ChatGPT and the future of teaching: some reflections

The past couple of months have witnessed some uproar on what chatGPT bot is able to do. There is fear of a ‘threat’ to our jobs and to teaching and learning. I may not know much, but I learned earlier in life that everything changes and we evolve. Perhaps technology has brought us yet another chance to rethink education and language learning and teaching. In this post, I share some reflections on three questions that may contribute to making our work even more relevant by embracing chatGPT.

1. If chatGPT can correct language and write effective texts, how can I assess students’ work?

When something seems to encourage students to use tools to avoid the hard work, I tend to ask what I really want to assess. Perhaps it’s high time we revisited assessment, especially language assessment, in light of what students need to do with language in the real world. After all, many students will always be able to resort to tools, to the internet, to friends. From that perspective, helping them gain autonomy in their language use might mean we need a more human element to assessment. And more feedback, perhaps. If we assess content only – their knowledge of the language – we might be assessing what bots are able to do and failing to help learners become independent critical thinkers. How about remodelling our questions, the tasks proposed and the feedback given? What is it that makes human communication unique?

2. The bot may do the research for students and give them content, how will they pay attention in class?

If we want them to come to class for content only, they might prefer to use class time for something else and find content on their own, unfortunately. If, however, we invite them to explore the world through content/ language, to build their own identity through language, to critically reflect on what the world brings us, they may be more active and participate as agents of their growth. The tasks proposed could even involve exploring what chatGPT can do for students and how they can better use tools to optimise their learning and their communication skills (how about proposing discussions with the bot and later with peers?). Remember the bot can also help us give feedback on students’ work, if necessary. ChatGPT uses intellect to provide solutions to different challenges, it may grade language and respond to changes we demand in text (complexity of language, content or specific lexis, structures, for instance), but it cannot form an opinion or make decisions. Let’s get creative and use the tool to our advantage.

3. Why will students need to learn a different language when chatGPT can effectively translate what they want to say and write?

This question is back after the initial threats on the use of online tools. Language use is more than transposing a sentence, a phrase, a text into a different language. It involves communication, subtleties, feelings, customs, values, beliefs, behaviours… Well, the use of a language is beyond transactional and this may be what students gain in our classroom: to go beyond the words and the verb. The bot (or the automated translation for that matter) may not be able to use cognition, cultural knowledge and reason to make more complex decisions required in human communication. Neither will it be able to empathise with their interlocutor (despite the use of the occasional caring words in responses). Perhaps a way forward with students who consider learning a language irrelevant would be to emphasise what they can access and do through learning a different language, and how much it can positively affect their own identity and self-awareness.

Well, technology is available to make our lives better, so we can focus on what it can bring to the classroom. Embracing the opportunities, we may become better equipped to help our students to access the world through language. We all know changing education also means changing our society’s mindset on what we ‘should be doing’. However, as educators we can be the catalysts for development and growth and should pave the way to a world where learning and rethinking teaching practices is in everyone’s agendas. Once again, I’m not saying anything here is easily done. If it were, then it would be true that anybody who speaks the language can teach, but I strongly disagree with that statement. Shall we then build this new world, new teaching/ learning story together?

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Marcela Cintra

Marcela Cintra is the Head of Products in the Academic Department at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo. She has been working with English language teaching for over 20 years, been involved in teacher training and development programmes and presented in ABCI, LABCI, BRAZ-TESOL, TESOL and IATEFL conferences. A CELTA, ICELT and Delta tutor, she has an MA in TESOL. She is the current first-vice president for BRAZ-TESOL.

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