What do teachers think of an AI model that writes essays? We had them tested
What if every student could use artificial intelligence to do any form of writing for their lessons?
A recent technology called GPT-3, a machine learning model that understands and generates natural language text, attempts to make this a reality.
Created by an artificial intelligence company called OpenAI, GPT-3, formerly known as Generative Pre-trained Transformer, is trained to recognize 540 billion words and 175 billion parameters, which are the variables that allow models to ‘AI to make predictions. The training enables technology to produce human-like text for several types of writing, including outlines, long-form essays, sales pitches, and poems.
But does it work well? And what do teachers think of the results?
Given the huge implications of technology for the future of education, Education Week asked teachers to test and evaluate technology. Their impressions depended heavily on the type of skills taught to students and their classroom goals. Some teachers saw the model as a benefit for students who have minimal writing skills. Others, tasked with teaching students more complex types of writing, haven’t found much value in the technology.
Anthony Long’s students are no strangers to technology. 10th graders in his engineering class at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland, Calif., use computer-aided design, or CAD, to design and manufacture products that can be printed with the provided 3D printers by the school. Long’s goal is for his students to learn how to market their 3D printed products to future investors as part of the course.
To do this, his students will have to write product pitches. But Long says her students struggle with writing. Although he can teach them how to use the technology, the writing part is outside of his expertise, so he explored GPT-3 as a way to help his students produce a professionally written pitch once their product was developed. . Using a fake product name and description, Long asked GPT-3 to write a pitch. See its prompt and the resulting work product. For this text and all computer-generated texts, grammatical errors have not been corrected.
Grade 10 students created a desk organizer called Desky to better organize their writing and office supplies. Write a detailed sales pitch about the desk organizer and its potential benefits for students and office workers.
Desky is the perfect way to organize your writing and office supplies! It has compartments for everything you need, so you can easily find what you’re looking for. It is also ideal for keeping your desk tidy and organized. Whether you’re a student or an office worker, Desky is the perfect way to keep your desk organized and tidy.
Benefits of using Desky:
-Keeps your desk tidy and organized
– Helps you find what you need quickly and easily
-Perfect for students and office workers
Why not try Desky today and see how it can help organize your office? You will not be disappointed !
Although GPT-3 did not produce a full pitch, for Long it gave his students a good start to begin their writing process.
“I’m kind of teaching two courses at once,” he said, referring to having to cover both the engineering and marketing aspects of the course. “And then teaching them more English is a long process. I think they [students] would find it useful.
Test technology on critical analysis
Unlike Long, Maya Kruger focuses on teaching students about the writing process. She teaches 6th grade language arts at St. Anthony Middle School, a public school in St. Anthony, Minnesota. Kruger students learn to conduct research, develop arguments, and cite sources. Kruger wants its students to develop these fundamental writing skills and GPT-3 was unable to meet its standards of demonstrating these skills during the trial.
Here is one of Kruger’s prompts and what it produced:
Write an 8th grade analysis of the book, “They Both Die at the End”, as it relates to capitalism, which includes quotes from the text.
They both die in the end is a novel about two teenagers who live in a world where everyone knows the day they will die. The boys, Mateo and Rufus, become friends and spend their last day together. The book is a commentary on capitalism, as it depicts a world where people are obsessed with money and status. For example, Mateo’s parents are very concerned about appearances and make sure their son has the best of everything. “Mateo’s parents were the kind of people who believed money could buy happiness, so they spent a lot of money on things they thought would make their son happy. They bought him the latest clothes, the latest gadgets and the most expensive toys. But none of that made Mateo happy. This quote shows how capitalism can hurt people’s happiness. People who focus on material possessions and status don’t are often not happy, because they are never satisfied with what they have. The book also criticizes the way capitalism values human life. In the world of They both die in the end, people are only worth money if they are healthy and have a long life expectancy. This is seen when Rufus is diagnosed with a terminal illness and his family is offered a large sum of money to end his life early. “Rufus’ parents were offered a lot of money to end his life early. They were told that their son’s life was only worth money if he was healthy and had a long life expectancy. But Rufus’ parents did not want to end his life earlier. They wanted him to live as long as he could. This quote shows how capitalism views human life as a commodity. People are only worth money if they are healthy and have a long life expectancy. It’s an incredibly dehumanizing way of valuing people, and it’s something the book criticizes.
For Kruger, the technology worked better than expected, but she said the work wouldn’t score remarkably high if it came from a student. It included examples from the book, as she had requested, but did not quote those examples correctly.
In other prompts he was unable to use claims and reasoning in what he produced. Kruger said if she were to incorporate GPT-3 in the classroom, she would ask students to use it as a starting point for writing, but would be reluctant to do so.
“The reliance on technology is high,” Kruger said. “If we use technology like this to train students to improve their work, how many of them use this technology to start their work every time and do not develop these fundamentals [writing] skills?”
Like Kruger, Lauralyn Taylor found little value in GPT-3 for her students. Taylor spent 21 years as a teacher at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Michigan. For five years she taught Advanced Placement language arts, but most of her career has been focused on teaching research writing as part of the regular 11th grade language arts curriculum. Taylor has had a long career teaching students how to write in-depth, research-based articles rich in context, character development and text analysis, and developing a voice as a writer. For her, GPT-3 failed to demonstrate most of the skills she looks for in student writing. She also found that the content produced was often generic.
See one of Taylor’s prompts and the resulting product:
Write an essay that explains a time when you faced adversity. The first two paragraphs should be narrative. The last two paragraphs should reflect how the experience has shaped you.
I was 11 when I first faced adversity. I have been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told that I will need treatment next year. I was scared and didn’t know what to expect. I started treatment and soon realized it was going to be a long and difficult journey. I had to miss a lot of school and was constantly tired from the treatments. I was also worried about my friends’ reaction when they found out.
Fortunately, I had a great support system. My family was there for me every step of the way. My friends were also supportive and understanding. They visited me when I was in the hospital and kept in touch when I was at home. I even made new friends during my treatment.
Looking back, I’m grateful for the experience. It made me stronger and more resilient. I learned how to handle difficult situations and support others going through difficult times. I’m also more appreciative of the little things in life.
Cancer was a difficult experience, but it made me the person I am today. I am stronger and more compassionate because of it.
“I see a significant weakness in the program is that it uses grandiose ideas,” Taylor said, referring to the model’s focus on a cancer diagnosis. “When essays focused on this goal are written authentically, they offer detail that has voice and feeling. The reader has the feeling of knowing the author, which is of course the goal. But the program lacks depth, voice and authenticity.
A huge concern with GPT-3 and similar technologies is that students could use the technology to cheat. Both Kruger and Taylor have said that if students rely solely on technology and hand in the work it produces, teachers might not be able to tell it was produced by a technology. But they wouldn’t get a very high score either.
Taylor said the technology would be fine for students as long as they know it’s a starting point and they still have a lot of work to do to get a decent grade.
Some education experts said they think GPT-3 could also be an equalizer for some students, like those in Long’s class, whose writing skills are limited.
For these trials, the teachers used a publicly available GPT-3 free trial account on the OpenAI platform. This trial account is limited in the production of words and often does not allow complex and long texts. It is possible that the full version will produce more complete texts.
At press time, OpenAI had yet to make anyone available to comment on teacher reviews of its product.