For those of us who went to college, what were our classes, anyway? Three times a week, sometimes twice a week, you would show up to a classroom and listen to someone lecture about stuff. You may have been able to ask questions, but nobody wanted to be “that guy” and ask question after question or challenge the professor and have a dialogue. How many times have any of you, like me, withheld asking a question just so you could get out of class a little early, even if you really needed to know the answer? Or maybe you held up your professor after class and peppered them with little questions, sometimes because you liked to hear them talk, sometimes because you were lost. How many times did you bring your assignment home with you only to wring your hands because you couldn’t understand the assignment because your notes suck or you were daydreaming?
College is kind of silly, isn’t it? We expect students to learn by sitting and absorbing information. In the real world, people learn on the job by doing, not by passively sitting day after day. I’ve always found it to be more helpful to dig into something and then go back to the books afterwards. Putting the end before the beginning, so to speak. But for college, other than some assignments or a lab, there’s very little doing going on. I took many history classes and there was a lot of lecturing and reading going on. I never actually practiced history. I didn’t even know how because the one class that was supposed to teach the historical method didn’t fit my schedule.
With ChatGPT I can teach myself the historical method and ask any clarifying questions at my leisure. I can also ask for examples, maybe of the entirety of the system, or of small sections, I can tailor it to my own personal needs. I can ask it to peel apart a history book and demonstrate to me how sections of that book have utilized the historical method, too. Additionally, ChatGPT was able to break down for me one sentence on the historical method about historians looking for patterns, themes, and connections. The break down gave me 9 additional points to consider.. I then took one point from this break down and asked for an example. I sensed I could keep asking questions to my heart’s content, something no one can do in a college class.
Students also can’t ask questions of a textbook and be provided answers or different examples or explanations like they were a child. With ChatGPT all I have to do is copy/paste passages and ask for clarification, counter-arguments, examples, or probe for deeper meaning. I’ve asked ChatGPT to clarify passages from Shakespeare, Dante, Virgil and Goethe. There’s no need to be frustrated. What good did that do us anyway? Did it teach us critical thinking? Who has time for critical thinking, anyway?
Of course, one doesn’t need to be spoon-fed absolutely everything, but it’s good to know you can get clarification on something when you need it. Without clarification, we tend to bypass things and it’s difficult to go back, especially if you are pressed for time or mentally depleted. In the end, it’s best to understand a thing rather than skip it and circle back (except on a test, naturally). In this way ChatGPT can be used to clarify books and papers that have a lot more jargon. I remember having to read a journal article for homework that I barely understood, so heavily was it laden with jargon, that only when I attended class and the professor explained the paper to us did I end up understanding. With ChatGPT I can get that clarification immediately. Why do students need to suffer overnight only to have the professor do exactly what an AI can do now, immediately? And what if that student caught an illness and missed a class? They are out of luck, they will need someone else to fill in the gaps for them, more gets lost in translation, they give up on the paper because there is too much workload with other classes that is now more pressing. Eventually, a small tidbit from the professor becomes a question on the exam and there is only one way to answer it, much to the distress of the unprepared student. What’s the point of all of this struggle? Never in my working days have I had to deal with a similar circumstance.
Go to the library and the book you need is already checked out? ChatGPT saves the day; it summarizes the book, it can give you chapter by chapter breakdowns, it can give you little quizzes, it can answer any of your follow up questions and it can even creatively regenerate responses and perhaps hallucinate some information, which is not always a bad thing.
Students can also avoid the career center altogether. I never found any use for the career center, they never had the answers I needed, but ChatGPT is remarkable for the information it can provide. For example, years ago I moved from the States to Canada. I had a teaching degree but didn’t know how to be qualified to look for a teaching job in the province where I lived. I contacted my alma mater’s teaching department and career center for help and guidance. They had none to give, they had no idea what I was supposed to do, I was on my own. Even though that was long ago I decided to ask ChatGPT and see what it would say I should do given the same scenario. It gave me a long laundry list of things and it was accurate, I had done those things in the past but it took me time and effort and a lot of frustration.
On a whim, I asked ChatGPT to crank out a rubric for grading an English class essay on civil rights. I was astounded by the results. I couldn’t have come up with such a rubric on my own in my college assessment class. No one had a standardized rubric for me to follow, I simply didn’t get whatever there was to get in order to write good rubrics. A student can easily ask ChatGPT to grade a paper they wrote, or point out flaws in their reasoning, or show where they lack evidence. Then it can help you make corrections and overcome your weaknesses. There’s no need for a professor in all of this.
In one of my classes the professor choose a difficult book as one of our readings. I read the book, misunderstanding it, in fact, barely grasping it. I also missed the lecture on the book. I passed the class, but any questions about the book on the final I had to make something up. Many years later I still had the book and wanted to reread it (never did) to sort of put the matter to rest. On a whim I asked ChatGPT to fill me in on what I had missed. This book is not a popular book, there exist only two reviews of it on GoodReads (one is mine) and none on Amazon. It is, for all intents and purposes, a rare book. But that didn’t stop ChatGPT. ChatGPT gave me a short summary of the book, which at first was disappointing in comparison to summaries of other works, but I prodded it further and its elaborations were quite extensive. I finally learned what the book was all about and why my professor had chosen it (local historical person in our city, good segment from theological thought to historical-critical thought in American Christian history). Sometimes we skirted by our college classes by the skin of our teeth. There are gaps in our knowledge because we never got to fully understand a thing because it was too difficult at the time or we missed a class or we lacked the courage to go to our professor’s office hours to gain clarification. ChatGPT fills in those gaps in a most helpful way. It took me only a few minutes to learn all I had missed.
Whatever you did at college, aside from labs and working with expensive equipment, ChatGPT can do with you. You can be a lot more thorough with ChatGPT than college. It’s way more efficient as a learning tool, cheaper too. If college is really about learning and expanding your mind and not a jobs training program, then there’s no reason to reject AI-based learning. If anything, the AI is less biased than professors. If most professors are nothing more than above-average people who have done a lot of reading, then ChatGPT is the same thing except with even more material read and a much better memory for recall. It is also able to admit when it’s wrong! Any student can go at their own pace.
I’m sure many of us had at least one amazing professor that inspired us and expanded our minds. For every professor like that, I had at least 4 who were agonizingly boring. So while ChatGPT takes personality out of class, you won’t even notice because you’re making quick progress.
Colleges didn’t innovate. They’re loaded with money but their learning model remains the same. Some good professors still breathe life into college but college as a whole no longer serves the student. The best way for a student to regain control and fight for a real education is to swap professors and classrooms. You didn’t like a professor before? You dropped the class and found another. Maybe you even changed majors. There are no problems like that with ChatGPT, if you want more out of the AI you have to grow in the way you prompt it.
I don’t wish to get into discussing the other things colleges do, such as research and offering hands-on labs, or pathways to internships, or building networks, and other things, my only purpose is to replace the education part, which at times felt ridiculous, like the time I attended a class and the professor asked for a show of hands to see who did the reading for class, and because me and one other kid were the only ones who did the reading the professor dismissed the class because he said there was no point in getting into it if most everyone didn’t do the reading. While my classmates were thrilled at the idea of getting a free day off, I was angry that an expensive day of education was ripped from my hands. Much of college felt this way, like a glorified high school with kids trying to get away with as little work as possible. It doesn’t have to be this way.
In my next post I will give you the full curriculum of an imaginary class I created using ChatGPT. The path of the autodidact has never been easier.