Dystopia is probably my favourite genre. I don’t know what this says about me, but it truly is. Maybe it’s the inherent sense of dread that accompanies being neurotic. Maybe it’s that, these days especially, it feels like our poorer decisions are catching up with us. Who knows?!
Of course Orwell springs forth when thinking on dystopia. 1984, for me, is a seminal text in the genre, and certainly for many others to be fair. The ideas put forward in that text swirl about us as realities today; constant surveillance, malleability of truth and ruling through control of the narrative. Who controls the past controls the future.
Of the slew of Orwell inspired dystopia in the last decade or so, one stands out and although subtle, it chilled me to the core. Her by Spike Jonze. Orwell was influenced by HG Wells, so it is interesting that the director uses sci-fi to provoke rather than distract like those wordsmiths did.
Its depiction of an isolated soul finding companionship and eventually falling for his AI device, which he got voiced by Scarlett Johansson in fairness to the guy, was thought provoking. Its ending was downright chilling, in that brilliant way a subtle ending that leaves the viewer joining the dots, can do.
The ending left me perturbed and unnerved. Without spoilers all I can say is I was left seriously aware of the insatiable appetite AI can have to keep moving on, to keep growing and learning, to keep getting better and indeed; outgrowing us. The existential dread that this unlocked has since been ratcheted up by all the talk of ChatGPT and its colleagues. Throw in open letters of concern from those tasked with designing said technologies and we are reaching peak anxiety levels.
Welcome Chat GPT
Several questions in relation to many industries arose simultaneously. Would we all be replaced? How can it be used to make life easier? Is it cheating and indeed cheapening our professions? Well, I’ll stick with the education realm. Some significant questions have been posed in our field, particularly with regard to assessment. Just how can we be sure work we receive is authentic and original?
As a secondary teacher, the concerns are less, given we know our students’ work and the terminal exam is in a formal exam setting. However, with talk of continuous assessment on the horizon, it is a question we must reflect on. Certainly in the coming times.
Like in enterprise, with pedagogy, if you don’t adapt and grow with the innovations going on around you, you may have missed a trick and may be left with that sense of what if? I started to become aware of ideas to harness AI’s positives in the classroom, and frankly I have to say, using it with my sole priority being student engagement has been thrilling.
I have decided to forego my personal penchant for existential dread. It is time I moved towards accepting that AI is very much here to stay. So we may get on with it now and use it appropriately. The more i have used it the more i have appreciated there are many levels of human intelligence it simply can only aspire to imitate, nothing more.
It’s Just Another Resource
Simply commanding it to take on the persona of whatever poet or character has allowed me to bring them straight into the room. My first attempts at this were thrilling to be fair. I used it initially with fifth and sixth years. Fifth years on completion of reading Hamlet and sixth years on completion of our final poet; WB Yeats.
I used it in two ways: hot-seating characters and the poet and to provide sample analysis. The work with Yeats typifies the pros and cons to using AI in the classroom, so let’s look at that. The students were enthralled to be able to ask the poet any questions, within reason.
Questions such as What was your motivation for writing September 1913? were answered with the expected content. Seeing the answers typing along the screen as we all watched really was poetry in motion: through personification. In reality the answers were not much different to anything a quick Google search would bring you, or even a quick glance at the auld text books.
The difference is, this is simply a new way of engaging our students who have been surrounded with talk of ChatGPT. I see our job as secondary teachers as being about making our subject content accessible to students, and this technology does that in a new and vibrant way.
Students Like to Know Best
I’m sure we are all aware students like hearing about mistakes previous students made in exams or essays. Working for the SEC, I have picked up a cautionary tale or two over the years. We all like hearing others fared worse than ourselves. We usually rush to assure ourselves that we would never do that. Students, of course, are no different. So using ChatGPT to write a sample essay in front of us is a great way of showing students how easy it is to let your analysis fall short.
Having assigned the essay, it was beneficial to put ChatGPT to the same task. Going through it paragraph by paragraph, the students were able to highlight specific deficiencies the essay had. Looking at the introduction it was clear the AI had just rephrased the essay title in numerous ways repeatedly whilst actually saying very little. They spotted this instantly. It was simply another way of showing the success criteria for our essay. I simply had to ask the students to not have me read this from them.
It was likewise for each paragraph of analysis; the students highlighted exactly how it was lacking. Again, a marking scheme had been engaged with and assimilated by the class. It’s limitations, it’s important we remember that it is limited, were easily picked up on. We were playing the computer in chess, and beating it. Who doesn’t like outsmarting a computer in a game from time to time? This was no different, so it was refreshingly engaging in my experience.
Which is where I came in, it was up to me to ensure no false information was given or if it was that I highlighted that and thus showed its shortcomings to the class.
It is at our Disposal
I think it is incumbent on us to consider using such technology in our classrooms as it isn’t going anywhere and we must accept that. It is not something to be feared, or dismissed as some sort of tool to make slides for us and thus cheat at our job. It is simply another way of delivering content and getting our students to access our content.
Fears around assessment, as mentioned prior, should be assuaged by the fact we know our students. I have long since enjoyed playing detective when I get work from a student that’s clearly a sample essay. Even if typing the first sentence into the search engine usually does the trick and thus frustrates my thirst to go on a quest alas. It is not that I don’t rate my students, it is that I know how they write and therefore know when they’ve pressed the panic button.
I never viewed it as cheating; rather an insight into their lack of confidence of their ability. A cry for help. ChatGPT is no different to the long held threat of sample essays. It is after all, a glorified search engine in itself, and we must remember that.
As teachers, we are still very much the go-between for our students and the wonderful content in our fields of study. Spotting its mistakes and limitations is no different to assessing content before we bring it to our classes. Getting students to spot errors in quotes used etc, is further reinforcing of students’ content knowledge.
We should not fear AI as risking our being disposed of, rather it is a cracking tool simply at our disposal.
Main image copyright of: https:https://www.ru.nl/en/staff/lecturers/designing-education/ai-in-education