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ChatGPT and science teaching


CharonY

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Inspired by another thread, I wanted to see opinions on the rise of language AI for science teaching. I would actually like to go back a bit to the rise of the internet. Before that time, literature search was an often slow process involving going into the library and copying articles manually. With the rise of online databases and encyclopedias, access to information became a breeze. The in hindsight optimistic assumption of that time is that folks would need to spend less time searching for info, and therefore spend more time synthesizing.

Thus, the logic went the quality of student work (but also research) should improve, as folks would use more time on thinking and less on rote memorization. I think most educators at this point will realize that this is not what happened. While folks memorize less, they also seem to read (and by extension) think less than they used to, paradoxically perhaps because they have access to a vast array of literature.

The lack of reading is nowhere as obvious when students are writing essays. However now AI systems are making the rounds which is able to generate well-written (if frequently inaccurate) essays, articles or whatever you want. As the massive cheating during the pandemic has shown us, many, if not most students will use any means to improve their scores with as little effort as possible. Here again essays were seen as a way out as it requires more than a quick google search, compared to exam questions. But obviously ChatGPT is going to make it more difficult for the educator.

So in the light of these modern developments, how should modern teaching look like? What should educators do in order to assess academic abilities? I also want to add that in many countries college-level education has strong economic incentives, where university administrations tries to get as many satisfied customers as possible, whereas increasingly students tend to focus on grades rather than improvement in their understanding (not least due the high cost).

So we have an unfavorable situation of economic incentives and technological developments that, in my opinion, are negatively impacting learning and at this point I do feel that is a bit more than just a generational complaining issue. 

So I would like to have an open discussion on the (hopefully) various perspectives on this issue.

 

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There are people who want to learn. These people don't have any reason to cheat. They do their homework to learn and to practice what they learn. They take exams to see if they got it. They look for mentors. Educators work with these people.

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1 minute ago, OldChemE said:

How to assess abilities?  The best way is to not rely on anything that can be generated via the internet,  That's why, in math classes for example, the gold standard has been pencil and paper and "Show your work"

Yes, could likewise return to writing hopefully short essays in class.

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@Genady does it look like those people who have a wish to learn from the educators (and by their own initiative) are  ,with current trends less likely to be successful academically than has been the case in the past?

Have the lazy ,disinterested students amongst us been given a "get out of jail card" and a passport to   prime position in the jobs market ?

Or will the degrees that will be issued in future come with a warning that they may not be particularly  representative of the bearers' actual worth(quote function playing up ?)

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56 minutes ago, Genady said:

There are people who want to learn. These people don't have any reason to cheat. They do their homework to learn and to practice what they learn. They take exams to see if they got it. They look for mentors. Educators work with these people.

Sounds good, if you are able to ignore about 80% of any given class. 

 

39 minutes ago, OldChemE said:

How to assess abilities?  The best way is to not rely on anything that can be generated via the internet,  That's why, in math classes for example, the gold standard has been pencil and paper and "Show your work"

That is true, and in many disciplines writing is a big part of it. One way you seem to suggest to do writing in class only? Because that is where we are headed for the moment. I used to run a lab where the objectives where research-driven. I.e. teaching methods and then present them with small questions that they had to figure out using the methods they were taught. The idea was to get away from rote memorisation to application of knowledge. I co-ran a version as postdoc a long time ago with quite some success. A little while ago I tried it again, and basically one one student liked it (who is now a postdoc) whereas the rest specifically complained about the amount of work and the lack of simple and direct answers. 

In many countries the university system has slowly changed from a somewhat elitist to a much broader system. Unfortunately that has also changed attitudes of the student body. While in the past it was mostly pre-meds, now quite a few other students are also getting anxious when they do not have clear question-answer sheets that they can use to guide their learning. Whereas lectures were used in the past to augment reading, folks do not read anymore and you get massive complaints if the answer to a question is not prominently featured in one of the lectures.

Mind you, my experience is not at an elite school, but some of my colleagues who teach in ivy league school see a more muted version of what we experience in lower tier schools. But so far the solution seems to be focus on in-class performance, which is basically what we are doing right now. Though assignments and homework are a bit more questionable. I am not a fan of those in the first place, but then folks complain about not having extra credits if you do not give them the opportunity to turn those in.

That all being said, I think there is some worth to have nurses and physicians who are able to read and comprehend texts without assistance, I think.

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@geordief I don't think so. Those people will get out of school with knowledge and skills while others will not. Those people will be better at job interviews. They will succeed in jobs where others will fail. Degrees don't matter - job performance does.

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1 hour ago, Genady said:

@geordief I don't think so. Those people will get out of school with knowledge and skills while others will not. Those people will be better at job interviews. They will succeed in jobs where others will fail. Degrees don't matter - job performance does.

I hope you're not any committees hiring surgeons or structural engineers any time soon. ;)

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2 minutes ago, Arete said:

I hope you're not any committees hiring surgeons or structural engineers any time soon. ;)

No, I'm not. But, really, are surgeons or structural engineers placed in highly responsible positions just based on their degrees out of school?

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40 minutes ago, Genady said:

No, I'm not. But, really, are surgeons or structural engineers placed in highly responsible positions just based on their degrees out of school?

A degree is a low bar. Do you think folks who are unable to pass it should go into these positions? Do you really think that a job interview will screen out inadequate performance better than a few years of training and supervision?

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1 hour ago, Genady said:

No, I'm not. But, really, are surgeons or structural engineers placed in highly responsible positions just based on their degrees out of school?

Personally, I'd rather my surgeon pass the boards than sound good in the interview. 

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4 hours ago, CharonY said:

 

 

That is true, and in many disciplines writing is a big part of it. One way you seem to suggest to do writing in class only? Because that is where we are headed for the moment.

 

Actually, until I retired from teaching a few years ago, writing in class was exactly what seemed to work best for teaching (at least for me).  I was teaching Math.  Instead of lecturing all during class and then having the math done as homework, I gave reading assignments for homework, then a quick review and had the students work their math assignments in class (on paper).  This seemed to generate many discussions on best methods of solving problems, as well as ensuring the students had well-focused practice in solving problems.  It also encouraged students to compare answers and self-correct, which is itself a good learning experience.

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5 hours ago, CharonY said:

A degree is a low bar. Do you think folks who are unable to pass it should go into these positions? Do you really think that a job interview will screen out inadequate performance better than a few years of training and supervision?

 

4 hours ago, Arete said:

Personally, I'd rather my surgeon pass the boards than sound good in the interview. 

This is misunderstanding. I was talking about people with degree, and compared those who got it while wishing to learn vs. those who got it while cheating. 

8 hours ago, Genady said:

Those people will get out of school with knowledge and skills while others will not.

 

The last statement of that paragraph,

6 hours ago, Arete said:

Degrees don't matter - job performance does.

meant to be in this context.

Sorry, for not making it clear.

This question,

7 hours ago, Genady said:

are surgeons or structural engineers placed in highly responsible positions just based on their degrees out of school?

means to ask if surgeons and structural engineers get responsible jobs only because they have the degrees. I know that the answer is, no, they do not.

This is why my answer to the question,

9 hours ago, geordief said:

Have the lazy ,disinterested students amongst us been given a "get out of jail card" and a passport to   prime position in the jobs market ?

is negative.

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5 hours ago, OldChemE said:

Actually, until I retired from teaching a few years ago, writing in class was exactly what seemed to work best for teaching (at least for me).  I was teaching Math.  Instead of lecturing all during class and then having the math done as homework, I gave reading assignments for homework, then a quick review and had the students work their math assignments in class (on paper).  This seemed to generate many discussions on best methods of solving problems, as well as ensuring the students had well-focused practice in solving problems.  It also encouraged students to compare answers and self-correct, which is itself a good learning experience.

Very nearly the way my old High school maths teacher taught maths. He was the bst teacher in any subject I ever had.

+1

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5 hours ago, Endy0816 said:

Only thing is, it probably won't be long until people are using them in conjunction with wearables and other devices.

 

Right. 

I think that educators' role is to teach well those who want to learn rather than to fight cheating. This is what should drive design of education methods and system. 

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7 hours ago, Genady said:

No, I'm not. But, really, are surgeons or structural engineers placed in highly responsible positions just based on their degrees out of school?

Not in the UK, no because we also have the professional institutes.

Nor, I believe in the US since many professionals also have to pass a state professional exam in order to practice.

 

15 hours ago, CharonY said:

So I would like to have an open discussion on the (hopefully) various perspectives on this issue.

 

What is the important difference between self study and teaching ?

I believe is the the access to 'marked work'.  In other words assessment is an essential part of the teaching. It should be noted that assessment measures not only how well the student is faring but also how well the teacher is performing.

There has been a definite trend to reducing this in recent years or replacing it with impersonal automated schemes of 'marking' with take away the all important feedback element from teaching.

Assessment has disparate roles to play in the learning process and the final outcome and this, in my opinion, requires different methods of assessment for its different purposes.
All too often nowadays though they are lumped all into a one-size-fits-all approach in pursuit of 'efficiency'  -  which has usually beecome degraded into ' solely financial minimisation' efficiency.

I don't know if or when AI will become good enough or reliable enough to offer proper final outcome assessment, but it can certainly help both in the self study and taught  arenas at the moment.

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10 hours ago, CharonY said:

if you are able to ignore about 80% of any given class. 

Yes, and I think the teacher should ignore them and focus on the other 20%. Then the people who deserve it will get more of the teacher's time, energy, creativity, flexibility, and eventually even better education.

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2 hours ago, Genady said:

Yes, and I think the teacher should ignore them and focus on the other 20%. Then the people who deserve it will get more of the teacher's time, energy, creativity, flexibility, and eventually even better education.

Great, except folks won't get tenure if they do that. See the economic aspect in OP.

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https://www.npr.org/2023/02/02/1152481564/we-asked-the-new-ai-to-do-some-simple-rocket-science-it-crashed-and-burned

Quote

 

Tiera Fletcher carefully read through an artificial intelligence chatbot's attempt at rocket science.

"That's true, that's factual," she said thoughtfully as she scanned the AI-generated description of one of the most fundamental equations, known simply as "the rocket equation."

Then she got to the bot's attempt to write the rocket equation itself – and stopped.

"No ... Mmm mmm ... it would not work," she said. "It's just missing too many variables."

Fletcher is a professional rocket scientist and co-founder of Rocket With The Fletchers, an outreach organization. She agreed to review text and images about rocketry generated by the latest AI technology, to see whether the computer programs could provide people with the basic concepts behind what makes rockets fly.

The results were far from stellar. In virtually every case, ChatGPT – the recently released chatbot from the company OpenAI – failed to accurately reproduce even the most basic equations of rocketry. Its written descriptions of some equations also contained errors. And it wasn't the only AI program to flunk the assignment. Others that generate images could turn out designs for rocket engines that looked impressive, but would fail catastrophically if anyone actually attempted to build them.

 

 

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