Dr. Kavanagh was a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University's Center. Photo credit: Canva.

Is ChatGPT the future of classrooms?

University of Pennsylvania professor Sarah Schneider Kavanagh has been introducing AI as a tool.


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The search engine of ChatGPT — which has become one of the most used artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots in the past months — has increasingly worried people who fear the machines are going to replace humans' intellectual ability. 

Present in many college and university campuses throughout the country, this is a technology that hardly will go anywhere anytime soon. Understanding how important it is to control this tool instead of letting it control us, some instructors have chosen to focus on the good aspects of it. 

It is the case of Dr. Sarah Schneider Kavanagh — an associate professor of teacher education in the Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Division at the University of Pennsylvania — who has used it as a tool to support students grow faster than they previously could. Instead of fighting against AI, Dr. Kavanagh has been introducing it in a safe, interesting, and helpful way in her classrooms. 

“ChatGPT is making teachers have to reexamine the way they do their work,” she added. “It sort of forces us to think about how we are going to support our students to collaborate with AI in meaningful ways.”  

Dr. Kavanagh explains she works with doctoral students who are learning a new genre (a systematic literature review) with a complex method section that requires a high cognitive demand work — even though the genre itself is pretty formulaic. 

Learning how to write in that formulaic genre is its task, which is separate from learning how to do the cognitive work of the method that is involved in it. Dr. Kavanagh said she used to spend a lot of time helping students learn the formula of the genre, in addition to the time spent figuring out the method and understanding how to do it. 

Therefore, to the surprise of her students, she instructed them to offload the communication part of that task to ChatGPT — and showed them ways to do it. She emphasizes that as long as they cite it — so they are being transparent about the use of AI — there is no harm in using this tool to their advantage. 

The materials she has received so far have been hands down better from past years when students were trying to learn the complex cognitive work of actually designing the method at the same time they were trying to learn how to communicate that in a new genre. 

Since the first time Dr. Kavanagh encountered this technology, she immediately knew it would be ground-shifting in fundamental ways for educators.  

As all methods have their failures, among the things that worry Dr. Kavanagh the most about AI is the fact it hides the sources of the information it collects. For her, instructors will have to be intentional in helping students determine the accuracy of what’s being shared with them instead of just swallowing it. 

“Teachers are going to be in the frontline of figuring out if AI is going to get used in a way that helps us grow in a meaningful direction or in a way that ends up with all of us offloading our cognitive work to machines,” she added. 

As Dr. Kavanagh works in the graduate school of education, she says her colleagues are always open to trying new instructing methods and thinking about the challenges of teaching in a new technological era. She believes the center of their work is figuring out how to do the complicated task of teaching in the context they are living in now — and in this specific case, it includes artificial intelligence in a way they can’t hold back. 

By listening to other professors about the ways they are engaging with ChatGPT and other AI forms, Dr. Kavanagh is still learning how to reinvent her teaching. She is looking into ways to support and teach students to engineer the right kinds of prompts for AI and properly cite the use of ChatGPT. Although a long-term learning process, she is excited to try new ideas and see what the future holds for this tool. 

“We are going to learn a lot about the dangers and the benefits of this new technology, but the one thing I know for sure is that it isn’t going anywhere,” she said. “We are going to have to learn to live with it as teachers, or it is going to take over.” 


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