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First Banned, Then Embraced – The Future of ChatGPT in Schools

Over the Christmas break, education legislators in New York had a lot of time to consider the implications of students (and teachers, too) using ChatGPT to do their schoolwork.

New York City’s education department has banned access to ChatGPT out of concern for “safety and accuracy.”

“Due to concerns about negative impacts on student learning, and concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of content, access to ChatGPT is restricted on New York City Public Schools’ networks and devices,” education department spokesperson Jenna Lyle told Motherboard in a statement. “While the tool may be able to provide quick and easy answers to questions, it does not build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success.” – Vice

I understand why they did this. It’s difficult to teach soft skills, period, let alone in the face of technology that can think for you. ChatGPT feels like an attack on raising effective thinkers.

Personally, I still think banning ChatGPT is the wrong move for a handful of reasons.

  1. There’s nothing stopping kids from using ChatGPT at home.
  2. Generative AI is a great way to get kids excited about being creative, making things, and exploring new interests. It’s an onramp into the creator economy, which is clearly the preferred career path of the youth.
  3. ChatGPT is just one of the dozens of generative AI models. I can think of three platforms off the top of my head that use the ChatGPT API. Banning ChatGPT is like entering a game of Whack-A-Mole.
  4. The future of work will be augmented by these generative AI tools. Learning how to collaborate with AI now is a proactive skill-building approach that will be valuable in the workforce.

As this tech continues to improve, there’s a high likelihood that most knowledge-based work in the next decade will benefit from using tools like ChatGPT. Using these tools will be as standard as sending an email.

Unless Google has a trick up its sleeve, written prompt interfaces like ChatGPT are most likely how we will communicate with AI. Therefore, getting the reps in today, and learning the ins and outs of collaborating with AI is a form of career training and future-proofing yourself.

We’re just a few updates away from alleviating the accuracy concerns with ChatGPT. So while schools shouldn’t go out of their way to embrace ChatGPT, they shouldn’t outright ban it as they did with Wikipedia for so long.

ChatGPT Follows Wikipedia’s Path

The education system’s stance on ChatGPT reminds me a lot of how they felt about Wikipedia in the 2000s.

When I was going through middle and high school, Wikipedia was banned. Teachers felt Wikipedia provided misleading and error-prone information because it was open-sourced. They didn’t trust the editors. And there was a concern that relying on Wikipedia for online research would weaken our critical thinking skills and ability to seek out reliable sources.

Sounds familiar, right?

Ultimately, this major point of contention faded. By the time I went to college in the early 2010s, most educators’ stance on Wikipedia had softened. They recognized that Wikipedia was a great starting point for research and helped provide baseline knowledge before going deeper into research.

Today, ChatGPT is distrusted in the same way that Wikipedia was by educators.

For that reason, I believe that ChatGPT will follow the same trajectory as Wikipedia, in regard to its accepted use in school. I think there will come a time when this technology is embraced in schools. Granted, I think that’s a long way off, considering ChatGPT still needs much improvement. Even OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman cautions against leaning on the tool for important things today.

ChatGPT is often referred to as “just a tool” that can benefit or hinder humanity. But Generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, are more than just a tool. They’re a second brain. This second brain can either be used to replace our brains or expand them. And that is the real reason educators fear this technology.