When we look back to this moment, ChatGPT’s enduring contribution may go beyond its technology. Indeed, ChatGPT’s memorable feat may have little to do with writing essays. What I see ChatGPT accomplishing is something that few university provosts can pull off: ChatGPT is convening university educators across departments to talk about the future of intellectual interactions and intellectual development throughout universities.
In the past week, I’ve heard from colleagues about their roles in major convocations within three different universities. I also had the opportunity to participate at one university. Wonderfully talented professors attended across departments; they listened to each other; they were engaged. When we went to roundtables in a shared space, it was hard to hear each other because the conversations at all tables were so animated and generative.
One of ChatGPT’s superpowers is that it can extract reflections on their own courses from professors who rarely share weaknesses with each other. Such as: Maybe my assignments aren’t the best. Maybe I need to rethink how I assess student growth. Maybe I haven’t thought in a while about what the learning goals should be in my courses. In short, professors are considering whether their pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment may have been on auto-pilot for a bit too long.
While there is some fear, I sense that the overall tone is optimistic. Leading professors want to be relevant to the future society and economy. ChatGPT has the superpower of stimulating greater attention to the gap between today’s course experiences and their students’ futures, and the superpower of inspiring professors to become more experimental in their approaches to teaching and learning. The degree of focused creativity about education that ChatGPT is eliciting is amazing.
Historically, I also have talked for over 20 years with close colleagues who have been in roles at their respective universities of stimulating change in courses based on advances in learning technology. These are smart and talented leaders who have had the role of Sisyphus trying to push the rock of modern learning technologies up the hill of university course inertia. For 20 years, I’ve heard those stories, too. Although there are always outstanding examples of individual professors at every university, the overall depth of rethinking of courses has been frustratingly shallow. It is all the more amazing, therefore, that ChatGPT seems to be creating a moment where deeper change may be contemplated and change may be initiated.
I also have a research community role in a network of funded NSF projects that brings Learning Scientists together with Computer Scientists — CIRCLS. Together our participants investigate the future of teaching and learning with emerging technology. I know from this work that computer scientists can drive an exciting future of teaching and learning in their disciplines, but not without the help of social scientists on campus (or at other universities) who are experts in how people learn and know a lot about how to better achieve equity.
Computer Scientists: seize the day! ChatGPT is opening intellectual foment about the mission of the university, the future of society, and the culture of teaching and learning that will enable your students to lead in their future careers. Yes, work across classic university boundaries — what the instructional practices of Universities in the 20th century will not endure much longer into the 21st. In your current willingness to reflect on your own courses’ weak spots, also realize that you have willing partners in other departments; the constellations of social scientists in the Learning Sciences have made major advances in the past decades in appropriate theories and approaches. You also have colleagues who are insightful about equity, and few conversations are more important as you re-think course design. And your social sciences colleagues need your help understanding the roadmap of generative AI.
Your new provost, ChatGPT, has convened you to re-think the future of the university. Three to five years from now, we won’t be talking about what ChatGPT can or can’t do, no more so than we talk about what the first iPhone could or couldn’t do. But we could be talking about how in its role as Provost, ChatGPT brought us all together, and the intellectual culture of the university began to shift.
Jeremy Roschelle is Executive Director of Learning Sciences Research at Digital Promise and a Fellow of the International Society of the Learning Sciences.