Opinion: Let AI teach class, bots write essays and computers grade them

Teachers are worried about the consequences of a new sophisticated artificial intelligence program that churns out student essays on demand. A retired University of Georgia education professor takes a tongue-in-cheek look at where AI in the classroom could go next.  (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Teachers are worried about the consequences of a new sophisticated artificial intelligence program that churns out student essays on demand. A retired University of Georgia education professor takes a tongue-in-cheek look at where AI in the classroom could go next. (Dreamstime/TNS)

With a bit of satire, retired University of Georgia education professor Peter Smagorinsky takes aim at the panic over ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence program that can generate readable essays in response to any prompt.

You can read other takes on ChatGPT here and here.

By Peter Smagorinsky

The artificial intelligence community’s development of technologies like ChatGPT has created a firestorm of concern over the future of schools and society. Inquiring minds want to know: If a chatbot can write a decent paper, how are teachers supposed to know if the person submitting it has mastered the curriculum? Or can write a syntactically acceptable sentence? Or knows which end of the pen to use when writing, if people still do such a thing?

The new artificial writing bot, however, is groundbreaking and provocative. Technology is the future, and technology is what students need to know the most. “Writing” is just another form of computer code. Does it really matter how it was created in order for it to have a market value?

We all know that the humanities are a waste of time, and that STEM fields are the only ones worth learning within. The complaints from “English” teachers and their kind sound like the death wail of a breed going extinct. With technology now capable of doing what a human mind once did, what is the point of the “humanities” in a post-human world?

Teachers and other sorts have sounded alarms about what consequences AI writing machines will have on teaching. Previously, students have had to copy other students’ papers or buy one from a paper-providing service in order to meet a requirement without doing any thinking or work. Now all they need is ChatGPT, assuming it is not already at full capacity and therefore not taking on requests for the present. And it’s free, saving students tons of money that they can in turn invest in new video games.

Peter Smagorinsky

icon to expand image

Some teachers are talking about going back in time and requiring all written work to be handwritten. Ha. Parents would never go for that, and parents know best.

Teachers are also saying that without doing the thinking that accompanies writing, students won’t be learning anything or developing new skills. The question for the 2020s and 2030s isn’t, however, what people learn or think. We have people to do that for them. If their product meets our standards, who cares how it got there?

All this fretting, I believe, can be resolved with an elegant solution, from which I won’t even make any money. If chatbots are going to write the essays, fine. The best way to deal with this development — and yes, the genie is out of the bottle, the hay is in the barn, and the teeth are in the jar — is to have machines grade the essays. Technology meets technology. Think of all the time now wasted on writing and grading essays, soon to be saved when we can outsource the whole operation to our artificial intelligence bots.

But that’s not all. Why bother with teachers at all, when an AI device can teach the class, bots can write the essays, and computers can grade them? Deepfake technologies can provide a simulated instructor who looks like Taylor Swift or Michael B. Jordan, and who wouldn’t want to be taught by them? According to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, teachers don’t need qualifications. Now they won’t even need a body or a mind.

AI teachers have many advantages. They do what they are told. They don’t complain. They don’t demand more money or supplies. They don’t need respect or appreciation. They don’t care if there are 50 students per class, and don’t care if there are more cockroaches than students in the classroom. They don’t care if the building is too hot in summer or too cold in winter. They are the ideal teachers in an era in which teachers don’t need credentials, degrees, or personal opinions.

Soon we can train bots to operate school buses equipped with navigation systems that do all the driving to and from. Some might wonder why we don’t conduct school remotely and save transportation costs, but the pandemic shutdown taught us that parents resist the idea. The kids must go to school for their virtual learning experiences. If they make a mess, we can use vacuuming bots to clean it up. The possibilities are endless.

This initiative will require bold leadership from Congress, and I know just the person to lead this journey to educational excellence par none: U.S. Rep. George Santos. Santos has vast experience in virtual reality and artificial intelligence, and has the right vision to light our path forward. As a Civil War veteran, the inventor of the light bulb, the granite sculptor who created the Confederate monument on Stone Mountain, and the captain of several lunar landings, he’s got the experience required for taking us into our virtual future.

We are on the cusp of a historic movement. It’s time to tell ChatGPT to create a new position statement to kick it into high gear and create the imagined future that we so richly deserve.