Think For Yourself: School in the Age of AI
July 26, 2023
We’ve entered a new era. Artificial intelligence programs like ChatGPT have passed the Turing test — they can create ideas that are indistinguishable from those of a human.
For teachers tasked with cultivating HUMAN intelligence, that creates a unique challenge. If students can quickly and easily answer questions with the assistance of AI, how can we encourage them to grow as thinkers? What does school look like in this brave new world?
The simplest way to ensure that students are creating their own writing is to watch them do it. Assigning more writing in class, especially by hand, is a great way to require students to do their own thinking. For assignments completed at home, AI detectors can help teachers quickly and easily identify, with a good deal of certainty, which pieces were generated with artificial intelligence programs.
Teach the Value
It also becomes increasingly important to teach students the “why” behind assignments. To the extent that students understand the value of thinking for themselves and the importance of growing through productive struggle, the more likely they are to opt to carry the cognitive load of assignments themselves.
I was recently listening to an episode of The Daily, where students were discussing the ways they’ve used ChatGPT. I was struck by the fact that several of the students said that if they took the easy way, they’d never grow — and that these students were the ones who used the tool the least, and in the healthiest ways.
Thinking With, Not Thinking For
Another wonderful way to make sure that AI tools don’t stunt student growth is to help students learn what that healthy use looks like.
For example, teachers have long understood the value of collaboration. We understand that getting new ideas from others can help us expand our understanding. Well, ChatGPT can function as a collaborator. This is largely how most adults use ChatGPT productively — we brainstorm with it, we ask it for lists of ideas and choose the best ones, we let it create drafts that we revise, and we use it to provide feedback on our work.
This approach is far superior to having ChatGPT answer a question, and then copying and pasting it. You can encourage this healthy use by REQUIRING students to use AI on assignments — to require them to show the list of ideas it generated, as well as the one that they chose, or to include in their assignment the draft generated by ChatGPT, as well as the modifications they made.
One of my favorite ways to teach this principle is to play a game called Beat ChatGPT, where I have an AI program generate a solution or a list of solutions to a problem… and then challenge students to make improvements. In a world where humans will increasingly have to exercise this sort of capability to show their value in the marketplace, it’s easy to make this game feel relevant, as well as fun. It also encourages students to view their unique human intelligence as valuable!
Make Thinking Fun
Speaking of the value of human intelligence, one of the best reasons we think is because it’s enjoyable. A machine can solve a Sudoku puzzle in seconds, but that doesn’t stop millions of humans from doing and enjoying them. Now that AI has arrived, it’s increasingly important that we cultivate classrooms that are memorable, meaningful, and FUN.
So, have your students engage in authentic experiences where they have to use their skills to accomplish something worthwhile. Have them become builders and makers who exercise their creativity and take pride in the ownership of the works they’ve made. Allow them to discuss and debate as they think deeply, critically, and enjoyably. Let them build their understanding through hands-on learning experiences.
It’s more important than ever that we build classrooms where students think in the sorts of ways that our minds were designed to think. If we do that, we create a culture where students don’t want to LET the machines think for them, because they like to do the thinking themselves.
The Perfect and the Good
That seems utopian, because it is. Every single one of your students will want to take the easy way at some point in time. But by taking simple precautionary measures against cheating, by teaching students the value of doing work on their own, by encouraging some healthy use of AI, and by striving to make thinking fun, we can take positive steps toward promoting student intellectual growth.