In planning for his futuristic unit, eighth grade English teacher Patrick Powers is flipping dystopia on its head. What better time than a science fiction unit on The Giver by Lois Lowry and Divergent by Veronica Roth, to incorporate a revolutionary new artificial intelligence tool?
After experimenting with ChatGPT, Powers determined that the tool had extraordinary potential to assist both him and his students. Since then, Powers has used the chatbot to draft sample fictional stories and generate multiple choice assessments. He has also encouraged his students to use the tool to help them prepare for in-class debates. He says the chatbot helps students list examples, provide alternative solutions and counter opponents’ arguments. Powers didn’t allow students to use ChatGPT during the debate. But he said it provided great support in the preparation.
“It’s like having a personal assistant in your pocket,” says Powers, who teaches in Denton Independent School District in Texas.
Powers also finds ChatGPT can serve as a dynamic writing aid. For instance, he recently projected on his whiteboard the process of prompting the chatbot to write an essay about overcoming adversity.
He used the generated text as a model for good grammar, syntax and sentence structure. “The information is more dynamic and there’s a higher level of output,” he says. “It’s great support for students, both in terms of verbal and written work.”
Powers was interviewed as part of the Walton Family Foundation's research into how ChatGPT is being used by teachers and students.
Powers believes that showing the generated essay during class reduces the likelihood that students will plagiarize it for their own work.
And though he was confident that he knew his students’ writing well enough to spot cheating, Powers conceded that if ChatGPT had been available to his students from the first day, it could present a problem.
Teachers considering implementing ChatGPT in their classrooms need to take “a strategic approach,” Powers says. “You have to think ahead of time how you are going to use it. You have to explain the expectations to your students. And you have to use it as an addition, not as a replacement for the teacher.”