Smart Living | Digital Parenting

Digital Parenting | 10 Mar 2023

ChatGPT: What impact could it and other AI bots have on our kids’ learning?

The artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT, created by OpenAI, has been grabbing headlines of late, but will it be a good or bad thing for children's education?

ChatGPT, launched in November, is a “seismic, game-changing thing” for education, according to one leading British headteacher. An American university student put it this way on Twitter: “We are witnessing the death of the college essay in real time.”

Within five days of launch, ChatGPT had more than a million users, a fair number of them children and young people. It has caught the popular imagination as it is the first free chatbot able to write convincing essays on any subject you (or your teacher) can dream up.

Oh, and it can also solve maths problems, or science ones, or do your Spanish assignment. Just set up a free account, type your question (elaborate or otherwise) into the box, and sit back and watch your homework assignment be completed with zero effort on your part.

Officially, you must be 18 or over to set up a free account. But in the absence of age verification, ChatGPT seems set to alter children’s relationships with homework and coursework radically. If the correct answer is just a click away, why slog over the hard work yourself?

 The end of learning as we know it?

“Whilst AI help with learning has been available in education for a good number of years, the seismic, game-changing thing about this software is both its plausibility (it responds, seamlessly, in natural language, if necessary mirroring the voice of the questioner in the answers it provides) and its scope; it seems able to answer pretty much any query you can throw at it,” wrote Jane Lunnon, headteacher of leading south London private school Alleyn’s, on the school’s blog.

ChatGPT: What impact could it and other AI bots have on our kids’ learning?
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She thinks ChatGPT will radically change the nature of homework: “Increasingly, homework will be less and less about looking back at past learning, and more and more about looking forward.”

Classroom time will alter, too: “I suspect we will see more ‘flipped learning’ in the coming months and years, as diagnostic assessment (what have you understood at what level), moves more frequently into the classroom and preparation for the lesson (read this, assimilate, come with questions) moves into homework.”

In her view, this is no bad thing. And, in many ways, Professor Michael Thomas, psychologist and chartered member of the British Psychological Society, agrees.

“ChatGPT is a big influence and will cause changes in education, but it’s kind of similar to what happened when Google turned up,” says Prof Thomas, who is also director of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience at the University of London.

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As children become increasingly able to access (and copy and paste) facts through search engines and AI, “we need to move away from rote learning, and towards teaching the skills to exploit these new tools.”

This, he suggests, means that new values should come to the fore.

“We need to be teaching our kids skills that AI can’t do,” he explains. “ChatGPT just spits back trends pulled out of existing human knowledge. It cannot innovate, or generate new ideas.

“So I’ll actually be encouraging my students, when they’re writing an essay, to run it through ChatGPT first. What they’ll see is the version created if you don’t think outside the box.

“They’ll be expected to start from there, using and showing evidence of the skills they can bring beyond that. What new perspectives, hypotheses or advancements can you add?”

In fact, he says, ChatGPT might raise the bar when it comes to education.

“The basics are now a given, readily available to all, so the focus will be on innovation, creativity and critical thinking.”

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Not that ChatGPT, in its current form at least, is entirely without risks for children. For a start, the content created is not infallibly accurate. Also, “two of the problems with machine learning are bias and inappropriate content,” says Prof Thomas.

Imagine ChatGPT like a giant fishing net, flung across the internet, and hauling in content for each search.

“To the extent that there is bias and prejudice online, it’s likely to slip in,” he says.

So until better age-appropriate tools are built in, “it may expose children to content that’s age inappropriate and has implicit biases built into the content.”

Even more important then to educate children in critical thinking online: “ChatGPT does not give you an audit trail to check veracity,” says Prof Thomas. “So those are now skills we need to teach children: What are the best ways to use these tools? How do we check the veracity of what they produce and assess their bias?”

Advice for parents

While the curriculum is still running to catch up with this new technology, what should you do as a parent or carer if you suspect your child is leaning too heavily on ChatGPT?

Well, first things first, don’t try to ban it at home, as some US schools have done.

“If we shield our kids, there’s a good chance that they will learn about it anyway from the internet and their friends, and we don’t want the internet teaching our kids what’s acceptable and safe when it comes to a powerful technology like AI,” says Adam Dodge, digital safety expert, dad and founder of The Tech Savvy Parent.

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Mr Dodge suggests exploring ChatGPT with your kids: “This shared experience will provide opportunities to learn together and for connection.

“Plus, by having productive conversations early with our kids about technologies like ChatGPT, we are creating space for them to come to us with questions or concerns in the future.”

You don’t have to be an AI expert to get started.

“This is less about the technology, and more about the values we instil in our kids,” he points out. “In this case, it’s about cheating and ethics.”

Be careful of finger pointing, though: “Rather than lecturing, we’re in favour of conversation starters that hopefully initiate open and frank discussions,” says Mr Dodge.

“Some examples could be: ‘Have you heard of ChatGPT?’; ‘Is it different from other types of cheating?’; ‘Why or why not?’; ‘What are ways it can help people?’; and so on. The point is to get the conversations going and then see where they go.”

If you’re concerned about what your kids might be viewing and doing online, then consult our Digital Parenting Pro parental controls resource.


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