Schools That Banned ChatGPT are Already Losing A War They Can’t Win

Stefan Bauschard.  View our webinar on Chat GPT and Its Impact on Education

In mid-January, a number of schools and districts, including the New York City Department of Education, banned teacher and student access to ChatGPT on school networks and school issued devices. While most schools and districts have fortunately not done this, others are considering bans. Today, Queensland Public Schools (Australia) banned it at school

Hopefully no more will add bans, as this approach is  a complete failure, negatively impacts their most economically disadvantaged students and deprives all of their students of an opportunity to work with a technology that is having an immediate impact on their academic, personal, and soon to be professional, lives.

This simple fact is students can simply use any non-school device at home (including their phones, which they can also use on their carrier networks @ school) to use ChatGPT to write their papers (which are normally assigned as homework). ChatGPT is one of the hottest trending technologies on TikTok and young people are well aware of it. The only students who do not know about it or cannot use it are the most economically disadvantaged students who are dependent on school computers and networks to access the internet; their economic disadvantages strongly correlate to race and also, though to a lesser extent, gender.

There is also the reality that these bans have only increased student awareness of ChatGPT by signaling that it is a powerful way to write a paper, making it more likely that students will start using it.

And, even then, schools are not able to keep up with all of the places students in the know can access it even on school networks and devices:  Siri; WhatsApp, just to name a few.

What will schools do when Microsoft integrates it into the Bing search engine? Ban Bing? What about when Google launches  its own similar product (which it will probably have to do to survive (and there are rumors that it is coming soon))? There is now a competitor, which performs similar functions. It’s just Whack-A-Mole in a race against new manifestations.

But what’s the harm? Schools may think that even a partial limit can only be helpful, as anything they can do to limit is good.

There are a number of harms.

Bans create a false sense of security.  Until schools started banning the ChatGPT bot, most teachers and students hadn’t heard of it. Now students know it’s something that is such a great way to “cheat” that schools banned it  and now many teachers think students can’t use it because schools banned it…not a great situation.

Bans widen the gap between teachers and students. Since bans lull educators into believing they don’t need to learn about it because they falsely believe students can’t use it. This means that students will be the ones who know how to use it while teachers won’t. These teachers won’t learn how to adapt lessons to the modern world and in a way that can limit cheating

Moreover, widening the gap between teachers and students in this area is only going to make teachers feel more insecure about their knowledge of technology and make students feel like the education they are receiving is less and less relevant to their lives. As the gap between what happens in schools and what happens in the world grows, students (and parents) are going to place on traditional education.

There are many opportunities for teachers to learn how to use the technology to generate lesson plans, adapt lessons to students (including IQ and literacy levels), build glossaries, written form letters, (and do so many other things (video)) in a short period of time. Of course, teachers could do this on their own home networks (and some schools have allowed continued teacher access), but they are not going to seriously engage the tool until they realise it is a productive part of the educational ecosystem and not just a paper writing machine their students supposedly cannot access.

Bans crush opportunities to teach critical skills. If students are blocked from using the tool through school-supported resources, they are already behind in academic skills (especially an understanding the importance of developing good questions (prompts) and follow-up questions/prompts)) relative to students who are being assigned homework to use the tool at other schools where they are  being taught how to develop critical questions.

John Kelly Kelly, for example,  is currently developing a robot using ChatGPT technology that his students will be instructed to ask questions to when they enter the building, with the best question winning a prize.

Bans undermine the ability to help students navigate the world they live in. Beyond problems with limiting skill development, Joanne Lipman and Rebecca Distler explain in Time Magazine, “Students need now, more than ever, to understand how to navigate a world in which artificial intelligence is increasingly woven into everyday life. It’s a world that they, ultimately, will shape….attempting to teach “critical thinking and problem-solving” skills – while ignoring the real world in which students will deploy those skills—is a fool’s errand….Today’s students will soon be tomorrow’s leaders, tasked with ensuring that technology is designed and implemented in responsible and ethical ways.”  Generative AI and ChatGPT will “be everywhere” in 2023; “ChatGPT is coming for classrooms, hospitals, marketing departments, and everything else.” Emilia David @ Business Insider.

ChatGPT is already being used in marketing (including superbowl ads), writing for publication, computer programming (including building an entire website), art and the law (to name a few examples).

Isn’t one of they primary functions of schooling to help make students “career ready?” As Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadell, explained, “displacement will be real…what are all the new jobs?” Schools need to start immediately preparing to help students compete for the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past.

And colleges and universities are already using it in class, including integrating it int teacher preparation programs. I’m not aware of a single college or university that has banned it. Do we not want our graduating high school seniors to know how to properly engage with the tool in the educational spaces they will soon be entering?

Bans magnify the rich-poor gap in education.  At best, the only students any ban effectively applies to are students who only have access to school-provided devices, increasing the access gap in education. And if ChatGPT does help students improve their papers, lower SES students’ grades are going to be relatively impacted.

Shaping use. Teachers and students who are using the technology in the classroom productively are literally shaping the technology’s development (ChatGPT is currently being made freely available to see how people use it) and making positive contributions to the discussions about how it is being used by students and in-school assignments.

Rather than banning ChatGPT, schools should invest in courses to teach students how to use output generated ChatGPT to advance their own learning.  And they absolutely must invest in professional development for teachers.

Schools that continue their bans will only continue to lose the war against the technology  and deprive their students of important academic opportunities they need to thrive in  the 21st century.