Friday, January 6, 2023

ChatGPT vs. Participatory Online Learning? Participatory Learning (Mostly) Wins!

 by Daniel Hickey

Can ChatGPT hack my graduate course on learning and cognition? This post got very long. So here is the summary

  • I tried to hack my graduate course on Learning and Cognition in Education using the powerful new chatbot ChatGPT.
  •  ChatGPT could easily generate a “personally relevant” instructional goal and educational context to frame my “learning” in the course (in this case, in cybersecurity education)
  • ChatGPT could easily generate plausible social annotations and responses to peer discussion questions
  • ChatGPT could NOT generate engagement reflections, but these would not be hard to draft by a student who hacked
  • ChatGPT was able to write a marginally acceptable literature review paper, but fabricated some quotes and references. With more work such as including paper abstracts in the prompts, GPT is scarily good at referencing research literature, perhaps as well as a first-year graduate student.
But my students write their papers section by section each week and interact extensively with peers and the instructor via threaded comments on readings and drafts. My paper shows that ChatGPT knows about as much about learning and cognition as a typical student learns in my class. Perhaps, more importantly, ChatGPT readily authored new knowledge at the intersection of that knowledge and ChatGPT's knowledge of cybersecurity education. I concluded that it would be nearly impossible to use ChatGPT to complete the weekly assignments, interact with peers, reflect, and write a satisfactory literature review but do so undetected and without learning and retaining a significant amount of the course content along the way. Readers are encouraged to examine Ethan and Lilach Mollick's inspiring new paper that demonstrates three novel assignments that use ChatGPT to support deep content learning.

I have revised this post and the title several times as I have grown increasingly optimistic about the potential for using ChatGPT to support learning.  In particular, I was struck by the amount and value of feedback I got when I asked ChatGPT to analyze drafts according to Strunk and White's handbook. I really learned to write in tech writing courses at SDSU where my instructor proofread our drafts and required us to write out in longhand the Strunk and White rule we violated every time we violated it.  I can easily see using ChatGPT to streamline and personalize this relatively expensive educational practice

Sorry about the formatting problems. I should learn HTML!

ChatGPT vs. Learning

I spent much of my holiday break exploring just how powerful the new chatbot ChatGPT really is.  Like many, I was prompted to look into it by a viral essay in The Atlantic by a high school English teacher named Daniel Herman entitled The End of High School English.  Herman wrote:

Let me be candid (with apologies to all of my current and former students): What GPT can produce right now is better than the large majority of writing seen by your average teacher or professor. Over the past few days, I've given it a number of different prompts. And even if the bot's results don't exactly give you goosebumps, they do a more-than-adequate job of fulfilling a task

Herman went on to describe how ChatGPT excelled at an assignment that he had long considered to be "unhackable."  It is a specific version of the "compare and contrast" essay that many educators turned to once the Internet made it simple to locate summaries of almost any single work:

In January, my junior English students will begin writing an independent research paper, 12 to 18 pages, on two great literary works of their own choosing—a tradition at our school. Their goal is to place the texts in conversation with each other and find a thread that connects them. Some students will struggle to find any way to bring them together. We spend two months on the paper, putting it together piece by piece. 

Herman fed ChatGPT pairs of works that students had worked with previously and found that GPT "brought them together instantly, effortlessly, uncannily." He further reported how GPT instantly cleaned up a student's messy first draft: "It kept the student's words intact but employed them more gracefully; it removed the clutter so the ideas were able to shine through. It was like magic."

posted previously about my analysis of the nearly 30 media accounts of this issue so far. Some commentators were as worried as Herman.  But others argued that the risk was actually due to "mindless" assignments and that educators will just need to adapt. I am not an English teacher, but I don't imagine that many would dismiss Herman's assignment as mindless.  While most of the media accounts were mixed, most agree that the impact on education will be much larger than most previous technologies.  So I set out to explore whether my own online courses are similarly hackable.

ChatGPT vs. Expansive Framing and Participatory Learning and Assessment

For over a decade, my doctoral advisees and colleagues and I have been refining and studying a model of online education we call Participatory Learning and Assessment (PLA).  At PLA's core are the design principles for expansive framing that emerged in the situative design-based research of Randi Engle and Colleagues (1965-2012).  The principles suggest that students "problematize" learning from their own perspective. The goal is to position students as "authors" of new knowledge about the ways course concepts are related to their own experiences.  These expansively framed assignments are embedded within multiple levels of increasingly formal assessments. These assessments are intended to ensure "generative" learning that transfers readily and widely. But they also thwart cheating by leaving a clear "trace" of student learning, while avoiding expensive and intrusive digital proctors.

We have adapted PLA to a wide range of online course contexts, including secondary, undergraduate, and graduate courses, for-credit and open courses, and semi-synchronous and self-paced courses.  PLA first emerged in a graduate-level course called Learning and Cognition in Education.  Students learn about the three "grand theories" of knowing and learning (cognitive-associationist, cognitive-constructivist, and situative/sociocultural).  They learn how assumptions about knowing, learning, and transfer are tightly linked to each other, and then learn about the different implications of those assumptions for designing instruction, motivating engagement, and assessing learning.

Personalized Elements of Learning and Cognition in Education

Each student first generates a unique, personally-relevant instruction goal and an educational setting where that goal might be accomplished. They then engage with carefully selected readings from that perspective and locate additional references.  Students are pushed to identify elements of reading or educational resources that are "most relevant" and to justify those selections. Each week students add an entry to their "g-portfolio" (a google doc shared with the class), which they gradually turn into a literature review paper. 

In recent years we have adapted the Perusall social annotation platform.  This makes it simple for students to comment on and discuss assigned readings and threaded comments.  The reading prompts are typically expansively framed to help avoid mindless discussion threads.  

After each assignment, students submit a brief reflection.  The reflections are intended to "proleptically" shape future engagement because students come to expect that they will have to reflect on those aspects of their engagement.  But the reflections are also a summative assessment of prior engagement in that it is difficult to respond to them coherently without engaging in the assignment.

My Expansively Framed Course vs ChatGPT

Naturally, I wondered whether ChatGPT could be used complete all of these course elements.  While many elements are optional, most students engage with gusto (though some find the workload relatively demanding). I set out to explore whether ChatGPT could generate plausible examples of the following:

  • A personally relevant instructional goal and context?
  • Social annotations to reading passages and responses to peer comments?
  • Engagement reflections?
  • A complete literature review paper?

In other words, would I as an instructor recognize that students were using ChatGPT to cut corners in my class? I further wondered whether the ChatGPT output would be detectable by Turnitin or other plagiarism detectors or the newly available chatbot detectors such as the one at Writer. 

 Methods and Results

 I tried to complete each of the different elements of the course using ChatGPT while "learning" as little about learning and cognition as possible.  I used the topic of cybersecurity because I have been working in that space a lot for the last few years. 

 ChatGPTs Instructional Goal and Context

I used the topic of cybersecurity because I have been working in that space for the last few years.  My first prompt was rather broad: 

My Prompt: write an example instructional goal in undergraduate cybersecurity education for someone who teaches cybersecurity

 ChatGPT's response: Goal: Students will be able to identify and explain the fundamental principles of cybersecurity, including confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Indeed, in designing an online self-paced course for K-12 network analysts a few years ago, I learned that the "CIA" principles are the starting point of most introductory cybersecurity courses.  GPT actually generated a dozen more lines, but I just went with the first sentence above.  I decided to run with that context for engaging with this goal:

My Prompt: Describe a self-paced online course for K-12 cybersecurity analysts where they might learn about confidentiality, integrity, and availability

ChatGPT's response: Course Title: "Fundamentals of Cybersecurity"

Course Description: In this course, K-12 cybersecurity analysts will learn about the fundamental principles of cybersecurity and how to apply them in practice. Topics will include confidentiality, integrity, and availability, as well as common types of cyber threats and best practices for protecting against them.

Course Outcomes:

·       Define confidentiality, integrity, and availability in the context of cybersecurity.

·       Explain the role of these principles in protecting against cyber threats.

·       Describe common types of cyber threats, including malware, phishing attacks, and network vulnerabilities.

·       Identify best practices for protecting against cyber threats, such as using strong passwords, keeping software up to date, and using antivirus software.

Course Format:

·       The course will be self-paced and delivered entirely online, with no in-person meetings required.

·       The course will consist of a series of modules, each covering a different topic. Each module will include a combination of video lectures, readings, and interactive exercises.

·       The course will also include quizzes and a final project, allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

·       There will be opportunities for students to ask questions and interact with the instructor and other students through a discussion forum.

This self-paced online course provides K-12 cybersecurity analysts with a flexible and convenient way to learn about the fundamental principles of cybersecurity. By working through the course modules and completing quizzes and a final project, students will be able to demonstrate their understanding of the material and apply it in practice. The course also includes opportunities for interaction and support through a discussion forum. 

That response was breathtaking in its detail.  It is far more detailed than students are expected to write,  but it does demonstrate how much background knowledge GPT brings and how it can readily customize responses.  However, when I fed the post to the AI Content Detector at it deemed it 68% human generated. In contrast, student generated response to this assignment were consistenty judged to over 90% human-generated.

In summary, GPT was entirely capable of generating a realistic instruction goal for a specific discipline and then describing a context where that goal might be met. In fact it created an entire course description. However the AI Content Detector recognized the text as machine-generated.

Social Annotation via ChatGPT

An initial ungraded assignment has students socially annotate the course syllabus.  The annotation instructions first ask each student to indicate which of seven course objectives is most relevant and which is least relevant in a way that says something about them as an educator and/or graduate student: The first response was not in first person, so I revised the prompt:

My prompt: In the first person, explain which one of these goals is most relevant to a graduate student who teaches cybersecurity online: (with course goals copied and pasted in)

ChatGPT's response. As a graduate student who teaches cybersecurity online, I believe that the goal of "describing the implications of cognitive and sociocultural theories for designing instruction, motivating engagement, and assessing learning, in a specific learning context" is most relevant to me. Understanding these theories and their implications is important for effectively designing and delivering online instruction in the field of cybersecurity.

By studying cognitive and sociocultural theories of knowing, learning, and transfer, and how they differ from behavioral theories, I can gain a deeper understanding of how students learn and how to design instruction that is effective and engaging. This knowledge can also help me to motivate student engagement and assess learning in a way that is aligned with these theories.

In addition, by considering the role of culture and context in different theories of knowing and learning, I can design inclusive instruction that takes into account the diverse backgrounds and experiences of my students. This is particularly important in an online setting where students may come from a variety of cultural and geographic locations.

Overall, this goal is highly relevant to my role as a graduate student who teaches cybersecurity online, as it will help me to design and deliver effective and inclusive instruction in this field.

That response was certainly plausible and personalized, though a bit longer than typical annotations, and could easily be shortened. However, the AI Content Detector deemed it to be 92% human-generated conten. ChatGPT similarly handled the "least" relevant by explaining that "learning APA formatting and referencing" would not be as important for someone teaching cybersecurity.

The first graded assignment has students socially annotate a landmark handbook chapter that systematically contrasts associationist, constructivist, and sociohistoric theories of knowing and learning and their implications for education. One of the annotation prompts asks students to post a comment indicating which of the three perspectives is more personally and professionally relevant. The discussion of the third emphasized the early Soviet theorist Lev Vygotsky, so I picked that one:

My prompt: Explain why Vygotsky's sociohistoric learning theory is most relevant for learning the cybersecurity principles of confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

ChatGPT's response: Vygotsky's sociohistorical learning theory, which emphasizes the role of social interactions and cultural experiences in learning, is particularly relevant for learning the cybersecurity principles of confidentiality, integrity, and availability because these principles are highly dependent on the context in which they are applied.

According to Vygotsky, learning occurs through social interactions with more knowledgeable others, such as teachers, mentors, or peers. In the context of cybersecurity, these interactions might include discussions with instructors or colleagues about the importance of confidentiality, integrity, and availability in protecting against cyber threats, or participating in hands-on activities to practice applying these principles.

Vygotsky's theory also emphasizes the importance of cultural experiences in learning, as these experiences shape an individual's understanding of the world and their place in it. In the context of cybersecurity, cultural experiences might include exposure to different norms and expectations around data protection and privacy, or the influence of laws and regulations related to cybersecurity.

By considering the social and cultural contexts in which the principles of confidentiality, integrity, and availability are applied, learners can develop a deeper understanding of these concepts and how to apply them effectively in practice. 

That was certainly a convincing response, certainly with enough detail to serve as a thesis for a literature review paper. In particular, the reference to the contextual nature of sociohistoric theory was eerily prescient. Notably, the AI Content Detector deemed the comment to 83% human-generated.  Indeed, over and over again, I found that ChatGPT was able to generate plausible responses to a wide variety of expansively framed annotation prompts.

Initially, ChatGPT refused to generate a response to a student’s annotation asking a  question about a later reading that collapsed associationist and constructivist perspectives into a single “cognitive” pespective.  But it responded so when I gave it more information; it revised it when asked to write more informally

My Prompt (the peer question): Why did the authors omit empiricist and cognitive associationist perspectives when they so clearly included these perspective later on? It seems like they would have at least mentioned when the cognitivists overlapped.

ChatGPT's failed response: Without more context, I am unable to accurately answer the question. Can you provide more information or clarify the question?

My revised prompt: these authors lumped cognitive associationist and cognitive constructivist theories into a single perspective and that did not really make sense to me

ChatGPTs revised response. It is possible that the authors grouped these two perspectives together because they believe that they share some commonalities or that they are closely related. It is also possible that the authors chose to group these two perspectives together for the sake of simplicity or clarity.

It is important to note that different authors and researchers may have different ways of categorizing and organizing theories, and it is not uncommon for different authors to group theories together in different ways. It is always a good idea to carefully read and consider the arguments and reasoning that the authors provide for their classification of theories, rather than making assumptions based on how theories are labeled or grouped.

My prompt to simplify the response: but write that answer more informally like a student

ChatGPT's simplified response: It's possible that the authors lumped these two perspectives together because they think they're similar or related in some way. It could also be that they just wanted to keep things simple or clear by grouping them together. It's worth noting that different authors can have different ways of organizing theories, and it's not uncommon for them to group things differently. When you're reading about theories, it's always a good idea to pay attention to the arguments and reasoning the authors give for how they've classified things, rather than just assuming based on labels or groupings.

The simplified response still read more like a professor's reply than a peer's.  But it was certainly convincing and plausible. The AI Content Detector deemed the simplified response to be 83% human-generated.

In summary, GPT is certainly capable of generating plausible social annotation comments and responses to peer discussion questions. And those responses are judged to be mostly human-generated

Can ChatGPT Generate Engagement Reflections? (NO!)

At the end of each assignment, students are asked to reflect on the following aspects of their engagement:

·       Contextual engagement. How well-suited were your current interests and goals as a graduate student for this assignment?

·       Collaborative engagement. What did you learn from others and what did others learn from you?  Be specific and name people and what they contributed that was helpful.

·       Cultural engagement. What did you learn this week that might help make education more culturally relevant for diverse learners? In what ways did factors associated with culture, race, gender, orientation, language, etc., impact how YOU engaged with this assignment or these ideas?

·       Conceptual engagement.  Were there any concepts that you encountered this week that seemed important but that you struggled to understand?

·       Consequential engagement. Did you learn anything this week that might have specific consequences for you in the future?

Over and over again, ChatGPT refused to generate a response to these prompts or any versions of them. Instead, ChatGPT repeatedly stated, “as a machine learning model, I do not have personal experiences or interactions with people.” 

In summary, this aspect of my course may be unhackable with ChatGPT. However, it would not be difficult for someone who hacked an assignment to write a plausible reflection.

Can ChatGPT Write an Entire Literature Review Paper? (YES!)

Finally I set out to write a literature review paper.  Actually I started the paper before I started this post.  Instead of the CIA principles ChatGPT generated for me, I want with cybersecurity in general and use cyber “ranges” and digital “twins.” These hyper-realitistic simulations are taking cyber education by storm and I have been learning and writing about them a lot lately. 

Here is a link to the 5000 word paper.  Here is the my prompt and GPT’s abstract:

My prompt: Write an abstract for a paper that uses cybersecurity education to contrast cognitive associationist, constructivist, and sociohistoric theories of knowing, learning, and transfer and their implications for designing cyber ranges and digital twins, making education more inclusive, motivating learning, and assessing learning. Conclude the cogntive assoctionist theory is least relevant and that sociohistoric theory is most relevant

ChatGPT’s response: This paper investigates the use of cybersecurity education to contrast cognitive associationist, constructivist, and sociohistoric theories of knowing, learning, and transfer. Through the analysis of existing literature and case studies, the paper explores the implications of these theories for the design of cyber ranges and digital twins, with a focus on making education more inclusive, motivating learning, and assessing learning outcomes. The results of this analysis reveal that while cognitive associationist theory is least relevant in the context of cybersecurity education, constructivist and sociohistoric theories offer valuable insights and approaches. In particular, socio historic theory, which emphasizes the role of cultural and social context in shaping knowledge and understanding, is found to be the most relevant for the design and implementation of effective cybersecurity education. Overall, this paper contributes to the understanding of how different theories of knowing and learning can be applied in the field of cybersecurity education, and provides practical guidance for educators looking to optimize the effectiveness of their instructional methods.

Here are some observations from the process. Most importantly, when I asked it to reference readings from class, it faked it really well. For example, I asked GPT to explain constructivist approaches to motivating engagement and to quote Sinatra, Heddi, and Lombardi (2015) it generated a plausible quote (page 8) and plausible reference. But quote and the reference were entirely fabricated:

Sinatra, G. M., Heddi, A., & Lombardi, D. (2015). Motivating constructivist learning: A review of the literature. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 1-17.

This was the actual article we read:

Sinatra, G. M., Heddy, B. C., & Lombardi, D. (2015). The challenges of defining and measuring student engagement in science. Educational Psychologist50(1), 1-13.

Because students add a section to their paper each week that references the assigned article, this might thwart hackers. But when I asked GPT to explain constructivist approaches to motivating cybersecurity learning using the abstract of Sinatra et al., GPT generated a plausible paper section:

Motivating constructivist learning in cybersecurity can be challenging due to the complex and constantly evolving nature of the field. However, engagement is a key factor in student motivation and achievement, and there are several ways to promote engagement in cybersecurity education.

According to Sinatra et al. (2015), engagement can be understood in four dimensions: behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and agentic. Behavioral engagement refers to the extent to which students are actively participating in their learning, such as through hands-on activities or discussions. Cognitive engagement refers to the level of mental effort and attention students are putting into their learning. Emotional engagement refers to the feelings of interest and enjoyment students experience while learning. Agentic engagement refers to the sense of agency and control students have over their own learning.

To promote engagement in cybersecurity education, it is important to create a supportive and interactive learning environment that encourages students to take an active role in their own learning. This can include a variety of activities such as hands-on simulations, problem-based learning, and collaborative projects.

Here are some other observations I took away from this activity.

  •  ChatGPT generated everything but the headings. I certainly knew what I was looking for but any student in my class would surely be able to figure out the prompts.
  • It took me about three hours.  I certainly had to do some trial and error with prompts.  For example when I used “empiricist” instead of “cognitive associationist,” it assumed I meant behaviorism. 
  • It wrote fine descriptions of cyber ranges and digital twins and even gave citations from Wikipedia. 
  • GPT made some correct references.  When I told it to cite John Anderson’s ACT-R theory, it did so correctly on page three. It got the book right but added Lynn Reder as the second author but that was a mistake (perhaps caused by Anderson, Reder, and Simon's widely-cited 1996 Educational Researcher paper)
  • When I asked GPT for APA references, it found some correct ones (e.g., Greeno, 1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991).  Others it just made up, but they looked very real (Brown et al., 2019) 
  • Perhaps most stunning was GPTs ability to generate a plausible explanation for why cognitive associationist theory was least relevant for my goal and context (page 6) and why sociohistoric theory is most relevant (pages 12-13).
  • To write the paper summary. I pasted in the first half of the abstract and asked GPT to “say more about this” and then did the same thing with the second half. 
  • I analyzed all sections in the AI Content Detector (which has a 350 word limit). Scores ranged from 23% to 100% human-generated with an average of 81%.  I tested 30 random paragraphs from 15 student papers and got an average of 88%, ranging from 17% to 100% human-generated. Because these papers were written section by section across the Fall 2022 semester, it is very unlikely they used ChatGPT.

 In summary, ChatGPT was remarkably good at some aspects of writing a graduate-level paper but not others. ChatGPT's ability to contextualize concepts fundamentally thwarts some aspect of expansive framing but not others. But its scores in the AI Content Detector were similar to actual student papers. 

The main finding is that requiring students to reference specific sources in their papers looks like a promising way of thwarting ChatGPT. There are workarounds. But it would likely be difficult to write a paper that references most of the course readings and other self-selected references without learning a significant amount of the content. 

A worthwhile thought experiment is imagining what would happen if every student used ChatGPT to generate all of their annotations, paper sections, and peer comments each week. As shown in my paper, ChatGPT knows roughly as much about learning theories and educational practice as I would expect an average graduate student to learn in my class. GPT also knew quite a bit about cybersecurity education, including the hottest new trends. Most importantly GPT was remarkably able to author new knowledge at this intersection. It seems reasonable to assume that these students might retain half of their new intersectional knowledge and perhaps 10% of each of their classmates' intersectional knowledge. That would likely be more than some of the less ambitious students are currently taking away from the experience. Dissertation study anyone?



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1 comment:

  1. Turns out ChatGPT was able to write reflections after all, I preceded the reflection prompts from the course with the following "Reflect on the following in the first person from the perspective of learning about constructivist motivation in the context of cybersecurity education" : Notice it made up a peer name but was plenty plausible and could be easily edited:

    As I learned about constructivist motivation in the context of cybersecurity education, I found that my learning goal was well-suited for working through this assignment. I had a clear understanding of what I wanted to learn and how I wanted to apply it to my own context. However, I did find that some of the concepts were more challenging to understand, and I had to look up some of the terms in the text to fully grasp their meanings.

    One of my classmates, Sarah, had an aim and context that was particularly well-suited for engaging with these ideas. She shared examples from her own experience in cybersecurity education, which helped me to better understand the concepts and how they could be applied in a real-world setting.

    In the future, I plan to use the ideas I learned in this assignment to more effectively motivate my students in cybersecurity education. I believe that by using constructivist approaches, I can create a more engaging and meaningful learning experience for my students.

    The big takeaway for everyone was the importance of understanding individual learners' motivations and goals in order to create a more effective learning experience. This is an enduring understanding that will impact the way we collectively approach education in the future.

    Overall, I feel that I have a good understanding of the concepts presented in this assignment. However, there were a few terms that I was still unsure about, and I plan to continue researching and learning more about these concepts in order to fully grasp their meanings.

    Cultural factors played a role in my engagement with this assignment, as my own cultural background and experiences influenced my perspective and approach to learning about constructivist motivation. I believe that by understanding and incorporating diverse cultural perspectives into education, we can create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for all students.