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When preparing students for the future of work with career education, educators must be familiar with generative AI tools such as ChatGPT.

The case for ChatGPT as the ultimate educator’s toolkit


When preparing students for the future of work, we have a duty to familiarize them with AI tools, which are likely to be a part of their workplace landscape

Key points:

Innovations that have transformed education have often been met with skepticism. Just look at Sesame Street, which was once considered a wild, controversial experiment leveraging television for learning. Yet, by 1979, nine million children were watching the show, and kindergarten teachers had to upgrade their curricula because children were showing up knowing their ABCs and numbers and eager to learn more. What is now revered as an extraordinary show, which gently pushed the needle on integration, equity, and diversity, was once a radical experiment that rattled the American educational system.

Forty-four years later, Generative AI tools are causing a frenzy in the educational system and workforce, and in turn, for career educators who are attempting to help students prepare for the future of work.

As Sesame Street leveled the educational playing field and boosted learning for students around the nation by supplementing the experiences students were having in the classroom, we believe that Generative AI can similarly enhance students’ career navigation process while teaching them how to ethically use a tool that will better prepare them for the future of work.

What is ChatGPT?

In summary, this platform is “designed to understand and generate human-like text based on the input it receives. It can handle a variety of language tasks, including answering questions, writing essays, generating creative content, offering explanations, giving advice, and engaging in natural-sounding conversations” (as explained by ChatGPT itself). ChatGPT does have major limitations: its limited knowledge base only pulls from data prior to September 2021; it has no personal experiences or emotions to draw from; it may generate inaccurate information; and it does not have the ability to critically think and/or analyze information.

The polarized & shifting landscape of AI in education

The discourse around the use of AI in schools has sparked widespread debate. Some believe it will cripple the education system and replace human workers; others denounce ChatGPT as a free essay-writing and test-taking tool that makes it laughably easy to cheat on assignments, while the validity of responses generated by ChatGPT has also been called into question. As a result of distrusting student integrity and limitations on the tools themselves from bias to misinformation, some school districts have completely banned ChatGPT.

On the flip side, others assert that ChatGPT is a major step toward equity that could democratize learning for all, providing equitable access to knowledge and personalized coaching and support that used to only be available to more wealthy and privileged students.  

In both higher education and K-12 education, AI offers numerous potential benefits, including early interventions via identifying students at risk and its ability to provide real-time feedback to both students and teachers, helping identify areas where students may be struggling and allowing for immediate intervention. AI tools can create content quickly, such as quizzes and worksheets and complete administrative tasks, such as grading assignments and generating progress reports, freeing up more time for instructional activities. ChatGPT also has the potential to revolutionize learning for students with disabilities by making information more accessible: it can summarize information, convert text into alternative formats, and be programmed to follow any provided accessibility guidelines.

More than 1,300 experts signed an Open Letter supporting AI as a “force for good” and futurists envision a world where teachers will use AI to design courses and analyze student performance data to engineer learning interventions and new lesson plans while developing lifelong learning pathways that could keep people connected to gainful employment across decades. While AI may feel like a new field completely disrupting our current systems, it is important to recognize that we are already using AI tools in our daily lives, from navigating travel (Google Maps) and managing calendars (Calendly) to sorting and displaying photos (“memory” photo albums automatically generated by iPhones).

The changing world of work

The discourse around the role that AI should play in education is placed within a larger context of changes in the world of work. By 2030, 12 million occupational transitions are expected and experts predict that 30 percent of hours currently worked across the U.S. economy will be automated. “Traditional” career trajectories and securities are now obsolete: a college education no longer guarantees a job, a traditional job no longer guarantees a comfortable retirement; and some experts predict that big data and AI may run the world in the future and replace the majority of “human” work.  

This reality should motivate our work as career educators to take on the daunting task of preparing students to enter a world of work that is radically shifting and becoming increasingly unstable. We recognize the limitations of these tools while also acknowledging the reality that AI will continue to play a critical role in the lives of our students and their future careers.

As a Professor and Associate Director of Career Education and Life Design at Tulane University and a Life Design Lecturer and Fellow at Stanford University’s Life Design Lab, we firmly believe that using AI tools like ChatGPT can supplement students’ imaginations as they design their futures while simultaneously teaching them how to ethically leverage the technology at their disposal. See our ChatGPT Prompting Guide for Life Design + Career Education.

There are many legitimate concerns and limitations of AI, such as privacy and surveillance, bias and discrimination, and lack of human judgment. We are not here to condone AI or claim it is a perfect tool, but rather to offer a reframe – rather than outright rejecting the tool, to consider how it can supplement our work as career educators.

ChatGPT: A powerful tool for career educators

We have spent hours experimenting with the many ways ChatGPT can be used to enhance students’ imaginations in envisioning their career journey. If this is your first time using the tool (which is free), let us show you how a few prompts can easily get you started — directions here). Every hyperlink in this section links to an example of a prompt and response in ChatGPT.

Life design and career educators can train ChatGPT to provide personalized tutoring or career advice based on that person’s skill sets and interests. The platform can build on that information as a user continues to provide prompts, creating more and more personalized ideas and examples.

As students begin to dream about their future and imagine what might be possible, ChatGPT is an impressive tool to use to supplement one’s ideas and discover what possibilities exist, offering suggestions about industries to explore, and possible entry level positions and career paths for particular majors. 

For example, by simply pasting in a resume or providing a few specific examples of skillsets and interests a student has or area of work they want to avoid, in a split second the platform can generate five, 10, even 20 different five-year plans that are tailored to the individual (see examples plan 1, plan 2, plan 3, plan 4 and plan 5).

ChatGPT can support students in networking and designing how they are seen to the outside world by creating personal introductions a student could use in a networking conversation, drafting a personalized LinkedIn profile, generating questions to ask in an informational interview, and even providing a relevant list of potential networking events or groups related to personal career interests.

As life design educators, we always encourage students to test out potential pathways before choosing a way forward. ChatGPT can support that, too, quickly generating ideas for experiments that students could use to test their ideas before committing down one path. 

The platform can also support students in analyzing ethical considerations in a potential field and making informed decisions in moving their life design forward–though, of course, it does not have the ability to critically analyze information and can generate inaccurate responses.

We believe an important learning exercise for students is to verify the accuracy of information provided and decide what they hope to do with the information generated. As career educators, this is where we help students make informed decisions by providing the benefit of lived experience, critical analysis, and cultural awareness that can support students as they use this tool to navigate potential opportunities. (When we asked ChatGPT if it can and will replace career educators, the platform responded to the contrary, noting its many limitations and emphasizing the importance of human guidance.)

Conclusion and considerations

In design thinking, we talk about “wicked problems,” such as homelessness, racism, and global climate change. We continuously confront these issues on shifting ground. These problems have no limits or determined conditions and are a moving target – a solution created in one location in one moment of time might not work in another era or location. As we all confront the “wicked problem” of AI, none of us know how AI will change the world, let alone the world of work, but we do know that designers work with changing problems rather than linearly fight against them.

Learning how to be a nimble and adept problem solver is a skillset of the future. Today’s graduates are expected to have 15-20 jobs over their lifetime, compared to baby boomers who, on average, had a handful of jobs over a lifetime of work. With the development and release of Generative AI, many jobs will be radically shifting or disappearing altogether, and students and others must become expert job seekers who can look for work at a more frequent rate.

While we work in higher education and see the enormous potential and power of using this tool to support our students prepare for life after college, we believe that AI tools can also be an invaluable tool for K-12 educators, who play a vital role in shaping the educational journey of young learners.  K-12 educators can similarly harness ChatGPT’s capabilities to foster creativity, critical thinking, and career exploration via its capabilities to provide personalized guidance and inspire young minds to envision their future paths including but not limited to a college degree.

As educators preparing students for the future of work, we have a duty to familiarize them with AI tools, which are likely to be a part of their workplace landscape. Thus, we encourage all life design practitioners, K-12 educators, and career educators to consider how this emergent technology can support your students in dreaming about and exploring their future. If you are a classroom educator, you might consider adding a note in your syllabus about the appropriate use of AI tools (example here).

With the reality that artificial intelligence will continue to play a critical role in the lives of our students and their world of work, we can stay on the forefront of educational innovation by ethically and responsibly using AI. As life design and career education practitioners, we play a critical role in supporting our students as they imagine and design their future in a complex and changing world.

We hope you will use our ChatGPT Prompting Guide for Life Design + Career Education (image below for reference) to support students in imagining and designing their future. In addition to our prompting guide, we encourage all educators to check out Teaching with AI, which includes a prompting guide for educators, while also exploring how custom instructions can better meet your needs as an educator. 

We would love to hear from you if you have feedback on this article, our prompting guide, stories of how the prompting guide has supported you or your students, and/or if you have additional prompts to share that you have found helpful in supporting students’ life design. We welcome your feedback and can be contacted at jlang@tulane.edu and dustinliu@stanford.edu.

Related: Taking a measured look at AI in the classroom

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