Prepare for the unexpected with ChatGPT

You certainly know it: a bomb exploded this week and it had repercussions even in the world of education. I’m thinking, of course, of ChatGPT, this tool forartificial intelligence from the OpenAI company.

Easy to use and free, ChatGPT, which has access to phenomenal amounts of information that is in the public domain, can, on demand and almost instantaneously, produce a text on a given subject. “Write a fable in the style of La Fontaine about a teapot and a cat. “Explain what general relativity is. “Why should companies care about sustainable development?” “Explain how Prévert is the greatest writer of the 20th century. ” Here we go.

The results are sometimes spectacular. We would have evaluated the IQ of ChatGPT at 82, which could be underestimated… The texts produced would allow, in any case, to pass tests in courses at CEGEP or university.

But it is also true that an OpenAI executive (Sam Altman) assures that although he is impressive, it would be a mistake to rely on ChatGPT for important things. In the meantime, it seems that he is using the feedback of its users to correct its errors.

What should we think about it in education? I hesitate to write the following, imagining myself re-reading in 28 years and being embarrassed by it. But it takes what it takes when you take a chronicle.

Modest opinions

I remember the arrival of the Internet and all those sometimes virulent debates between technophiles (“It’s going to change everything!”) and technophobes (“Not that here!”). It was necessary to be nuanced, to prepare for the unexpected, to make the decision to supervise, to evaluate and to give oneself time to see what is coming.

It hasn’t been the case very much.

I submit that this caution is the attitude to adopt this time again. Especially since the management of cell phones at school, an application much less advanced than AI, already represents a big challenge for many schools and several studies have shown the negative effects on student performance. …

It is foreseeable that there will be unforeseen events and that the meaning, the nature of activities such as writing, learning, teaching or evaluating, as well as the institutions and the people who carry them out, will have to be rethought and adapted, sometimes in directions for the moment still unsuspected. The ethical dimensions of all this will also quickly catch up with us, especially with cheating and the question of the value of diplomas. But it will also be an opportunity to specify what gives these activities the value that we give them or should collectively give them. And to say how to preserve it.

Another thing seems to me to be essential: to give students a “digital literacy” that will allow them to understand how these tools work, what their possibilities are, but also their limits and dangers, and how to remain critical facing them and being a responsible user.

Above all, we should not forget, in this already complex equation, that we live in our economic system and that things like intellectual property, work, democracy, borders, cultures, especially national ones, are going to be affected.

This time again, it will be done in sometimes unforeseen directions. And it would be deplorable to leave it up to the companies that create these tools to decide on the dangers they represent and the means to deploy to counter them.

For a long time, in view of all the above, I have been suggesting that we create a sort of ministry for the GAFAMs or something equivalent. At this moment, it seems to me, more than ever, a good idea.


Speaking of re-reading 28 years later, I remembered an article I had signed in these pages on February 8, 1994, when I was an education columnist there and a professor at UQAM. I went back there. I’m not bothered at all.

I recalled that as part of the teaching certificate, I had in my classes engineers, biologists, historians, holders of master’s degrees in various disciplines, all wishing to teach in secondary school. But this certificate no longer admitted students! I recalled that this reform was carried out much too quickly and often gave rise, within the university, to a rather basely commercial struggle for the appropriation of the courses.

Twenty-eight years later, there is a shortage of teachers that the faculties of education did not see coming; those whom they have been training for years are leaving the profession in large numbers; we propose as a solution a costly (for the public, because it is in higher education that it happens) qualifying master’s degree which seems endless and attracts few candidates. Imagine the equivalent of all this in medical school…

What are we waiting for to impose the return of the certificate in secondary education? And to ensure that the training offered is of high quality, courses and internships included?

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Prepare for the unexpected with ChatGPT

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