The response from schools and universities was swift and decisive.
Just days after OpenAI dropped ChatGPT in late November 2022, the chatbot was widely denounced as a free essay-writing, test-taking tool that made it laughably easy to cheat on assignments.
Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest school district in the US, immediately blocked access to OpenAI’s website from its schools’ network. Others soon joined. By January, school districts across the English-speaking world had started banning the software, from Washington, New York, Alabama, and Virginia in the United States to Queensland and New South Wales in Australia.
Several leading universities in the UK, including Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, issued statements that warned students against using ChatGPT to cheat.
“While the tool may be able to provide quick and easy answers to questions, it does not build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success,” Jenna Lyle, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education, told the Washington Post in early January.
This initial panic from the education sector was understandable. ChatGPT, available to the public via a web app, can answer questions and generate slick, well-structured blocks of text several thousand words long on almost any topic it is asked about, from string theory to Shakespeare. Each essay it produces is unique, even when it is given the same prompt again, and its authorship is (practically) impossible to spot. It looked as if ChatGPT would undermine the way we test what students have learned, a cornerstone of education.
But three months on, the outlook is a lot less bleak. I spoke to a number of teachers and other educators who are now reevaluating what chatbots like ChatGPT mean for how we teach our kids. Far from being just a dream machine for cheaters, many teachers now believe, ChatGPT could actually help make education better.