Disruptive potential of ChatGPT: should we ban it, reinstate oral exams, return to pen and paper, or embrace it?

ChatGPT is the new AI tool trained by OpenAI that everybody is talking about. ChatGPT works like a written dialogue between the AI system and the person asking it questions and has mind boggling encyclopaedic knowledge. It has allegedly passed the very complex the US medical licensing exam (USMLE), say researchers in the USA who have put it to the test. “It’s making waves across the media landscape, the school system, and pretty much everywhere”, reads a recent article in Code Stringers. In the education field in particular ChatGPT may result in educators having to rethink tests and assessments as the technology opens the door to widespread cheating.

Should ChatGPT be banned in schools? What are the alternatives?

The use of ChatGPT has been banned by Indian, French (Sciences Po) and USA Colleges, Schools and Universities to keep students from gaining unfair advantage. In Australia, a group of the eight leading universities are moving towards supervised exams, greater use of pen and paper exams, and  tests only for units with low integrity risks. Academic Molly Worthen, in an opinion piece for The NY Times, suggests to reinstate oral exams, which actually help reveal deeper understanding. “Maybe we should drop the pencils, paper and keyboards and start talking instead”, she says. Professor Cath Ellis, from UNSW, says a future syllabus that embraced the use of AI tools would probably have more oral assessments and fewer standard take-home assignments and essays. Today, apart from doctoral dissertations, oral exams are not favoured by most American schools and universities. The tradition is more alive in Europe, where millions of high school students are assessed orally each year.

Why not embrace ChatGPT and incorporate it in lesson plans?

Boris Steipe, biochemistry professor at the University of Toronto, says it makes no sense to ban ChatGPT as it already has 100 million users. He allows his students to use ChatGPT to write papers and answer exam questions and supports it. He has decided that it makes much more sense to reconfigure lesson plans to work on critical-thinking skills that can’t be outsourced to an AI. “The ball is in our court: if an algorithm can pass our tests, what value are we providing?”, he says. With the help of colleagues across the world—a philosopher in Tokyo and a historian at Yale— he has created the “Sentient Syllabus Project”, a publicly available resource that will help educators teach students to use ChatGPT to expedite academic grunt work, like formatting an Excel spreadsheet or summarising literature that exists on a topic, and focus on higher-level reasoning. Instead of asking students to read data and tell him what they see Prof Steipe suggests as an alternative: “Tell me what you see, but also tell me how you came up with that answer“. That type of question, he adds, encourages a student to creatively engage with the facts—whether they receive them from ChatGPT or not. “It’s up to us as professors to provide an education that remains relevant as technology around us evolves at an alarming rate”.

The International Baccalaureate (aka IB) offers an alternative qualification to A-levels and Highers and is taken by thousands of children every year in the UK at more than 120 schools. In a very recent and bold move move the IB has decided to allow students to use ChatGPT to write their essays as long as they indicate their source. Quoting Matt Glanville, Head of assessment principles and practice at IB: “The clear line between using ChatGPT and providing original work is exactly the same as using ideas taken from other people or the internet. As with any quote or material adapted from another source, it must be credited in the body of the text and appropriately referenced in the bibliography.” Impressive and forward-looking!


“My students are using ChatGPT to write papers and answer exam questions—and I support it”, Boris Steipe, McClean’s News, March 3, 2023

“Three useful things for educators to know about ChatGPT”, Sam Kirschner, UNSW Sydney, February 28, 2023

“ChatGPT allowed in International Baccalaureate essays”, Dan Milmo, The Guardian, February 27, 2023

“AI has the potential to disrupt the entire knowledge economy. Are you ready?”, blog post, Code Stringers, February 23, 2023

“Five Predictions for the Future of Learning in the Age of AI”,  Anne Lee Skates, Andreesen Horowitz, February 8, 2023

“Should we have more oral exams?”, Aruna Sankaranarayanan, TheHindu.com, February 04, 2023

“ChatGPT banned by Indian, French and US Colleges, Schools and Universities to Keep Students from Gaining Unfair Advantage”, Basith Rahman P P, My Smart Price, January 30, 2023

“If It Was Good Enough for Socrates, It’s Good Enough for Sophomores”, Anne Worthen, The New York Times December 2, 2022