[a short presentation to a Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning workshop on how teachers might deal with chatbots]
I believe that ChatGPT is a new and useful tool and that we should try to teach students how to use it. But we should teach them to use it as a tool, not as a machine. That is, purposefully, thoughtfully, with skill, knowing its strengths and weaknesses, where it can help us do better work and where it does not. We should think carefully about the purposes we’re using it for. Are we using it to improve our work, or to simply to finish faster?
My classes are for advanced undergrads and grad students, and they tend to be pretty practical. Part of my present class is writing museum exhibition labels. I think ChatGPT can help – not as a writer, but as a reader and as a writing partner or writing coach. The chatbot can summarize, help change the grade level the exhibit is written for, help make texts more accessible.
The key word there is help – it’s an assistant. To use tools this way takes longer than not using them, and it takes time to learn. Write first; have ChatGPT change things, and decide which version is better and why. That requires a lot of rereading and rewriting – which is a good thing! It also takes time to figure out how to ask the chatbot to shape your writing to make it better for your audience. And you’ll need to fact-check the chatbot – it will make things up.
There are parallels with how we use Wikipedia or Google. As sophisticated users, we don’t simply accept the first answers we find. We compare it with other, specialized search engines, we refine our questions, read through the results and evaluate them. A good user of Wikipedia looks at footnotes, discussion pages, history pages. Wikipedia and Google are starting points for further exploration.
I realize that many students use Wikipedia and Google in a more passive way, and we should be teaching them to use these tools effectively, more critically. We need to teach the new AI tools in the same way. We need to view them as tools, not as machines. You need to work with them skillfully, to use them as a craftsperson uses their tools, not merely as buttons to press.
End with two tricks. One is fairly practical: Ask ChatGPT to rewrite your text is BBC simple English. If it captures your main points, it’s pretty clear.
And finally, ask it to turn your writing into a limerick. If it works as a limerick, it’s very clear!
There once was ChatGPT so bright,
A tool that’s quite new, a real sight,
Teach it with care,
To use it, prepare,
With skill, make your writing take flight!