“Critical Thinking Takes Time: Avoid Shortcuts for Quality Decision-Making”

I never expected widespread cheating.

In the middle of the academic term, I conducted a survey with my students to inquire about their utilization of ChatGPT in other college courses, maintaining their anonymity. While I showcased AI’s potential to assist in idea generation, writing organization, and cognitive development specifically in my own class, it seemed that in other classes, students embraced a different approach. Evidently, ChatGPT had become a prized tool for expediting task completion.

The unexpected nature of their responses left me astonished. “I apply it similarly to how we do in this class,” one student confessed. Another highlighted, “It’s peculiar yet beneficial to employ ChatGPT as a resource rather than a solution to your work.” A third student shared, “When facing writer’s block, I turn to ChatGPT for inspiration.” Remarkably, approximately 80% of my students engaged with some form of AI, yet only around 20% had resorted to using it for academic dishonesty, relying on ChatGPT to compose the bulk of their assignments. It dawned on me that most students viewed ChatGPT as a complement to their learning journey, acting more as a guide than a replacement for critical thinking.

Personally, I find immense enthusiasm in this discovery. Amidst an era characterized by depersonalization and mass production of higher education, I firmly believe that students crave personalized mentorship. Research even suggests that mentoring plays a catalytic role in enhancing critical thinking skills.

The challenge arises in how as a single educator, I can offer personalized guidance to a classroom filled with 30 or 150 students. Realistically speaking, it seems implausible. However, I advocate for the incorporation of AI into higher education. If embraced wholeheartedly, ChatGPT could serve as a potent resource for educators aiming to deliver top-tier education to their students.

Nevertheless, this proposition poses a considerable “if.”

“Critical thinking”—essentially described as “thoughtful reflection focused on determining beliefs and actions”—is a complex skill to impart. It’s not a matter of imparting answers directly into students’ minds. Grappling with intricate concepts, whether in chess or ethical dilemmas, demands time and practice. Fortunately, cognitive science research assures us that with favorable learning conditions and diligent effort, anyone can acquire the skills they desire.

However, cultivating high-quality education necessitates high-quality teaching. It’s more than just lecturing; teaching intricate subject matter demands a mix of constructive discussions, genuine engagement, and mentorship. Research on the science of learning illuminates various strategies, including fostering robust dialogues, engaging in case studies, problem-based learning, and real-world scenarios. As for mentoring, prior to the advent of ChatGPT, I faced limitations in this realm.

On a reflective note, one of my students expressed, “I leverage ChatGPT as a teaching assistant, seeking additional support in brainstorming ideas, much like I would do with any human mentor.”

Consider this statement carefully: “much like I would do with any human mentor.”

It’s crucial to emphasize that I don’t intend to humanize ChatGPT or attribute all educational solutions to it. Rather, I believe we stand at a critical juncture concerning AI’s role in education.

One direction eases both educators and students into a cycle of performative theatrics: educators deliver lectures, and students rely on AI to complete their work surreptitiously. If the current value of higher education seems contentious, the repercussions under this scenario would be even more contentious.

However, there exists another path where students acknowledge ChatGPT’s potential as a mentor, aiding in cultivating critical thinking skills. It’s imperative for educators and the higher education community at large to lead students down this path. Effort and dedication are indispensable; shortcuts have no place here.

Dan Sarofian-Butin was the founding dean of the Winston School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College and is now a professor of education there.

The post There are No Shortcuts to Thinking appeared first on Education Next.

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