The new disruptor in the world of academic education!
I know, I know. You are rolling your eyes, seeing yet another take on the hottest tech topic in town – ChatGPT. Ever since Satya Nadella threw a piece of spicy gossip into the media, about Microsoft getting a major stake in ChatGPT, the world is abuzz with this latest tech sensation.
This is how it all began:
Nadella was speaking at the Future Ready Technology Summit in Bengaluru in Feb 2023 and decided to introduce the crowd to a light-hearted ChatGPT (popular AI-enabled software) conversation before getting into his presentation about the cutting-edge AI and Cloud innovation taking place in India.
Nadella asked ChatGPT to come up with the most popular south Indian tiffin items in the future. ChatGPT came up with the usual suspects – Idli, Dosa, Vada, and also Biryani. Nadella did not like ‘Biryani’ as a tiffin option. He told ChatGPT that as a Hyderabadi, the software cannot insult his intelligence by calling Biryani a South Indian ‘tiffin.’ And according to Nadella, the software said, “I am sorry!”
Continuing the dialogue, Nadella asked ChatGPT to create a play between Idli and Dosa over who was better. To add literature to the banter, Nadella asked the software to make the dialogue, a part of a Shakespearean play!
Is this new tech disruption just a passing fad? Or is it here to stay and change the lives and careers of academicians forever? Let’s try and seek some answers.
What is ChatGPT?
Google search gives you an index of all ‘suitable’ and ‘most read’ results for anything that you care to ask. However, it leaves the actual hunting of information to you. You peek into the content in each listed website and digest what you find most appropriate to your query.
Enter ChatGPT. You ask the same query to ChatGPT, and it does all the ‘smart hunting for information’ on your behalf. It scours hundreds of websites with relevant content, prepares an executive summary and presents just that summary to you in a conversational format.
ChatGPT is an Artificial-Intelligence chatbot developed by San Francisco-based AI research company, OpenAI. Released in November 2022, it can have conversations on topics from history to philosophy, generate lyrics in the style of your favourite singer and suggest edits to computer programming code. ChatGPT is trained on a vast compilation of articles, websites, and social-media posts scraped from the internet as well as real-time conversations – primarily in English – with human contractors hired by OpenAI. It learns to mimic the grammar and structure of the writing and reflects frequently-used phrases.
How accurate is the output of ChatGPT?
One popular yardstick to measure its accuracy has been the competitive exams that the AI tool has been subjected to, by various universities and intellectuals. The ChatGPT tool is known to have cleared MBA, medical entrance, English literature and some other civil service question papers. Although it does perform poorly in more complex papers, its output is considerably accurate and good enough for common consumption.
Curious to see what ChatGPT has to say about Teacher Plus, we tried out the following conversation with ChatGPT.
It is patently obvious that it got some basic facts about Teacher Plus wrong. We are certainly not published by Oxford University Press. And ChatGPT was audacious enough to reassert that it had the correct answer about this one!
However, in my other Avatar as a techie, I have used ChatGPT to produce pieces of software code for several IT applications. And it came up with some good stuff. Code that works!
Right at the outset, ChatGPT declares that the information it collates is subject to inherent bias in the data and quality of input web sources. It also presents a disclaimer of being a nascent algorithm that’s learning constantly, it promises to get better with time. Another reason for its inaccuracies is the fact that it is fed with data from the internet as of the year 2021. So it doesn’t possess data about later events. It’s also an English centric knowledge repository and thus unsuitable for use with other languages, at least as it stands today.
How does ChatGPT impact teaching?
There was always plenty of information out there, both in the physical and the digital world. The key value-add that a human teacher brought about was assimilating the publicly available information and presenting it to a student in just the way they needed it. Tuned to their level of comprehension and personal context. And imparted in the language they understand.
However, the teacher is already an expert on the subject matter. She is equipped to evaluate the veracity of the information churned out by online sources. Some tips before trying it out:
• Formulate appropriate questions to the tool. It’s in Q&A format. So focussed questions may result in pointed and reasonably accurate results.
• If the answer is wrong, you are free to provide your feedback. It is an auto-learning system, it will learn from your feedback and do better the next time.
• It doesn’t provide reference information or citations about its sources. So it is not advisable to use ChatGPT output in paper presentations, research work where information sources are to be quoted. When used within the Bing Internet Browser, some source references are available though.
How does ChatGPT impact learning?
Noam Chomski, celebrated educationist and computer science pioneer, has this to say about ChatGPT. “For years there have been programs that have helped professors detect plagiarized essays. Now it’s going to be more difficult, because it’s easier to plagiarize. But that’s about the only contribution to education that I can think of.” He further derides the idea as “basically high-tech plagiarism” and “a way of avoiding learning.”
For students, it is a great way to start learning something new. You don’t have to look into a hundred sources, you can get one quick executive summary. But please do keep the following points in mind before relying on ChatGPT for quick-fix information.
• ChatGPT doesn’t always produce accurate information. And it’s very tough to tell when it’s going wrong! So take whatever it gives but ensure to cross-check with other sources.
• When you scour through multiple sources of information, you are actually building a knowledge map in your mind. The search is in itself a precious learning process. When you get things on a platter, it might rob the student of the quest to learn.
The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.