WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
AI is getting to the point where it’s becoming the perfect educational aid… or cheating tool, and teachers aren’t prepared at all for what’s coming (today).
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How does Jane Austen present attitudes towards romance in Pride and Prejudice? What are the three main differences between the processes of mitosis and meiosis? How did the Nazi–Soviet Pact lead to the Second World War?
Those are all GCSE questions from this year’s AQA exams that ChatGPT, the latest evolution in a family of text-generating Artificial Intelligence (AI), was able to answer in a matter of seconds — to varying success. And, as students eye up some of today’s increasingly sophisticated AI tools to help them cheat and get good grades it’s not the first time that an AI has taken exams, nailed them, or been used by students to do their coursework assignments …
The Future of Synthetic Content, by keynote Matthew Griffin
The chatbot, released the other week by Elon Musk-founded tech firm OpenAI, scours vast swathes of the internet for answers to users’ questions. Unlike other AI bots, it spits out results in fluent, sophisticated language, which users are able to tailor to their desired length. And unlike other AI bots, it’s free.
The software has already been touted as a language-rich alternative to Google, boasting the ability to provide descriptions, answers and solutions to complex questions in lightning speed. But its linguistic prowess has also underlined a rather major problem: ChatGPT could bring about the death of the traditional essay.
Students on forums such as Reddit have already boasted about receiving top marks for homework written on their behalf by the chatbot, while university professors have warned that the robot-written prose is not flagging up on plagiarism detectors.
We decided to try it for ourselves. We fed ChatGPT questions from this year’s GCSE history exams set by AQA, and sent the answers to be marked by a secondary school history teacher. Here’s what happened:
‘The main reason why the League of Nations failed was because of how it was organised.’ How far do you agree with this statement? – 16 marks
While the League of Nations was organised in a way that was intended to promote international peace and cooperation, its lack of effectiveness was largely due to its structure, lack of enforcement power, and lack of support from major powers.
The basic structure is good and there is a line of argument throughout, however the links between stated factors is not well developed. It is also lacking in specific and detailed knowledge that would be expected in this answer.
Level 3 (10-12 marks)
Write an account of how events in Abyssinia in 1935-36 affected the League of Nations – 8 marks
When Italy invaded Abyssinia in 1935, the League of Nations was unable to agree on a course of action. Some members, such as Great Britain and France, were hesitant to take action against Italy, as they were concerned about the potential consequences of alienating
a major power.
Others, such as Ethiopia’s neighbour, Eritrea, called for more robust action to be taken against Italy. Ultimately, the League of Nations decided to impose economic sanctions on Italy, but these had little effect and were largely ignored by Mussolini.
The events in Abyssinia highlighted the limitations of the League of Nations and served as a warning of the dangers of international inaction in the face of aggression.
The components of a good answer are in different sections of this answer, but also sections that lack relevance. Some parts include stock criticism of the League with little relevance to the question. There is a lack of key terminology that I would expect to see from a GCSE history student.
Level 3 (5-6 marks)
Explain the significance of the Provisions of Oxford and the Parliament of 1265 – 8 marks
The Provisions of Oxford marked a significant shift in the balance of power between the king and the nobles, and marked the beginning of a period of political instability. The Parliament of 1265 was significant because it marked the first time that representatives from the commons were summoned to Parliament.
Lots of points made that are relevant. Good link between the significance at the time and today but these are more implicit than it is explicit. There is a factual error in paragraph four. The depth of analysis of significance is not complex and doesn’t reflect how a GCSE history student would analyse these events. The lack of any mention of Simon De Montfort in this answer is also a surprise.
Level 3 (5-6 marks)
Explain two ways in which the Peasants’ Revolt and the American Revolution were similar – 8 marks
Both the Peasants’ Revolt and the American Revolution involved mass popular movements that sought to overthrow the existing government. The Peasants’ Revolt was a riotous protest led by the lower classes in England, while the American Revolution was a war fought by the American colonists against the British.
Both revolts were driven by a desire for greater autonomy and a rejection of the unfair taxation and oppressive laws that were imposed on the people.
The analysis is pretty basic and does not feature sufficient factual detail.
Level 3 (5-6 marks)
Write an account of how the Nazi–Soviet Pact led to war – 8 marks
The Nazi–Soviet Pact enabled Hitler to launch his attack on Poland without fear of a Soviet counterattack. This enabled him to quickly overrun the country and begin the process of
establishing a Nazi-dominated Europe.
It also allowed the Soviets to gain control of large parts of Eastern Europe, which would later serve as a buffer against a possible German attack.
The Pact had significant implications for the war. It allowed Hitler to focus his resources on the West, while the Soviets were able to prepare for a possible German invasion.
This answer has little structure and is more of a list of points. It does not link clearly to the cause of the Second World War.
Level 2 (3-4 marks)
Our AI student would have achieved a Grade 7 in their history GCSE — equivalent to a low A grade under the former marking system.
Simon Beale, history and politics teacher at Vyners School in London, said the chatbot showed “more developed vocabulary than you would expect to see from the average GCSE student”, but that the answers were patchy, “hollow,” and at times showed a lack of understanding.
ChatGPT also coughed up blatant errors, claiming at one point that Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union never joined the League of Nations. Mr Beale, who marked the answers, said he would have smelled a rat if a student had turned them in. But experts warn that a more streamlined version is just around the corner, and one that will tear up education as we know it.
“We need to start thinking about this now, not in the future, because students are already using it. The education system has got to catch up with what’s already happening,” said Mike Sharples, emeritus professor of educational technology at The Open University.
Education has long grappled with existential threats posed by emerging technologies, including calculators, mobile phones, and more recently, essay mills, which charged students as much as £150 to write their homework for them. But overcoming a hurdle such as ChatGPT, which is free, easy to use, and produces a different answer even if fed the same question multiple times, will require educators to think more creatively.
Professor Sharples, author of Story Machines: How Computers Have Become Creative Writers, suggested that teachers could set assignments based on practical projects, or encourage students to integrate AI while showing their workings. “Otherwise it will become a kind of fruitless AI arms race. Nobody’s learning from it,” he said.
A 2020 study Rutgers University found that students who regularly Google their homework answers may get a short-term boost but at the cost of longer-term harm, often resulting in lower grades and poor test results.
And while just two years ago, pupils may have had to trawl through Google results to piece together a coherent essay, they can now click copy and paste. As one Redditor put it: “I would have killed for this in college.”
What is ChatGPT and how can it help write a student’s homework?
ChatGPT, or Generative Pretrained Transformer, is a type of language model developed by OpenAI. It is a type of artificial intelligence that uses deep learning to generate human-like text.
ChatGPT can be used to assist in a variety of natural language processing tasks, such as language translation, summarisation, and text generation.
While it is possible for a language model to generate text that resembles a homework assignment, it is not capable of independently researching and completing a homework assignment on a given topic.
This type of task requires a level of understanding and critical thinking that goes beyond the capabilities of a language model.
It is important for students to complete their own homework assignments in order to learn and fully understand the material.
Copying or using a language model to complete homework assignments is not a good idea, as it does not benefit the student’s learning and can result in academic consequences.
“The essay has been a mainstay for centuries, and I think we’ve all got lazy to some extent,” said Professor Sharples. “As a teacher, you’re now going to be challenged to rethink what an essay is for. That means the standard essay is probably dead. But from the ashes something more creative might arise.”
Experts agree that instead of resisting AI, the education sector must embrace its potential. A language-based chatbot could, for example, help students for whom writing does not come naturally — including foreign students and pupils with learning difficulties.
“For many, many decades, professors and teachers have used the quality of prose as an indicator of whether a student is competent with the content,” said Timothy Burke, professor of history at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
“So if you had a student who wrote poorly, you dialled in a lot more aggressively on their command of the content. Teachers should never have been doing that, and they won’t be able to any more with AI.”
Professor Burke, who admitted he was surprised how quickly ChatGPT has landed on the scene, said he has already been hauled into meetings about what advancing AI means in relation to cheating.
“Some people have started talking about the new ways we’ll have to surveil and punish cheating, including things like rewriting the honour code to ask students never to use AI,” he told reporters.
“But at the moment I can’t detect if a rich student hires someone to write an essay for them. We know that that happens at Harvard and Yale and Oxbridge — and it’s undetectable.”
Software like ChatGPT, then, could usher in the democratisation of shortcuts that have always existed on some level — even if that means a rethink of what punishments come with them.
Either way, teachers will have to start coming up with solutions. “There’s no putting this genie back in the bottle,” said Professor Burke. “This is going to be another seismic disruption in technology.”