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Navigating Science Education with AI and ChatGPT

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the impact ChatGPT will have on education. As a researcher in the area of AI, I am also weighing in on this.

One benefit of ChatGPT is that it can help students generate a first draft of written text; however, there is a far greater benefit to having students generate their own text; this is what cognitive psychologists refer to as "writing to learn." The effects of writing on learning have been extensively researched; the benefits of writing are numerous, including leading to deeper understanding, and better encoding in long-term memory resulting in better recall. In Inq-ITS, students write about their scientific findings using the evidence they collected in our labs, making it difficult for them to utilize ChatGPT. Furthermore, if a student were to use ChatGPT to generate their writing, our system will detect this since the data collected in Inq-ITS would not match the data they describe in their writing.

For teachers, the major problem with ChatGPT is that it will become even more difficult for them to assess what students really understand. As educators, we have known for a long time that many students are able to "get by" in school by rote memorization and parroting what they’ve read or heard without deep understanding. This is seen in many science classrooms, where students pick up the buzz in a classroom and parrot that knowledge; they then obtain a passing grade despite not knowing the content they’re writing about! This issue, exemplified by ChatGPT, further highlights the need for more rigorous assessments that can evaluate what students really know and can do in science. This assessment capacity is the core of Inq-ITS, which uses AI-based techniques that assess students' knowledge and competencies based on authentic science skills needed for 21st-century jobs, rather than simple, multiple-choice items and/or writing tasks alone, both of which can yield highly inaccurate assessments of what students know.

As edtech continues to evolve, AI will likely continue to play a role in shaping how we teach our students. As researchers, we need to ensure that we're leveraging the power of AI to support teachers and students in the best possible ways. The Inq-ITS team remains committed to this goal!

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