To make education relevant in a ChatGPT world, schools should look to existing pedagogical best practices, including inquiry-based learning.

How schools can respond to ChatGPT with inquiry-based learning

To make education relevant in an AI-dominated world, schools should look to existing pedagogical best practices

Key points:

  • Inquiry-based learning helps students become independent learners and develop critical durable skills
  • This approach will ensure students can use tools such as ChatGPT, which will have a role in the future workforce

The rise of ChatGPT promises to bring simplicity to the more mundane tasks of human existence and has also revived with new fervor an enduring question of our education system: how do we adequately prepare students to thrive in the real world? How do we design worthy learning tasks, when artificial intelligence (AI) tools can do the work of a student in a fraction of the time and nearly none of the effort?

While some call for a ban of ChatGPT in schools, I suggest something entirely different. Instead of blocking ChatGPT and tools like it, consider incorporating them into classrooms through an inquiry-based learning framework.

Inquiry-based learning focuses on developing critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and creativity. This type of active learning encourages students to ask questions, analyze information, and draw their own conclusions rather than just accepting information at face value. Due to the nature of inquiry, students in inquiry-based classrooms become independent learners who are able to think for themselves while testing and verifying the answers to their own questions.

School districts are increasingly focused on preparing students to be successful in their post-academic careers. And ChatGPT—along with other technologies like it—will be a force that leaves no industry untouched. With AI capabilities advancing at breakneck speed, developing skills beyond rote memorization and formulaic response will be the key to success in an increasingly automated world. In order to prepare our students to thrive in the future, we must prepare them to understand tools like ChatGPT and use them judiciously.

Using an inquiry-based learning framework, students learn to ask questions, evaluate information sources, and analyze data to reach conclusions. They also collaborate with their peers to develop and share ideas, present findings, and provide feedback. Through these activities, students develop the communication skills necessary to articulate their ideas and the critical thinking skills necessary to evaluate the ideas of others.

These skills are all crucial when using AI to research and support learning. That’s because while AI can provide access to a wealth of information via increasingly humanlike responses to our prompts, it is not always reliable or unbiased. Students must learn to evaluate the sources of information provided by AI and to critically analyze a given response to ensure that reliable and equitable outcomes are achieved—all skills at the center of inquiry-based instruction.

Despite the profound impacts inquiry-based classrooms can have on student learning, the framework is not yet commonplace in schools. This is, in part, because of the difficulty of transitioning generations of teachers from the traditional “sage on the stage” approach to more student-centered methods. How can we support educators in making the leap? The following tips can help.

Start with the curriculum. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have expanded inquiry-driven instruction; however, many teachers are still struggling to find strategies and materials aligned with these new standards. Curricula designed to support student-led activities must be provided if districts hope to properly equip their pupils for life beyond the classroom.

Provide professional development and coaching. Help teachers understand why this transition to inquiry-based instruction is so important. Too often, teachers are handed the latest shiny innovation in education without an explanation of why. Treating educators as the experts they are and providing them the support they need to make this critical shift in behavior from lecturer to facilitator is an essential step. Add in some coaching to help them draw out questions from students by providing them with strong discourse routines.

Create a culture of vulnerability for both students and teachers. Embracing inquiry-based learning requires a culture shift, and that starts with our expectations for teachers. After all, it’s hard to let go of control. Teachers need to be given permission to ask their own questions, make mistakes, and learn from them, setting an example for students to follow. Asking questions is a vulnerable pursuit but ultimately the best path to engagement and real understanding of the subject matter.

In the end, education must go beyond rote learning and ultra-structured responses to stay relevant in our ever-evolving world. Inquiry-based frameworks help students learn to ask questions, solve problems, and evaluate information on their own. These are all skills students will need to successfully navigate the AI-powered tools like ChatGPT that will dominate their workplaces in the future. More than that, though, they are skills they need to be well-rounded and contributing members of society.

Now is the time for educators to take up their role as facilitators of intellectual exploration rather than mere distributors of knowledge. We must shift our focus from outdated pedagogies, investing instead in inquiry-based approaches so every student can be given the chance to excel in a rapidly changing world.

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