February 14, 2023
“What happens to learning when we move from the stable infrastructure of the 20th century to the fluid infrastructure of the 21st century, where technology is constantly creating and responding to change?”
Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown
In A New Culture of Learning, Thomas and Brown wrote that when people think about learning, they usually think about schools. “And when people think about schools, they usually think about teachers.” Yet, they say, the kind of learning that will define the 21st century is not taking place in a classroom. “Rather, it is happening all around us, everywhere, and is as powerful.”
Artificial Intelligence is everywhere around us and it is most certainly powerful. AI has supercharged an automation process that now extends into advanced human tasks. At any given moment, AI is writing the articles we read online, creating sophisticated musical works in the style of iconic composers, learning how we cook and devise recipes, driving commercial trucks, beating us at our favorite board games, dancing like a human, designing new molecular proteins, assisting people with disabilities, creating poetry, and talking to us in a friendly tone. We’d been told for years that AI would disrupt our lives, but the striking speed and wide-reaching impact of AI have caught many technologists, academics, and scientists by surprise.
Add teachers to that group. Educators across the nation are flummoxed by the introduction of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence assistant developed by OpenAI that can, among other things, write essays, craft poetry, produce song lyrics, write and debug code, explain difficult concepts, identify incorrect premises, and roleplay in imaginary scenarios. The world’s most advanced chatbot, ChatGPT has sparked widespread fear at schools and universities that students will use it to cheat on their homework and be unmotivated to learn.
(And if ChatGPT wasn’t enough, there are AI networks that can produce a combination of text, images, video, or sound from a simple prompt by the user. For instance, DALL-E is an AI assistant that can create original art based on your description of what you want to see and Google’s unreleased MusicLM can create music from text. Moreover, OpenAI, Google, and others are building systems that can generate videos of people and objects from text.)
The angst wrought by ChatGPT has led many schools and districts to ban its use, most notably the New York…