As ChatGPT continues to evolve, educators are figuring out its place in the classroom

  • Laura Lohman, assistant provost for faculty development and innovation at North Central College in Naperville, has held workshops with faculty to discuss ChatGPT and its potential uses in the classroom.

      Laura Lohman, assistant provost for faculty development and innovation at North Central College in Naperville, has held workshops with faculty to discuss ChatGPT and its potential uses in the classroom. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Updated 5/27/2023 5:23 PM

It's the night before a paper is due, and you haven't written a word.

Enter ChatGPT, a generative artificial intelligence program.


With a carefully worded prompt, ChatGPT gets to work. Within seconds, a research paper appears on the screen.

You refine it by fine-tuning prompts and making some edits. Minutes later, the paper is done.

Only months old, ChatGPT has stirred debate as educators try to figure out where this new tool fits in their classrooms, if at all. Across the suburbs, reactions have been mixed. Still, many view the AI-powered chatbot as a powerful companion in the classroom.

What is ChatGPT?

Powered by artificial intelligence, ChatGPT can handle various tasks. Users can have humanlike chats with the program, typing in prompts to get a desired response.

Type in a few details, and it can write that last-minute term paper, create a seven-day meal plan, compose an inspiring song, explain the solution to a math problem, write a lesson plan and come up with ideas for a children's birthday party ­-- all within a few minutes.

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Since its introduction in November, ChatGPT has seen explosive growth. According to Similarweb, the OpenAI program attracted 1.6 billion visits in March.

ChatGPT is not the only AI chatbot. Google, for example, rolled out BARD, a "creative and helpful collaborator" that helps boost productivity and "brings ideas to life." Quizlet, an online study program widely used by students, introduced Q-Chat, an AI-powered tutor built on ChatGPT, in March.

Since its inception, ChatGPT has gotten smarter.

A March article in the ABA Journal notes that ChatGPT aced the bar exam, scoring in the top 10%. A previous version, GPT3.5, scored in the bottom 10%, according to Open AI. The most recent version also aced high school advanced placement exams in art history, biology and calculus.

Pros and cons

With its ability to churn out a research paper or solve a complex math problem, ChatGPT has sparked concern that it makes it easier for students to cheat.


"What we're facing now is a more complex problem than we previously had with plagiarism," said Laura Lohman, assistant provost for faculty development and innovation at North Central College in Naperville.

New York City schools banned students and teachers from using the program on district-issued devices. Other districts across the country followed suit.

At North Central College, Lohman, who has held faculty workshops about ChatGPT, has seen a mixed response from faculty. While some limit its use, others have embraced it and see the benefit of a program that can help create lesson plans or tweak assignments to meet the varied learning needs in a classroom. Those teachers also encourage their students to experiment with the program.

"An optimistic view would be that we can get over the crisis response and see this type of AI as a useful tool, and we start working with it," she said, pointing out that similar debates brewed when graphing calculators or the internet first made their appearance in the classroom.

The future with ChatGPT

Suburban school districts are still figuring out how they will respond to ChatGPT. But one thing is clear: AI is here to stay.

"AI is not going away," said Tim McIlvain, director of the Learning Technology Center of Illinois. The center works in partnership with the Illinois State Board of Education to provide support for school districts on educational technology.

"This is just the beginning of probably a very long list of applications that students are going to have to use or engage with over their life," McIlvain said. "Teaching them how to do that in a responsible way is the role of teachers and schools."

School districts will have to develop policies and procedures for ChatGPT, McIlvain said. But what those policies and procedures should be is unclear in a world where AI advances daily.

"The whole category of generative AI is moving quickly," said Ty Gorman, director of instructional technology in Barrington Community Unit School District 220. "We're watching to see what's happening ... but there are some things we've landed on. We're not going to block it."

Maine Township High School District 207 and other districts plan to offer staff training on ChatGPT over the summer.

Then in the fall, a group of District 2017 teachers will pilot the program in their classrooms. The district's goal is to use the experiences in those classrooms to help guide policy and procedures.

"We're really encouraging staff to play around with it," said Shawn Messmer, assistant superintendent of curriculum and innovation for Maine Township High School District 207.

Gorman and Messmer agree that AI-powered programs like ChatGPT will change the way things are done.

One benefit they see of using ChatGPT as a tool is that it could help teachers create more individualized lessons to incorporate students' interests and varied learning abilities in a classroom. For example, a teacher could enter a reading assignment into ChatGPT and ask it to rewrite it to a lower or higher reading level to meet individual student needs.

"There are some cool things coming down the line that we think will really support teachers," Messmer said.

Messmer and others also believe ChatGPT will change how students are assessed. Students, for example, may be given a problem to solve using ChatGPT. But instead of checking to see if the answer is correct, a teacher may look at the prompts students entered to get their answer.

"Prompt engineering," or teaching students how to interact with AI, will be key as AI becomes more commonplace.

"We want to teach (students) how to use it responsibly," Gorman said. "AI is going to be a part of how people live their lives. Our job is to get students ready for that."

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