Marblehead educators wrapping heads around ChatGPT

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Concerns that local students might tap into the cutting-edge artificial intelligence offered by ChatGPT to do their schoolwork for them have been realized, Superintendent John Buckey told the Marblehead Current.

The powerful, multilingual chatbot can instantaneously perform literary analysis, compose original poems, write short fiction and compute complex math problems.

“This is so new, districts are trying to get up to speed quickly as they discover more about it,” Buckey said. “We just did a professional development on the topic.”

OpenAI, a private artificial intelligence research organization whose founders include Elon Musk, developed ChatGPT. The organization released the chatbot on Nov. 30 and it became wildly popular overnight. Today, its usage is in the millions.

“It uses a deep learning technique called transformer-based neural networks to generate human-like text,” wrote ChatGPT when the Current asked the chatbot about itself. “It can be fine-tuned for various natural language processing tasks such as language translation, question answering and text summarization.”  

Marblehead High School Assistant Principal Lindsay Donaldson recently prepared and disseminated information about ChatGPT to educators.

“Our teachers are learning more about the pitfalls of ChatGPT and reviewing if there can be positive applications of the technology,” said MHS Principal Dan Bauer.

Bauer and Buckey confirmed incidents where students handed in ChatGPT-generated work as their own.

“We want students producing authentic assignments that cause them to engage critically in their thinking about topics and assignments,” Bauer said.

Passing off ChatGPT-created work constitutes plagiarism and cheating, violating the MHS student handbook’s section titled “academic integrity expectations.”

“If a teacher suspects plagiarism, there is a process we follow to review the situation,” Bauer said, adding that it involves a conference with the suspecting teacher, administrator and parents. “If a violation occurs, there are consequences. This can range from reduced credit, no credit and potentially other disciplinary action depending on the severity of the infraction.”

Violations can come with the loss of privileges, class standing, membership in honor societies and leadership positions. Consequences increase if further infractions occur.

Buckey said each incident offers “a teachable moment” where educators prompt students to reflect on the harm they are inflicting on themselves.

“When they put their name to something that they did not write, create or generate,” Buckey said, “it is not only unethical, it impedes their learning.”

Some have characterized the artificial intelligence’s release as “a before-and-after moment.”

“Like any advances in technology, there is potential for it being a resource, but at this point it is not being used positively to enhance learning,” Buckey said. “I think we need to focus on providing students hands-on learning opportunities where technology like this would not be as much of a temptation.”

Jenn Billings, a MHS English teacher, is keeping an open mind about ChatGPT. She would like to figure out ways it can support students’ learning.

“This is not going away,” Billings told the Current. “Education can sometimes feel static, and this is certainly mixing things up.”

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