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Learning history with ChatGPT

Students at UiA are studying history while also learning how to utilise artificial intelligence with a critical approach. 

Photo of Iorest Gelu Enache
I find the way ChatGPT is being used in this course to be both innovative and very useful. Incorporating artificial intelligence into the learning process teaches us critical thinking skills and prepares us for the future,” says Iorest Gelu Enache. (Credit: Maria van Schoor)

 “This experience is both challenging and interesting. By exploring ChatGPT, we’ve discovered new perspectives on the use of artificial intelligence,” says Iorest Gelu Enache.

He has come to the University of Agder (UiA) on exchange from Lucian Blaga University, which is UiA’s  FORTHEM partner in Romania, and is enrolled in the ‘Introduction to historical consciousness’ course. In this course, students are encouraged to use a custom version of ChatGPT to engage in Socratic dialogue and prepare presentations for the class, among other things.

One experiment carried out by Enache and his fellow students was to instruct ChatGPT to create an image representing the definition of historical consciousness.

“The outcome was something entirely new and astonishing that we could delve into and analyse further using the perspectives we are acquiring in the course,” says Enache.

Foto av Apostolos Spanos

Professor Apostolos Spanos in the Department of Religion, Philosophy, and History at the University of Agder.

Foto av Hilde Inntjore

Hilde Inntjore, Vice-Rector for Education at the University of Agder.

Learning by correcting technology

Apostolos Spanos is a professor in the Department of Religion, Philosophy, and History at the University of Agder (UiA). He is responsible for the course and mentions that he initially thought a lot about what sources students commonly rely on.

He thinks that the quality of texts generated by ChatGPT has improved markedly since a year ago, when the technology first became widely available.

“My students recently reviewed a 500-word essay generated by ChatGPT, and they had a lot to say about what the chatbot did well and badly. And that is one of the most important aspects here: When students correct GPT, their learning is enhanced,” Spanos asserts.

He has spent a lot of time developing effective prompts for ChatGPT. It often takes 30 to 40 attempts to devise prompts that yield good output, he says.

“To create an effective prompt as an educator, you must carefully consider what you want the students to get out of it. Sometimes, I even appreciate the mistakes that ChatGPT makes, because these errors help my students understand better,” says Spanos.

When students in the course evaluate texts generated by ChatGPT, they all start from the same text. In this way Spanos ensures that they talk about the same thing.

Versatile applications

ChatGPT is used as a learning resource in six modules of the course. In various ways, these modules are designed to help students remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, and create something new. This is linked to the taxonomy developed by Benjamin Bloom, which is a well-known framework for categorising educational objectives.

How ChatGPT is used in the course

  • Remember: Student click on a topic title and receive a text generated by ChatGPT.
  • Understand: By engaging in a conversation with ChatGPT programmed to respond as the philosopher Socrates, students can assess their knowledge.
  • Apply: A group of students is tasked with leading a seminar for the other students and uses ChatGPT to create assignments and activities.
  • Analyse: By analysing a text written by ChatGPT, students become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses.
  • Evaluate: Students become acquainted with the assessment criteria for the course exam and use these to evaluate the structure, language, and argumentation of the response generated by ChatGPT, assigning a grade accordingly.
  • Create: Students have the option to choose between two written and two oral exam formats, with topic suggestions provided by ChatGPT. They, in consultation with the instructor, decide what they want to write or talk about.

The tool was programmed in Sanity but will be moved to WordPress in the next version. The project is a pilot and can be adopted by all.

When artificial intelligence is used in education in this manner, it is crucial to understand that the technology must be used both critically and cautiously, according to Spanos.

“Most people discover that when they take a critical approach to the technology, they see that ChatGPT often presents information and a narrative in a flat manner. Instead of shying away from what we think is dangerous, we delve deep into it to learn how to decipher the model,” says Spanos.

“Fear no longer dominates”

Hilde Inntjore is the Vice-Rector for Education at UiA. She is impressed by how Spanos has created his own AI resource and how he consistently incorporates the technology into his course, allowing students to explore it.

She describes how nearly everyone eagerly embraced the new technology when ChatGPT was launched about a year ago. However, concerns quickly arose about how this would affect students’ exams.

“We may have overlooked the learning potential in this technology. What is exciting is that fear no longer dominates; instead, we are more focused on the benefits of using AI in a sound didactic manner,” she says.

Inntjore emphasises that a university has a responsibility to both educate and shape its students. Therefore, it is crucial that students become acquainted with the opportunities provided by tools like ChatGPT.

“When they enter the workforce, it will be expected that our candidates are familiar with and proficient in artificial intelligence and know how to use these new tools in an ethically aware and constructive manner,” she adds.