I don't know whether this is a very late advent post or a very early 2024 post.
One of the key themes of 2024 is going to be personalized chatbots or Tutebots in education.
They aren’t very difficult to create. If your students have access to GPT Pro ($20 per month), then this is a trivial task. Simply take the transcripts of the recordings of your lectures and also take the readings ... create a custom GPT from them. If that cost is too great, then things get a little more complicated. Any vendors who want to shill their solutions, please do so in the comment area below. I've been working on an email gateway bot for this kind of task.
Ethan Mollick reports here on his experiment to see how much of a productivity improvement GPT-4 gives professional workers. If you look at the charts, you'll see that much of the benefit goes to the least able workers. This makes sense that a large language model which produces an average, most predictable output is going to produce a result that's kind of average. If you are below average, then average is an improvement!
This also applies to students, it seems. My friend Gordon Freer teaches International Relations at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He did a little experiment last semester. He got more data than I did in my experiment last semester with tutebots since I was only able to create a custom GPT a week before the final exams.
Gordon and I have been analyzing his data in slightly different ways. I looked at the comments made by Gordon’s students and analysed their use of present tense versus past tense, and also their linguistic diversity. This may seem a little odd, but we have good evidence that usage of present tense versus past tense corresponds to an introversion/extroversion divide (highly extroverted and sociable people will talk about all the things that they did with other people, whereas less sociable people will talk about what they're doing right now). Linguistic diversity is a measure of how many different words you use in your writing of a given length and provides a measure of verbal flexibility which is a proxy for verbal IQ. The results were interesting.
Students in Gordon's class whose comments suggested weaker English language skills ended up being far more likely to recommend the use of chatbots in the future.
It's premature to say that they gained a greater advantage, but it seems likely that being able to ask a chatbot to give you individualised tuition is going to benefit learners who face extra challenges (such as not being a native English speaker).
But other than providing a tutebot, what can we as educators do?
For this I analysed what things Gordon’s students did with the chatbot that were predictive of recommending chatbots. In other words: different students used the chatbots in different ways; which of those gave students the most positive experience?
Cross-validated Ridge regression models found that the two strongeset factors were:
- Did the student use the chatbot to help with their tutorials? (0.44)
- Did the student use the chatbot to help with the readings? (0.74)
Nothing in the student’s backgrounds predicted any behaviour here. It is up to us in our teaching practices to encourage students to interact in different ways, and it’s not driven by the background knowledge, familiarity or existing skills. That suggests we need to have exercises in our courses (perhaps graded exercises) to encourage students to make the most of the chatbots we provide.
Here’s my checklist that I think we should make sure students do (feel free to suggest more).
- Get the chatbot to explain a concept that you aren’t familiar with
- Handle a text in a language that you aren’t familiar with by translating it into something you are familiar with.
- Given an arcane and difficult-to-read text, get the chatbot to simplify the vocabulary that's used
- Ask the chatbot to make analogies with another field with which you are more familiar
- Here’s what ELI5, ELI13 or ELIUG mean (“explain it like I’m 5/13/an undergraduate”)
- What happens if you ask the chatbot how you could improve your essay / program?
- Explain some important concept and get the chatbot to respond with any important ideas that you have missed in explaining it
- Role-play different people, things or participants from a reading.
- Generate exam questions for their own self-study.
Ping me if you want to run a study on this!