Lyndon Megarrity gives himself the task of recommending to the federal Labor government a national response to the potential use and/or misuse of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the state and territory education systems and within the higher education sector.

 

ATTENTION:

Minister for Education, Hon Jason Clare MP

The Prime Minister, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP

 

Purpose

To encourage the Commonwealth to take a leadership role in emphasing the role of individual effort, human agency and the student experience within Australian education when addressing the challenges and pitfalls of AI.

Background

Over the traditional December-January “quiet news period”, the Australian print and digital media gave unprecedented attention to ChatGPT, a new AI tool developed by OpenAI in partnership with Microsoft. When questions are keyed into its search engine, ChatGPT generates text from a large data set and is able to create “human-like”, relevant-sounding responses which may or may not be strictly accurate. Its capacity to produce essays and other text content that would allow a student to pass an assignment with limited or no individual effort has led to discussions about how education authorities should maintain the credibility of their institutions as places of learning in the post-chatbot age. It is an issue with some urgency as Microsoft and its competitor Google seek to monetise AI and incorporate it more fully into their consumer models.[1]

Concerned about the potential impact of AI tools on the student learning experience, Australian state schools in Queensland, NSW, WA and Tasmania had banned ChatGPT by February 2023.[2] To further safeguard against plagiarism and to verify individual student learning outcomes, a return to pen-and-paper exams has been one option considered by educators, combined with a greater emphasis on in-class assessments as opposed to homework.[3]

RUT MIIT, via Unsplash

By contrast, the majority of voices discussing AI in the classroom have been education researchers and higher education leaders and managers focused on the notion of “embracing” AI and incorporating it into the learning experience. Some AI advocates have argued that students need to be made aware of Artificial Intelligence and what it can and can’t do; others argue that a legitimate use of ChatGPT would be to use it to generate ideas as a first step towards the completion of an assessment task.[4]

It is also clear that a number of AI advocates among education managers and commentators are embracing it as a potential cost-saving, time-saving measure. They believe that AI could be used to generate educational resources; furthermore, the problem of large class sizes and high academic workloads might be potentially “solved” using “personalised” AI tools that allow individual student learning choices.[5]

Issues and Concerns

Government, business and educational responses to AI need to keep in mind the following issues and concerns:

  • Community expectations of schools, universities and other Australian education institutions are very high. Educational goals include individual academic achievement, the preparation of the student to be a thoughtful and compassionate member of the community, the encouragement of creativity and the capacity to communicate effectively.
  • To achieve these goals and to value them, the individual student must go through a process of exerting personal effort and developing the confidence to fail and try again. An increased emphasis on machine-dependent learning in creating art, essays and other assignments may result in Australian citizens devaluing the skills and knowledge that society needs for a functioning democratic community.
  • Similarly, teachers should not be de-professionalised by developing a culture of reliance on AI machinery for their lesson plans.
  • Knowledge and critical thinking both remain important. While much knowledge can be gained through internet searches, steady building on prior knowledge improves critical thinking.
  • Despite the many benefits of Microsoft, Google and other ICT companies in enhancing and speeding up communication and research, it should also be remembered that these are not charitable institutions. Organisations which invest heavily in AI and want to monetise it are likely to talk up its benefits and downplay the risks to the community.
  • Human agency, initiative and choice must be at the forefront of AI policy in education and in other areas. Administrative convenience for government and business should be a secondary concern.
  • Education is too important for the future of Australia to have policy settings which emphasise the use of AI as a cost-cutting measure. The potential benefits of face-to-face teaching and the role of the individual teacher should always be included in the public discussion on education.

Recommendations

  • The Commonwealth should support the primacy of educators and minimise the use of AI tools such as Chatbots in the classroom and at university.
  • The Commonwealth should show its support for Australian education by increasing funding to employ teachers and other staff to make the educational experience a personalised one rather than an increasingly online environment that does not encourage student socialisation in the “real world”.
  • The Commonwealth should commission a Senate inquiry into the appropriate management and use of AI.

 

Dr Lyndon Megarrity

 

[1] Mark Sellman, “Chatting up a Wave of Fear, but AI bot not Passing all Tests”, Australian, 30 January 2023, p. 17.

[2] David Swan, “Battle of the Chatbots: Google Lifts Curtain on ChatGPT rival Bard”, Australian, 8 February 2023, p. 15.

[3] Joanna Panagopoulos, “Schools Face ‘Existential Questions’ Over AI Chatbots”, Australian, 15 January 2023 (online).

[4] Ibid. See also Angela Duckworth and Lyle Ungar, “Chatbots belong in our Classrooms; Banning ChatGPT is like Keeping Students from Using Wikipedia or Calculators”, Los Angeles Times, 19 January 2023, p. A.11.

[5] Tim Dodd, “AI has Power to ‘Liberate’ Learning”, Australian, 8 February 2023, p. 21.

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Lyndon Megarrity
Lyndon Megarrity

Dr Lyndon Megarrity completed his PhD at the University of New England (Armidale), which was awarded in 2002. In recent years, Lyndon has been a lecturer and tutor, teaching history and political science subjects. He was the inaugural history lecturer at the Springfield Campus at the University of Southern Queensland (2012-13) and since taught at James Cook University in Townsville, where he is currently an adjunct lecturer. He is the author of Northern Dreams: The Politics of Northern Development in Australia (2018) and Robert Philp and the Politics of Development (2022).