What is ChatGPT? Exploring AI Tools and Their Relationship with Education

Artificial intelligence and machine-generated content applications have become a hot topic of discussion in education, from headline news articles in Inside Higher Ed, to UW-Green Bay workshops specific to AI tools. With all this buzz, university instructors and staff may still have lingering questions surrounding what exactly AI applications like ChatGPT are and why they are such a hot topic of discussion in teaching and learning spheres. This CATL blog post will provide readers with definitions for some of these AI tools and explore their possible implications for higher education.  

What is All the Fuss About? 

The most popular AI-text generative tool is ChatGPT by Open AI. What exactly can AI tools like ChatGPT do?  Well, they can write essays and poems, “converse” about the meaning of life, or quickly define terms or even summarize a book. They all offer large potential in their use cases, yet they still come with their own set of limitations, such as producing wrong or false answers. They also tend to be very formal and lack the ability to understand sarcasm, analogies, jokes, and satire, and they are limited by their current datasets which in the case of ChatGPT can only fetch data prior to the year 2021. Below is a more detailed description of some of the most commonly used AI tools. Test them out and ask the AI some questions!  Before you do, be aware that ChatGPT is sometimes at capacity due to high traffic, and that although the tools are currently free, they may require you to establish an account with an email and cell phone number

ChatGPT by Open AI

ChatGPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer and is a natural language processing tool powered by AI. That means it generates information in a more conversational style, learns from those conversations, and then can produce even more and more uniquely tailored responses. 

  • Potential use cases: conversational communication, in-depth responses to questions or prompts, creates code, writes essays, answers math problems and shows its work, generates syllabi, formulates application letters for specific job ads, and more 

Perplexity AI is a chat tool powered by Open AI’s GPT-3 language model that acts as a powerful search engine. When answering a question, the model scours the internet to give an answer and displays the source from which it found the information from.  

  • Potential use cases: answer FAQs, find step-by-step instructions, define terms, and more.  

YouChat is a ChatGPT-like AI search assistant, similar to Perplexity, that acts as a search engine which provides answers and cites sources when asked questions.  

AI tools are not new to education or mainstream news, so what makes tools like ChatGPT the talk of the town, bringing concerns from those connected to education? Put simply, ChatGPT and its contemporaries can understand text and spoken words similar to how human beings can. These tools have become more conversational and corrective, making it difficult to discern originality between what is generated by the AI and what is produced by a human. In addition, the data and algorithms they draw from imitate the way humans learn and can even learn itself by gradually improving its accuracy the more you interact with it. The possibilities of tools like ChatGPT seem to be almost endless — writing complete essays, creating poetry, summarizing books and large texts, creating games, and translating languages and data. This potentially raises questions about the nature of tasks that will be completed by machines in the future and what that means for our learning outcomes for students. Some experts are also discussing to what extent it becomes part of the educational enterprise to teach students how to write effective prompts and use tools like ChatGPT to produce the highest quality, most sophisticated work products reflecting human-machine interaction. 

Instructors and constituents in higher education will need to eventually come to terms with their relationship with these technologies. One way to approach the conversation surrounding AI technology is to consider these applications as tools that educators can choose either to work with or without in their classes. Some may also consider it a part of education to teach their students how to use them most effectively. With any teaching tool we look to incorporate, we must provide proper thought, scaffolding, and framing around what it can do and where it falls short so that students can use the tool responsibly. 

How can I learn more?  

CATL has curated a list of readings and additional resources about AI in education. We will maintain and update this resource regularly as more research on AI-generative tools emerges. In addition, we have more CATL made resources on the topic of AI in this list below:

Keep the Conversation Going!  

We want to hear from you! Have you incorporated AI-generative tools in your course instruction? If so, what ideas, challenges, and feedback can you share with us as other instructors consider these tools? What guidelines, syllabus statements or lessons have you added to your course relevant to AI use? What benefits or shortcomings of these new tools have you identified from an instructional standpoint?  

To share your ideas and thoughts please email us at catl@uwgb.edu!  The more we all familiarize ourselves with the tools and engage with them, the clearer the implications the tools will have on teaching and learning.  

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