“ChatGPT will fundamentally change the way education is done“

20 Feb 2023

We asked educationalist Florian Schultz-Pernice: What could ChatGPT contribute to the improvement of teaching and learning?

Dr. Florian Schultz-Pernice is coordinator of the DigiLLab at LMU Munich.

Dr. Florian Schultz-Pernice is coordinator of the DigiLLab at LMU Munich:

ChatGPT produces texts of impressive quality. Assuming the right instructions are given, they are correct, meet precise specifications as to content, text length, audience suitability and style, suggest extensive general knowledge, specific expertise, and even a sometimes astonishing understanding of context — and all this basically by calculating the probability of words occurring, on the basis of a gigantic database.

In the public debate around ChatGPT, excitement and fear go hand in hand. When it comes to education, however, it is the latter that tends to dominate. After all, if ChatGPT can generate texts of often higher quality than learners, who is going to bother to write the texts required in the course of their school and university education, from school essays to term papers to dissertations? And what about the knowledge and skills people acquire through the written examination of a subject?

That said, this perspective can also be turned around. We can ask what potential ChatGPT and similar apps hold for learning and education. And how we can encourage and empower learners to use such AI applications for their own learning, their own acquisition of skills. Both types of questions are legitimate. Both are necessary. Because if there is a consensus in the debate around ChatGPT, it is that such applications will fundamentally change the way education is done in schools, universities and other institutions — in terms of both learning and teaching.

An enormously powerful tool for learning


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An application such as ChatGPT gives learners an enormously powerful tool for their own learning. For example, when it comes to learning from texts, you can use this kind of AI to easily create a summary of a source, to paraphrase or explain a complicated passage, or to come up with use cases, quizzes and tests to check your understanding.

And as far as your own writing is concerned, you can use an app like this to get feedback on what you’ve written so that you can then revise it for spelling, grammar or style; the app can generate ideas or suggestions for how to structure a topic, or it can create alternative versions of texts or parts of a text for you; you can ask it to offer examples to illustrate content, make stylistic changes, and formulate search engine queries — and all of this applies as much to fairy tales in elementary school or debates in high school as to term papers in college.

People are likely to find it particularly productive for their own learning if they use the AI for repeated interaction, thereby continually optimizing the output and thus entering into a kind of cooperative dialog with the AI.

Opportunities for teaching

There is also very wide potential for the teaching side of the equation — across all phases of teaching-related activity, from lesson planning and delivery to assessments and lesson evaluation. On the basis of Large Language Models, AI will be able to help teachers with lesson planning, for example, by generating suggestions for the selection and structuring of teaching content, and can also develop matching tasks of varying difficulty for differentiation in the classroom.

To support learners, AI can generate resources and assistance, such as summaries of important prior knowledge or exercises adapted to the learners’ level to revise skills that learners should already possess and to help these skills become automatic. And when it comes to assessment, an application such as ChatGPT can effectively support the evaluation and correction of texts produced by learners, thus freeing up time for teachers to use for those particularly sophisticated activities that AI is not (yet) able to take on.

Skilled handling is necessary

For both learning and teaching, however, the benefits of ChatGPT and similar AI in education will undoubtedly be all the greater the more competent teachers and learners are at dealing with this new technology. And that requires two things: First, the optimal use of systems like ChatGPT requires digital skills. These range from basic knowledge of how such AI systems work and thus their possibilities and limitations, to the ability to use them to optimal effect, to reflexive and critical skills in order to assess the output from the point of view of possible biases, otherwise known as ‘hallucination.’

Second, in order to make productive use of such applications for your own learning, a mastery of the basic cultural techniques and competency in the topic you are studying is indispensable. Only then will it be possible, first, to generate optimal input to give to ChatGPT or another app and, second, to understand, evaluate and, where necessary, optimize — or reject — the tool’s output. This is where the argument enters the realm of circular reasoning: In order to make optimal use of AI applications such as ChatGPT for your own learning, you need to have a basis of precisely those same skills that the tool can help you systematically and effectively develop. That said, assuming that you have these skills — combined with the will to use the technology not to avoid learning but as an instrument to promote it — ChatGPT and related applications can very likely prove to be valuable partners in the processes involved in education.

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