Navigating uncharted waters: Why are educators hesitating to use ChatGPT?

By Rachel Teng

At a recent panel hosted by AI Singapore, teachers and education experts discussed how education delivery can and should transform alongside the revolutionary AI chatbot, ChatGPT.

Speakers at the recent panel, “ChatGPT & Beyond: Future of Learning in the Age of AI”, hosted by AI Singapore.

What employers are looking for has become harder to identify in the age of AI, but perhaps can be pinned down to the ability to work in ambiguous environments and embrace emerging technologies in different ways or forms, said Vishal Singhvi, Director of Customer Success, Microsoft Asia, at a recent panel, “ChatGPT & Beyond: Future of Learning in the Age of AI”, hosted by AI Singapore. 


“It is increasingly said that students are now being prepared for jobs that don’t yet exist today,” said Singhvi. With artificial intelligence, the traditional skills that students had been trained in, from language skills to coding, may be automated away sooner than we can expect. 


While just a few years ago, there was a lot of buzz over the need to skill up in coding, the rise of AI tools like ChatGPT have quickly made this a thing of the past. With the press of a button, one can generate code, or even turn to low-code and no-code solutions to solve the same problems. 


As teachers then, how does one best prepare students for a future that doesn’t yet exist? Whose job is it to educate students about AI: AI experts, teachers, or students themselves? These were some of the questions that sparked the session, which was held for educators, by educators in April 2023 at Raffles Institution. 


ChatGPT in the classroom – trickier than it seems 


AI has disrupted other professions rapidly, but not so quickly in education, pointed out A/P Chen Wenli, Head of Learning Sciences & Assessment Academic Group at the National Institute of Education. This could be due to the often large class size that teachers face, which makes for higher stakes and more room for error. 


Teachers also face new challenges when it comes to grading alongside AI inputs. The fear that educators face is that the student takes AI outputs wholesale without thinking critically, said Tan Jing Long, Educator, Temasek Junior College. 


“We always take good writing as evidence of good scholarship – a sign that students have done their due diligence. But now, that circumstantial evidence of good scholarship is gone because it has become a lot easier for students to write and revise with the help of ChatGPT. How then do we use other cues to assess whether students have done their due diligence?” asked Tan. 


Speaking as a teacher on the ground, Tan voices that actual implementation of ChatGPT within the curriculum is harder than it seems. Currently, teachers also need to get parental consent to use ChatGPT in the classroom. 


But this is not something history has not witnessed before, pointed out A/P Chen. When the calculator was first introduced to education, there were many similar discussions. Calculators went from being banned from the classroom, to being slowly recognised as tools that would be used for homework regardless of classroom policies. Eventually, guidelines were developed for which calculators were appropriate for each level of education. 


“This is just another wave of new technology that we have to do the same thing for,’ she said. 


Higher order thinking in an age of human-machine collaboration 


ChatGPT has a lot of potential for augmenting teaching and learning, according to Chen. For students, it possesses the power to make knowledge acquisition more equitable and democratised. It can provide instant feedback to students’ questions, and in this sense, helps make learning more personalised. 


Regardless, educators do have good reason to be wary of ChatGPT’s impacts on students’ growth and learning, according to Chen. While adults of this generation have already gone through the stages of developing critical cognitive skills in tried and tested ways, ChatGPT may cause students to “short circuit” their learning before attaining their takeaways. For example, things like syntax, whether in coding or human languages, requires students to purely practice until they get it right themselves, observed Tan. 


What, then, does AI literacy actually entail? Chen believes it goes beyond getting students to learn how to code. Rather, it is about competencies, dispositions, and attitudes to adopt when using AI as a human. “In this sense, I feel it is everybody’s job to help our students learn about AI, including students themselves,” she said. 


In terms of learning and assignment design, assignments that test lower-order thinking may no longer be as meaningful for students, when one acknowledges that human-machine collaboration is going to be the new normal in future. 


An example of a higher-order thinking assignment could be getting students to generate an article using ChatGPT, and then assessing if the results are reliable, or comparing and assessing different students’ results, Chen said. 

Teachers now need to focus on creating assignments that stimulate higher order thinking on the Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid for students, said Chen. 

Established online institutions like Khan Academy have already begun to model what AI-assisted learning can look like, Singhvi pointed out. When a student asks the bot a question, it will respond by prompting the student towards the right answer rather than spit out the solution immediately. 


“Here at the National Institute of Education (NIE), we accept that students can use ChatGPT, no matter inside or outside of the classroom. We just aim to get students to be clear of the ways in which they can use it, when they can use it, how to give proper credit to it, and how to evaluate the reliability of the information they generate from it,” she added. 


This way, educators can support students in learning how to work with AI while minimising the erosion of critical thinking skill development. 


Trust between teacher and student 


Teachers themselves need to have a good understanding of the capability and limitations of AI. This will help retain the human’s agency, rather than let ChatGPT or other forms of generative AI drive change, said Chen. 


Teachers at NIE are now incorporating ChatGPT into teacher training courses and teaching leadership programmes. For instance, teachers are now encouraged to use ChatGPT to ask students better questions to optimise their learning. This helps teachers also reflect on their pedagogies and self-improve, Chen said. 


 Dr Kenny Chua, Assistant Head of 100 Experiments at AI Singapore, advised that whether it is teachers or students using ChatGPT, foundational understanding of the topic that one is asking the AI is critical, because the user needs to be able to fact check the information themselves at the end of the day. 


“I think we should also give some credit to students as well. As early adopters, they are curious and move fast, but they often don’t take this information wholesale, and might even use other AI or not AI tools to cross check the information they are given,” added Tan. 


“AI, no matter how powerful, will never replace the trust between the teacher and student – and that is something very personal,” said A/P Chee Wei Tan from the School of Computer Science and Engineering at Nanyang Technological University. “The bigger picture is to teach students to teach themselves responsibly.” 

Also read: MindChamps CIO: ‘Classrooms of the future rest in the cloud’