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The Future of Learning with AI

The launch of ChatGPT was undoubtedly a very significant step forward for Artificial Intelligence (AI). The realisation of ChatGPT's capabilities was quickly followed by a wave of concern around the impact of tools like this on education. How will teachers be able to distinguish student's work from AI-generated essays? Is this the end of homework as we know it? Will chatbots or robots replace teachers? Is this the end of traditional schools and exams?
No. This is not the end of schools, homework, examinations, or teachers. Whilst ChatGPT, Google Bard, etc… represent a giant leap forward in the capabilities of generative AI, the march of technology has been relentless since the rise of the humble pocket calculator and each new advance has brought overwhelming benefits for education. At Tanglin, our philosophy is to embrace new technology in areas that support our core purpose - the education of our young people – and AI is no different. There will be changes to the way we do things, but our aim will be for both teachers and students to be able to use AI tools confidently and responsibly in support of their learning.
I do realise that ‘AI’ covers much more than just clever chatbots but sticking with ChatGPT for now, I will give an illustration of just how good it is at answering questions. I asked ChatGPT to write me a 500-word essay in answer to the question "Will AI eventually replace teachers?" and this was its introductory paragraph:
 "The question of whether AI will eventually replace teachers is a complex and nuanced one, and it hinges on a multitude of factors ranging from technological advancements to the fundamental nature of education itself. While AI has the potential to revolutionise various aspects of education, it is unlikely to completely replace teachers in the foreseeable future. Instead, a more plausible scenario is the integration of AI as a powerful tool that complements and enhances the role of educators."
Wow! It goes on to expand on these points before summing up with a coherent and balanced conclusion. I agreed with all the points made and for a moment was tempted to submit it in its entirety for this article! I asked Google Bard the same question and got a response of similar quality, with many of the same points made.  So why am I not unduly concerned about the impact on teaching?

When I asked ChatGPT "Can you give me a list of sources for the previous answer?", it told me: 
"I don't have the ability to provide a list of specific sources for the previous answer, as my responses are generated based on a mixture of licensed data, data created by human trainers, and publicly available information up until my last training cut-off in September 2021. The previous answer is a synthesis of general knowledge and information that I've been trained on, rather than a direct citation of specific sources."

Whilst the writing style is impressive, what it gave me is a generalised opinion piece, without any verifiable facts or authoritative sources. We already teach students to be aware of where they are getting their information from and to consider the authority and accuracy of sources. This essay wouldn't have achieved such a high mark after all - and if a student had submitted it, they would have quickly been discovered if asked to elaborate on any of the points made.
The key defenses we have against the misuse of ChatGPT and similar tools are: 

  1. reducing the number of extended writing assignments completed outside of school. 
  2. insisting on a reference list. 
  3. using class time for students to discuss their sources and elaborate on points made. 

But we are not just defending! Teachers in the Senior school are actively experimenting with using the tools. For example, to 

  1. generate quick summaries of internet sources as a starting point for deeper research. 
  2. generate model answers in a particular grammatical style as a guide for students. 
  3. generate answers that students can critique and then improve on. 

I am confident that the overall benefits will outweigh the threats.
So, what about AI more broadly and the future of education? Aside from the tools using the large language models, we are seeing increasing numbers of online learning platforms branded as 'AI-powered'. At Tanglin, we already use some subject-specific tools like 'mangahigh' for mathematics which will move students onto harder examples if they get questions correct and lead them through worked solutions if they are struggling. 

This year we will be trialling a more sophisticated system from Century Learning in the Junior School which will track student progress through tasks and offer bespoke pathways through independent study material. Such tools are only going to get better at supporting independent study and will make home learning more efficient and effective. Globally, such tools may help to compensate for a lack of qualified teachers in some areas, making learning more accessible. In Tanglin's context, we see these tools freeing up time for more human interaction in the classroom. Learning is a social activity and the interaction between student and teacher, as well as student and peers, is absolutely central to the process. The idea of the 'flipped classroom' has been around for some time now and is about students doing routine learning independently, supported by online resources, so that they come to the classroom ready with their questions and difficulties, maximising the opportunities for learning. This trend will certainly continue.
A recent article by McKinsey and Company (2023) suggests that nearly all industries can benefit from Artificial Intelligence, after considering 400 use cases from 19 industries. AI is here to stay and is already becoming part of our lives whether we like it or not. Our job as educators is to make sure we are taking advantage of the advances in technology for education and to make sure our students are ready to use AI confidently and responsibly in whatever industries they end up in.

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