech, and then five years for university administrators to decide what, if anything, to do about it. Teachers are already some of the most overworked, underpaid people in the world. They are already dealing with a humanities in crisis. And now this. I feel for them.
Two separate articles in The Atlantic with two different angles, covering the same topic, AI. I have quoted what I think are the highlights below. And I repeat this one; Many teachers have reacted to ChatGPT by imagining how to give writing assignments now—maybe they should be written out by hand, or given only in class—but that seems to me shortsighted. The question isn’t “How will we get around this?” but rather “Is this still worth doing?”
Teenagers have always found ways around doing the hard work of actual learning. CliffsNotes dates back to the 1950s, “No Fear Shakespeare” puts the playwright into modern English, YouTube offers literary analysis and historical explication from numerous amateurs and professionals, and so on. For as long as those shortcuts have existed, however, one big part of education has remained inescapable: writing. Barring outright plagiarism, students have always arrived at that moment when they’re on their own with a blank page, staring down a blinking cursor, the essay waiting to be written. By Daniel Herman
It goes further. Last night, I received an essay draft from a student. I passed it along to OpenAI’s bots. “Can you fix this essay up and make it better?” Turns out, it could. It kept the student’s words intact but employed them more gracefully; it removed the clutter so the ideas were able to shine through. It was like magic.
I believe my most essential tasks, as a teacher, are helping my students think critically, disagree respectfully, argue carefully and flexibly, and understand their mind and the world around them. Unconventional, improvisatory, expressive, meta-cognitive writing can be an extraordinary vehicle for those things. But if most contemporary writing pedagogy is necessarily focused on helping students master the basics, what happens when a computer can do it for us? Is this moment more like the invention of the calculator, saving me from the tedium of long division, or more like the invention of the player piano, robbing us of what can be communicated only through human emotion?
Suppose you are a professor of pedagogy, and you assign an essay on learning styles. A student hands in an essay with the following opening paragraph:
The construct of “learning styles” is problematic because it fails to account for the processes through which learning styles are shaped. Some students might develop a particular learning style because they have had particular experiences. Others might develop a particular learning style by trying to accommodate to a learning environment that was not well suited to their learning needs. Ultimately, we need to understand the interactions among learning styles and environmental and personal factors, and how these shape how we learn and the kinds of learning we experience.
Pass or fail? A- or B+? And how would your grade change if you knew a human student hadn’t written it at all? Because Mike Sharples, a professor in the U.K., used GPT-3, a large language model from OpenAI that automatically generates text from a prompt, to write it. (The whole essay, which Sharples considered graduate-level, is available, complete with references, here.) Personally, I lean toward a B+. The passage reads like filler, but so do most student essays. By Stephen Marche