Helping students generate the highest quality learning.
GUEST COLUMN | by Andrew Pass
Healthy individuals are born with an innate curiosity, a natural sense of wonder. Have you ever noticed the ways in which young children ask questions? They want to know why! After their questions are answered, these children often turn the answers into questions. We live in a world in which alternative facts are a reality. People cannot accept what they read or are told at face value. They need to test most things for accuracy and ask probing questions. Indeed, powerful, probing questions serve as the foundation for critical thinking. Critical thinking, especially thinking that enables accurate evaluation, has never been more important. For our democracy to flourish, students must learn these skills in school.
‘Critical thinking, especially thinking that enables accurate evaluation, has never been more important.’
A Great Tool for Teaching Students to Ask Great Questions
In the last six months, generative artificial intelligence (AI), such as ChatGPT, has become a great tool for teaching students to ask great questions. ChatGPT allows users to engage in sophisticated discussions in which they can ask a question, obtain an answer, ask another question as a follow up, and continue this process, ad infinitum.
Few people ask ChatGPT exactly the same questions in an extended interaction. In fact, the process of asking questions enables personal interest to shine through. People ask questions about things that interest them. People naturally learn about things that interest them. In a truly constructivist setting, this learning and question asking could cross many different topics.
The realities of American education do not allow such a free flowing learning environment. Instead, in school, students must learn specific knowledge and skills related to publicly endorsed standards and benchmarks. Yet, powerful lessons can partner students with generative AI in such a way that students have to ask probing questions that allow them to learn in interesting ways even as they master the standards.
Consider the following prompt designed to challenge students to ask questions as they explore an issue connected to their own community.
Mrs. Pauline Peters, the wealthiest member of our community, recently donated thirty million dollars so that the community could select one project to build. She has asked our class to be the representatives of the community to both come up with the ideas and select one thing to build. In your groups, of one or two additional students, you will partner with generative artificial intelligence to complete this project. You will first determine what your group will nominate for the community to build. It must cost between $25 and $30 million dollars. On the day of the presentation, you will spend 10 minutes explaining the reasons why your group will build this specific project. Your presentation must include detailed plans, meaningful images, and a coherent argument as to why the community should build this. You must also present three reasons why this might not be a good idea and refute the reasons with strong argumentation. Other students will ask questions to challenge the quality of your idea. After all presentations have been completed the class will vote to decide which project to pursue.
As a central part of this activity, students could be required to ask a generative AI tool a specific number of open ended questions in an effort to determine what they would want to build, the reasons that building this project would benefit the community, and potential reasons that building this project might not be a good idea. Students could be asked to explain how the answers they received prompted the next question. They could be required to demonstrate why on a specific number of occasions the answers they received prompted them to change their minds.
Finally, students could be asked to identify some number of details contained in the information that seemed untrustworthy and articulate how they verified or refuted the information.
Ultimately, of course, students would use the information discovered in their research to respond to the prompt.
This activity in which students collaborate with ChatGPT includes at least four significant benefits:
- Students must demonstrate the mastery of multiple learning standards in order to participate at a high level.
- Students must, specifically, use critical thinking skills.
- Students have the opportunity to pursue their own learning paths.
- Students engage in focused learning.
- Finally, students use cutting edge technology for meaningful purposes.
Ultimately, just as I have written before that a symbiosis between instructional designer and generative AI enables the development of the highest quality lessons, this same symbiosis between student and generative AI can create the highest quality learning.
Andrew Pass is the founder of A Pass Educational Group, LLC. A Pass partners with organizations to develop customized educational content. Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org