Tony Edwards

Just copy and paste your homework

- 3 mins

A recently attended event focused on introducing educators to AI tooling. Naturally, much of the content focused was on ChatGPT. My interest was originally piqued given I’m a lecturer teaching prompting to final-stage university undergraduates studying computing.

I was astounded by the ignorance of education that was on display.

Education is in for a shakeup. Sure. Caused in part by this type of tech. The pedagogical paradigm must adapt to the exciting new tools at students’ fingertips. The jobs people do might be vastly different in a few years, let alone a decade when they start earning a living. These points were made very well.

And rightly so. A shakeup has been due for a fair while, certainly at a secondary and primary level. Colleges start shaping students for the workplace, installing the foundations of a specific skill set. University equips people with the tools and context for their industry of choice, prepping minds for further learning once they enter the workforce. It’s possible to see how AI tooling can help students at this level.

But education is far more than getting ready for the workplace. The people speaking at the event completely missed this fact. This was their only focus. Perhaps because the event was actually a pitch for their services.

School is the time in life when young adults start to figure out how the world got to be the way it is. How it was shaped by historical events and how it is being shaped by politics. It’s when people are introduced to literature, learn about geological processes, and maybe start an obsession with programming. Most importantly, it’s when they learn to problem solve, research topics, and evaluate ideas and concepts.

But not if the world introduced at this event comes true.

One example given revolved around homework. “All students should just copy and paste their homework from ChatGPT and get on with their life”. This kind of rhetoric carried through the event.

No. They’ve missed the point.

ChatGPT is the reason that homework shouldn’t exist anymore. Students generally don’t like it. Teachers definitely don’t like it. We have an excuse to get rid of it now.

Let’s put aside the argument that homework shouldn’t be given out at all for a moment. This is still a terrible concept to teach children. Understanding that behaviour patterns adopted at a young age often stick for life, teaching children to blindly follow what a computer says is a stupid idea. This is not learning. It’s parroting. It’s worse than memorising facts to regurgitate.

Learning about Roman Empire at school led to much more research in the years since. This provides an understanding of how the West came to exist and introduced me to philosophy. Learning about World War 2 makes me appreciate how close it came to collapsing in living memory. Both combine to allow reasoning about second-order consequences of current Russia vs Ukraine battles. It wouldn’t have stuck if I had just copied and pasted information about the Romans or WW2. I wouldn’t be able to do this reasoning.

It’s easy to forget the privilege that comes with a good education. It’s not simply regurgitating facts and figures. Those facts and figures go on to become a part of a broader mental tool kit. They’re a foundation.

If voices like this shape the new education paradigm, we really will end up with a sausage farm after all.

Let’s not be led by the opinions of people who don’t understand how educating en-masse works. Instead, let’s equip people who know how to educate with these tools and let them figure out how best to use them.


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