• Academics
Perkiomen School Faculty Embrace Artificial Intelligence

On November 20, 2022, ChatGPT was made available to the public. By January 2023, just two months after launch, it was estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users. That made it the fastest-growing consumer application in history, according to a study by UBS.

According to data from Sensor Tower, a market research company, it took TikTok about nine months to reach 100 million users, and it took Instagram 2 ½ years.

If you aren’t one of the 100 million monthly users, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot that was created by OpenAI, an American artificial intelligence research laboratory. It uses artificial intelligence to generate text after a user enters a prompt, processing the natural human language.

This free tool can be used to write essays, summarize content, or write code, leading some school districts to block its use, because of the temptation to cheat.  Another concern is its ability to spread misinformation. ChatGBT is just one device in the AI toolbox, so the natural question raised is: how will the growth of AI applications affect assignments, assessments, and originality in the classroom? 

“It is my belief that students should embrace the opportunities presented by AI and utilize these resources judiciously,” says En-Tien Lin ’18, who is working toward his Master’s in Artificial Intelligence at UCLA. “Since the advent of accessible AI resources like ChatGPT, public feedback on their usage has been varied. Undeniably, AI has the potential to simplify people's lives; however, as students, it is imperative that we hold ourselves accountable and avoid becoming overly reliant on it.”

Recently on Twitter, Ethan Mollick, an Associate Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, stressed that there is too much focus on the abstract idea of artificial intelligence as a pure technology that manipulates its users.  Mollick studies and teaches innovation and entrepreneurship, and also examines the effects of artificial intelligence on work and education. 

“We need to hear more from early innovative users applying AI across industries and fields,” Mollick tweeted. “…Technologies are defined and shaped and given meaning by use. We get to make choices about that.”

Perkiomen School faculty members are making the choice to embrace artificial intelligence in the classroom and in their counseling of students, not as a replacement for original ideas and insights, but to enhance or even question the work being done, to allow the exchange of concepts and ideas to flow more freely, and to learn through doing. 

 

Artificial Intelligence Institute

It seems like a no-brainer that the Artificial Intelligence Institute would reference AI in its coursework, however, Director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute Allison Rodgers specifically looks at the AI as an editing tool – much like spell check or Grammarly.

“In my Mobile App Design class, we used ChatGPT as a tutor of sorts,” says Rodgers. “It's good at writing code and can do a pretty good job of troubleshooting why something might or might not be working. For instance, for students that struggled to identify when they were missing a bracket or semi-colon in a coding class, it can help to identify missing punctuation. The way each student sets up their code will be a little bit different. ChatGPT was an effective second pair of eyes when students understood the logic of what they were attempting to do but had trouble with the syntax.”

 

 

Perkiomen student in front of computer screen

 

Office of College Counseling

Co-Director of College Counseling Keegan Ash, along with many of his peers across the industry, has been discussing the topic of AI tools and their effect on the college search and application process. 

“AI and the college process has certainly been a hot topic in our world,” says Ash. “Colleges are trying to figure out how to handle it, and counselors are trying to figure out how to help students understand it. Among college admissions representatives and college counselors, we’re having conversations now that are similar to conversations that occurred years ago when spell check was invented or even during the rise of the internet. I personally love working with ChatGPT.  I love it as a tool, but certainly not as a substitute for my own work.”

In a new blog series on the Perkiomen School website, It Depends, Ash takes the topic head-on, examining the advice ChatGPT gives and comparing it to the advice a seasoned college counseling professional would give. 

“In It Depends, we use ChatGPT as a tool,” says Ash.  “ChatGPT provides a structure, but the point of the series is to point out that it’s not a supplemental tool. It is a complementary tool. It provides incomplete information. If I just shared what ChatGPT said, there would be no way to share my character, my perspectives, or even my passion for college counseling and helping students. With new technology, we need to understand how to properly operate it. ChatGPT is here to stay. The calculator is here to stay. The internet is here to stay. As educators, it is our challenge to work with students on how to effectively utilize these tools.”  

 

Design Institute

Students in the Foundations of Design class took on the challenge of creating the school’s holiday card. They gathered information about the purpose and audience and set to work designing concepts. A variety of cards were presented for final review, and the potential cards were created using watercolors, graphic design, and MidJourney.

MidJourney is an independent research lab that produces a proprietary artificial intelligence program that creates images from textual descriptions. Cooper Gleeson ’23, Reese Gordon ’26, Aoxue Wang ’23, and Yunyang Wang ’23 collaborated on the design.

“The 2022 holiday card symbolizes the strengths of our Design Institute,” says Associate Head of School Carol Dougherty. “Our students see a variety of tools and resources to create and problem-solve. They are not limited by a fixed mindset. They are open and know that learning is not finite. Innovation and finding a new path are woven into their operational mind-set.”

 

English and History Department

Giancarlo Duffy, faculty member in the English and History departments, has found ChatGPT to be invaluable in supporting students while developing argumentative theses as they work in groups during writing workshops. 

“When students construct an initial thesis statement, they can use ChatGPT to challenge their argument by posing counterarguments or seeking additional viewpoints,” says Duffy. “This immediate, in-depth feedback encourages them to think critically about their thesis and refine it to be more cogent and persuasive.”

He has also been using AI as a tool for enhancing students’ argumentative writing skills in general. Students input their drafts into the system, and the AI generates suggestions for improvements or poses questions that encourage them to consider alternate perspectives or evidence. This allows the students to reflect on their work and make necessary revisions.

“A key part of using this technology constructively involves engaging in discussions about the feedback that the AI provides - not just taking it at face value,” says Duffy. “This type of scrutiny prevents the students from using this technology as a crutch. Rather, it encourages them to view the language model as another tool in their academic toolbox which also includes their own faculties, peer review, and the process of writing multiple drafts. The questioning, analysis, and context-building must come from the student.” 

 

 

Learning through doing

By working with, rather than against, AI tools, collaborations between students and faculty can increase the standards of what is accomplished. The rise in prevalence of AI tools will also encourage teachers to focus more on the “why” of their assignments and assessments. 

“We need to be able to clarify why we ask students to write,” says Rodgers. “For me, I want to see how students think. I know that the way our kids think is messy and beautiful and capable of stunning insight. I want them to have practice organizing their ideas in a coherent format. I want them to make decisions on what they should include and what is less relevant. Copying Wikipedia or Photomath or ChatGPT can give me a 'right' answer, but that doesn't show at all that the student understands the topic at hand.”

Perkiomen students are no strangers to the iterative process. Having the opportunity to grow as learners with full understanding of the capability of AI tools, and the ways it can ethically be used to refine, revise, and reach the best outcome will prepare them to succeed both in school and in their next steps. 

“Through this new approach,” says Duffy, “students walk away with the understanding that writing is a process that requires creativity, critical thinking, and careful planning. It's not just about stringing words together, but about conveying thoughts, ideas, and arguments effectively. It involves stages of brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and often re-drafting, each step building on the last to construct a polished piece of work. AI is now just another helpful part of this process.”

 

 

“It is my belief that students should embrace the opportunities presented by AI and utilize these resources judiciously. Since the advent of accessible AI resources like ChatGPT, public feedback on their usage has been varied. Undeniably, AI has the potential to simplify people's lives; however, as students, it is imperative that we hold ourselves accountable and avoid becoming overly reliant on it.”    - En-Tien Lin ’18, working toward his Master’s in Artificial Intelligence at UCLA

 



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