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ChatGPT: Quebec educators grapple with AI's potential impact on teaching


ChatGPT, the new AI capable of producing paragraphs of human-sounding prose in seconds, is causing a stir in Quebec’s classrooms, as educators grapple with what some consider a turning point in education.

The program is accessible to all online, though high demand from internet users makes for long virtual ques. Once you get in, the site encourages you to ask the AI to describe a complex topic, suggest party ideas for a 10-year-old’s birthday, or drum up an HTTP request in Javascript.

But Quebec educators are nervous about other uses for the software – namely its potential to be used as a way for students to skirt their assignments.

In theory, a teacher could ask a student to write a five-paragraph reaction to Shakespeare’s first Sonnet, or Descartes’ motivation for the Meditations.

Dawson College philosophy teacher Robert Stephens posed the latter question to the AI during an interview with CTV. Moments later, ChatGPT returned a several lines, and could provide several more if asked.

“It has read bazillions of bits of texts written by humans, it has read whole books,” said Stephens. “It’s almost like a [version of] Wikipedia that you can interact with, and it will rewrite the article for you in a slightly different wording every time you ask it to.”

Stephens is part of the college’s AI initiative, educating staff on ChatGPT and its potential impact on teaching. He says many of his colleagues are only just becoming aware of the program, but that some have already shifted their syllabi to accommodate it.

In his classes, he says he has opted out of short writing assignments as homework. Instead, students do those sorts of activities in-class. In contrast, readings and short-video viewings that might have taken place in the classroom have turned into homework.

Several students told CTV they’ve picked up on an attitude shift from their teachers.

“There is sort of a culture of fear that’s arising among our professors which is completely understandable,” said Stephens’ student, Bernice Djaeallah.

There’s also curiosity among parents. Technology expert Carmi Levy, who happens to have college-aged children of his own, said those campus conversations about ChatGPT have made it home to the dinner table.

“When a radical new technology that threatens to rewrite the rules on pretty much everything comes along, I think it would be naïve to think that it’s not going to have significant implications for education as well,” he said.

“I think everyone -- students, parents, teachers, schools, administrations alike – are all trying to figure out what it is, and what it means for their future, and no one seems to have a definitive answer.”


While experts speculate on how ChatGPT will affect education, Stephens says there’s generally more excitement than fear.

While there are concerns the AI could make for an unwelcome ghostwriter, he says it could also be an indispensable ally to students.

“These are tools that are really powerful,” said Stephens. “Just like the math class embraces the calculator, we don’t force it to not exist, or ban it, I think there are ways to use these tools constructively too.”

ChatGPT has already made a handful of appearances as a collaborator in academia. The AI is listed as a co-author on four papers, two of which appear on PubMed, the United States National Library of Medicine’s website.

At the college level, one student told CTV he’s already using ChatGPT as a brainstorm-aid, looking to the program for inspiration before hunkering down for an original essay.

“I use chat GPT responsibly,” said Ryan Assaker. “For example, I’m writing an essay about Canadian democracy and I want to brainstorm some ideas about the period between 2000 to 2010 in Canadian politics. It will just spew me a list of like 10 or 20 things you could do, and it’s just amazing.”

Quebec’s education ministry told CTV it’s looking into ChatGPT and other AIs, which it wrote it expects to be “increasingly numerous in the coming years,” to assess their effect on teaching and learning. Top Stories

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