A new artificial intelligence tool has caught the attention of educators, but local schools want to use the technology, not ban it

In certain circles, Chat GPT – an artificial intelligence bot – has been vilified as a harbinger of the downfall of education.

Some of the nation’s largest school systems, including counties in New York City and Los Angeles, have blocked access to the technology over fears it could enable widespread cheating among students.

North Shore administrators don’t see it that way.

Peter Tragos, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at New Trier High School, said Chat GPT is just the latest technology that worries educators. But like calculators, the internet, social media and Wikipedia before them, Chat GPT and other artificial intelligence platforms are here to stay.

“It’s powerful and has the potential to transform learning and education, but it’s not the end of education, it’s not the end of high school English,” Tragos said. “Like it or hate it, we must learn to live with it – smartly and wisely.”

He added: “The ability to harness (new technology) is really more important than an immediate response. … That doesn’t prepare the students for the future in which they will live and work.”

Chat GPT was released in late November 2022 by OpenAI, which describes it as a model that interacts with users in a “conversational manner” after a question or prompt. For example, a user can ask Chat GPT about the connection between the Great Depression and “The Grapes of Wrath,” it scours data from across the web and quickly returns a grammatically strong four-paragraph, 200-word answer.

The more a user interacts with Chat GPT, the more the user can learn how the technology works, get more clear information and reduce the risk of plagiarism being detected.

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The concern of many teachers — detailed in a December 28 Washington Post article that circulated in educators’ inboxes — is that students are using Chat GPT’s answers verbatim in schoolwork, which is both plagiarism and a violation of the Code Codes at schools such as New Trier and Wilmette Public Schools District 39 would represent integrity.

Of course, it’s not that easy for students or educators.

Since information on the Internet is not always credible, Chat GPT answers are not always credible. Responses have also proven to be relatively formulaic, meaning they do not fit a student’s writing style and often have discernible tendencies.

New Trier junior Kate Dieffenbacher, a reporter for the New Trier News, wrote a Feb. 3 article about high school cheating issues, including the emergence of Chat GPT.

She said her research shows that students and teachers in New Trier view technology differently. Dieffenbacher said students see Chat GPT as a resource that can help them with their schoolwork, but she hasn’t encountered any students using it to complete assignments.

However, new teachers in Trier see it as a threat, she said — not only because of the opportunities for cheating, but also because students may not realize that the information Chat GPT produces could be inaccurate.

However, it didn’t take long for Dieffenbacher to figure out that last part. She said she asked Chat GPT with a physical problem and the answer was wrong.

“Students don’t realize — yes, it can give you a lot of information and it seems like it can be helpful and explain things and give you a better understanding of any type of material — the detrimental effects of its use,” Dieffenbacher said. “It could turn out to be plagiarism” and “is not entirely accurate”.

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This is why local administrators—like Tragos in New Trier and Technology, Information, and Security Administrator Tony DeMonte at Wilmette D39—preach the formation of chat GPT instead of dissociation.

On January 30th, New Trier hosted a webinar for its employees with Dr. Torrey Trust, a professor of technology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who focuses on where education meets technology.

The high school board of education also requested more information on Chat GPT, which Tragos provided at the February meeting.

Wilmette District 39, which serves students from preschool through eighth grade, is also working to provide guidance to its teachers, DeMonte said, with the underlying principle of safe use.

“I think this takes a big dose of education,” DeMonte said. “We don’t expect bans or blocks, which by the way never works. … It’s always, always, always about teaching safe and responsible use, because children are not always in our field of vision. Our goal is to teach them to make wise decisions when we’re not around.”

Both Tragos and DeMonte said they are not aware of any student who has turned in an assignment that was plagiarized from chat GPT answers. Both also said that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Since the news of teachers’ concerns about Chat GPT broke, several plagiarism detectors like TurnItIn.com have been released. They claim to be able to spot trends from Chat GPT and other artificial intelligence.

However, Tragos is not interested in going down that route. He said advances in technology are being released every day and trying to prevent students from using them is unproductive and cuts against New Trier’s educational foundation.

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“We don’t want to get into the business of using technology like TurnItIn.com. It undermines learning and assumes that every student author or writer has plagiarized something,” he said. “They create an obstacle to the teacher-student relationship and learning. If we make the assumption that everyone cheats, then we’re kind of lost in learning.”

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