Why Our Technology Nonprofit is Embracing ChatGPT and AI in Education
Plus: Step-By-Step Examples for Teachers on Using ChatGPT with Students
- By Tara Chklovski
As an educator, I was initially shaken by the new generative AI tool from OpenAI ChatGPT. I’m the founder and head of Technovation, a nonprofit technology entrepreneurship program for girls aiming to identify community problems and develop technology-based solutions and business plans to tackle them.
To experiment with ChatGPT, I started inputting various examples of problem descriptions and app solutions girls have developed through Technovation and asked ChatGPT to “make them better.” Each time it came up with completely practical suggestions that even some of the world’s most famous venture capitalists have not (we recruit technology experts and investors every year to review girls’ apps).
Technovation has been in the tech education space for nearly 17 years; we’ve spent the last seven focusing on AI. Still, despite the fact AI is in our curriculum, ChatGPT made me fearful for a second. Would this tool erase the need for a program like ours? Could the tens of thousands of girls worldwide who work with us simply turn to ChatGPT to ask meaningful questions about their world and drum up information to practically solve them? ChatGPT can even help them code!
After an initial panic, I stepped back and asked a bigger question: What should students be learning and what shouldeducators be teaching so they are better prepared for a world where technology breakthroughs continue to happen rapidly?
The reality is ChatGPT can be an extremely useful tool in tech education to level the playing field — if we introduce it in the right way.
I’m reminded of the “landscape of human competence” developed by Hans Moravec, illustrated by Max Tegmark:
“Imagine a ‘landscape of human competence,’ having lowlands with labels like ‘arithmetic’ and ‘rote memorization,’ foothills like ‘theorem proving’ and ‘chess playing,’ and high mountain peaks labeled ‘locomotion,’ ‘hand-eye coordination,’ and ‘social interaction.’ Advancing computer performance is like water slowly flooding the landscape. A hal-century ago it began to drown the lowlands, driving out human calculators and record clerks, but leaving most of us dry. Now the flood has reached the foothills, and our outposts there are contemplating retreat. I propose we build Arks as that day nears and adopt a seafaring life.”
What has been surprising is how quickly competence areas in art and book writing have been “flooded,” per Moravec’s analogy.
What does that mean for us educators? I’m a painter and write a lot (as part of my job). As a painter, my first reaction was it would be cheating to use OpenAI’s Dall-E in my creative process. As I got used to the idea, I recognized it's in a similar vein as using a photograph to guide my art. Ultimately, it's a function of my confidence in my own creative abilities. Confidence helps us explore new experiences and inspirations and become playful.
It's been fascinating to witness how children in our program interact with ChatGPT. They’re thrilled it can help them with their essay writing homework — and the teacher would never know. But they’re also excited to see what else it can do.
ChatGPT will help increase productivity, just like fire, wheels, knives, cars, electricity, calculators, and the internet did for us. But we do need to think about this question of what we should be teaching and learning and our roles as educators.
Here is where I find a tool like ChatGPT to be incredibly valuable in our organization, which points to use cases across the field of education. At Technovation, ChatGPT will help participants in our program go further in the ideation, brainstorming, business planning, ways to gather data, developing innovative revenue models, developing a compelling pitch script and eventually the code for the technology itself. Interestingly, it also allows participants to consider different ethical issues that may arise through different forms of data collection and deployment of the technology.
ChatGPT makes the process of research and synthesis so much quicker and easier. Ideas can be deployed in the real world and don't need to remain in the conceptual stage. Students have more time to collaborate with one another. We could explore and teach some of the harder skills and topics such as complex systems thinking and real-world problem-solving skills that will help students survive and thrive in the future world. We know that increased skills, especially relevant skills lead to an increased sense of control, agency, and self-efficacy.
How We Are Using ChatGPT with Students
We’re using ChatGPT to help Technovation participants go further in their brainstorming and ideation as they aim to develop AI-based solutions to real-world problems. Here’s a concrete example from our program: Students in one group were interested in developing technology-based solutions to food wastage and conservation, encouraging more students to read, exercise, and be more inclusive.
Example: We had them pose the multi-layered question: What type of AI-based app could I make that...
Helps children to not waste so much food
Collects data on how much food we use and waste
Provides creative ways to bake without wasting so many ingredients
Helps monitor ecosystems around water bodies in Northern California
Has creative ways to help children find awesome books that they would normally not find
Provides creative, fun ways to stretch and exercise in the easiest possible way
Is a game that helps break stereotypes, especially around gender
Pro tip for teachers: Encourage students to ask detailed questions and ask for creative, innovative ideas. Play and have fun!
3 Concrete Ways Educators Can Use ChatGPT in Classrooms
1) Aid students in polishing their critical-thinking skills.
Instead of just asking students to write an essay about evolution, students could be asked to use ChatGPT to write an essay and then to fact-check each element. The key to emphasize here is that ChatGPT is a generative tool and, as we saw in Google’s Bard demo, it is very capable of making up convincing pieces of information. Challenge the students to determine the accuracy of what the AI generates.
2) Encourage real-world problem-solving skills.
ChatGPT has been trained on more than 8 million documents and 10 billion-plus words on the internet. It’s an extremely efficient way for students to quickly get a sense of a complex system, where they should explore further and how they can contribute. A lot depends on the types of prompts students put in, so it is worthwhile for educators to teach students about “prompt engineering.” For instance, youth care a lot about climate issues, but unfortunately, most of what school students learn about climate action is relegated to recycling (one of the most ineffective strategies for climate action). Instead, students can be taught to put in prompts that help them explore more effective problem areas they can contribute to.
For example, ask ChatGPT: “What can I do to help…
“Address fast fashion in teenagers?”
“Young people to not waste so much food?”
“Children care about ugly endangered, but valuable insects around them?”
Pro tip for educators: Teach students to push ChatGPT to come back with better creative ideas. Students should be encouraged to ask very detailed questions. You will not bore ChatGPT or ask it too much! Just like in a conversation or in research, you need to dig deeper to get the gold. You can see how the second interaction results in better, more creative responses:
3) Help students deploy real-world ideas and prototypes.
This is where ChatGPT’s access to the world’s online knowledge is helpful for students as they try to develop actual solutions to problems they might want to tackle. Students can go beyond just designing posters featuring possible ideas, and really deploy their ideas in the real world. Following is a complete scenario of how ChatGPT can help from researching to the pitching and business planning stages.
Example scenario and problem: We know that excess use of nitrogenous fertilizers is harmful for the environment, wastes valuable resources and contributes to water pollution. Here is a sequence of questions to ask ChatGPT to build a possible prototype of a solution to not only develop but also deploy in the real-world:
What are some examples of technology-based solutions that I could build that could help farmers produce more, waste less, use less nitrogenous fertilizers, while also being successful business models?
Do you think this is a big problem?
Do you think there is room for innovation here?
Who are some competitors in this space?
How can I access existing datasets on irrigation or fertilizer use across the US, or alternatively, how could I build my own?
Who would be my target market?
What interview script could I use to see if farmers would be interested in using this solution?
Who are some experts I could reach out to, to learn more about the problem and possible solutions?
What could be a survey I could use to help with my product development?
What could be a mission statement for my business?
What would be a minimum viable product that I could immediately start building?
Could you help write an email request to partner with a government agricultural agency?
What could be some creative partnerships models?
What could be a potential timeline for developing a MVP, a pitch video and business plan?
What could be some marketing goals for this product?
What could be some potential revenue models?
What are some more creative and innovative revenue models?
What about an impact investing model?
What are some ethical concerns with this product?
What are some ways algorithmic biases could come into this product?
What could be some operating costs?
What could be a possible pitch video script?
Could you write the strategy section for this product’s business plan?
As you can see, ChatGPT will accelerate what students can do in terms of bringing their ideas to the real world. So, students don't have to just write about their ideas and plans but can go further creating a prototype and thinking about building a sustainable revenue model.
There’s an additional, under-examined benefit of ChatGPT: It can teach children how to develop their own voice!
Being able to communicate with one another in ways that cuts through the noise and captures attention while deepening mutual understanding is an essential skill for students. If you read any of ChatGPT’s responses, they lack color and life, as they mostly represent the views of the majority. There is room for individuality, creativity, humor, and warmth — and it’s a difficult skill to develop. Teachers could encourage students to use ChatGPT’s responses as a starting point and then edit them to make them uniquely theirs. This is no easy task and could, in fact, be an even harder assignment than simply writing a standard essay.
Just like ChatGPT is demanding that writing students learn more than simply how to string sentences together well, ChatGPT is also making the practice of “teaching students how to code” irrelevant. Computer science and technology educators need to think beyond teaching students how to code — they should help students understand how and why coding can help us solve real-world problems. Last year, UNESCO analyzed government endorsed AI-curriculum (adopted in only 16 countries out of the 195), and found that there was not much emphasis on application of knowledge. With powerful tools that can provide just-in-time information so easily, we need to focus more on what we can build and do with information instead of just learning the content.
Ultimately, it is not just about learning how to code but deploying what you build into the real-world to help solve the problem you coded a solution for. These are the skills of the future — not just theoretical knowledge, but real-world understanding and deployment of complex solutions solving complex problems.
Broadly speaking, AI tools can open more time for students to explore and identify their purpose in life and for educators to help facilitate that exploration. Knowledge amplifies curiosity and curiosity leads to confidence in a positive feedback loop, leading to adaptability and resilience.
At Technovation, we want to champion the equitable adoption of new technologies and acknowledge as an opportunity that our students must learn how to engage with ChatGPT and use it to develop solutions to the world's most pressing problems. As all educators do, we want to give our students the best chance to succeed and become the change-makers our world needs.
Find more about Technovation Girls curriculum and how the program equips girls with tech education, skills for the future, and AI training at TechnovationChallenge.org.