Watch out world. ChatGPT has lowered its age of access to 13.

ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence chatbot from OpenAI, is popping up everywhere including in West Chester classrooms. “Launched in November, by January there were 13 million users of ChatGPT per day, some of those were our students,” Kara Bailey, WC Cyber Program Supervisor, said in a report to West Chester Area School Board members last week. 

The district is in the process of working through a lot of deep questions surrounding the new technology including how it can be best used in classrooms. To help them do this they have formed a Think Tank made up of teachers, administrators, librarians, and board members. The group, which has held two meetings so far, has been actively working to familiarize themselves with the capabilities and limitations of this new technology. 

AI examples: ChatGPT may be the best known but it is not the only self-learning technology out there. The district is also monitoring DALL-E, ChatGPT’s sister site that can create original images, Frizzle, a new teacher-developed tool designed for education applications, and Poise, an AI tool that helps improve public speaking. 

Some things to consider: 

  • ChatGPT is account-based. Two people can ask the same question and get two distinct answers. Those answers would not be archived anywhere. “You could not Google it to find out if it was AI-generated,” said Kara by way of example.
  • The tool’s dataset officially ends in 2021. 
  • It can be creative. It can write a poem. It can write the poem in the manner of a particular poet. It can write a speech in the manner of a famous public figure. 
  • It will lie with authority. So while it will do your homework for you, you would still need to spot-check it for accuracy. 

I did my own tests using the software and in both cases the results felt a generic – probably the epitomi of too many cooks. In addition to asking it to write a poem, I tried to have it write a headline for this article but I found even with several rounds of feedback he couldn’t quite match my unique blend of facts and sarcasm. On the other hand, if I didn’t care and just needed a headline? The answers were certainly passable.

Big questions the Think Tank is investigating: 

  • How should academic integrity policies be revised to make sure students are using the technology in an appropriate and honest manner? 
  • When and how to cite the technology being used? 
  • What jobs will be affected by this technology? How can the district prepare students for this reality?
  • How can this technology be best used by teachers and students? 
  • Where should limitations on its use be set? Michael Wagman, WCASD Director of Information Technology gave one such example. “Writing is how we learn and distill information; farming that out to ChatGPT could have long-term learning consequences,” he said. 

What is the district’s current policy on AI? There isn’t one, at least not officially. “We need to know more in order to make decisions, and recommendations around this,” Kara told school board members. In the meantime, the committee is moving fast because so is the technology: their next meeting is April 4.

“There are a lot of possibilities that are inspiring and interesting and also a little intimidating and that is what our ThinkTank is working on,” said Kara.

Is ChatGPT currently accessible to students? 

“ChatGPT is not accessible on WCASD-provided student devices at this time. However, it is not the district’s intention to have it remain inaccessible permanently,” said Mary Schwemler, West Chester Area School District Communications Manager. 

“To comply with ChatGPT’s licensing requirements we do need to have parental permission for students ages 13-18. We already ask parental permission for applications that fall within the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), but that only applies to children under the age of 13. We are in the process of developing a permission form and plan for distributing it to our families effectively,” she said. 

While not blocked, the district has also asked teachers to halt using ChatGPT in the classroom for now.

“Like many people outside of education, AI is an exciting topic of conversation at the moment and offers many interesting new opportunities. While we are evaluating it in the context of our Academic Integrity Policy and licensing requirements, we do need to take a step back from using it but again this is not intended to be permanent. We know that AI will have a major impact on everything from future career opportunities to daily life, and we intend to prepare our students, staff, families, and community as best we can for that future.”

Will parents have a say in how this technology is used?  Yes, the district says it is looking to get families more involved in these discussions. “Whether through an interest form, survey, and/or email, we will be seeking out participation in that ThinkTank from our families later this spring and into the summer and fall,” Mary said.  

Originally published, Mar. 24, 2023

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