“Just as a calculator doesn’t replace a human mathematician, this chatbot doesn’t replace human writers”

VSn recent weeks, the potential use of chatbots in education has been the subject of a real controversy, especially after ChatGPT became the application that has reached one million users the fastest. This chatbot marks a breakthrough in artificial intelligence (AI), as a tool capable of writing short texts almost as well as humans.

In this context, the education world has expressed concerns about how ChatGPT could allow students to cheat. In discussions with colleagues in my department, many teachers expressed concern about this possibility, going so far as to suggest that they would now only do oral exams. So it was with great relief that many celebrated tools like GPTZero, which promises to be able to detect if a text is written by ChatGPT.

Although this moral panic may seem extremely contemporary, it is only a modern version of an old debate, which occurs whenever new technologies upset our conception of education at some point. History never repeats itself but it does rhyme, and we find the best example of this in the calculator debate.

moral panic

At the end of the 1970s, calculators went from being heavy and expensive pieces of furniture to being cheap pocket tools. There, too, a moral panic has emerged, with many advocating for a total ban on calculators, which has delayed the successful integration of calculators into the school curriculum for years.

We now know, thanks to a 2003 meta-study by Aimee Ellingtonthat when calculators are used in teaching, students’ operational and problem-solving skills improve, and that when they are used both in teaching and for examinations, all mathematical skills improve .

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In addition, students who used calculators while learning mathematics had a more positive relationship to discipline than their counterparts who did not. Even today, some may argue that calculators are a crutch, that they prevent students from developing the numeracy skills they need to succeed.

No negative impact

However, this is simply false. The study showed that using calculators had no negative impact on students’ numeracy skills. In fact, using calculators encourages students to take a more strategic approach to problem solving and to focus on understanding mathematical concepts rather than getting bogged down in the details of calculation.

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