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Opinion: ChatGPT can help students who are non-native English speakers

Dr Anthony Kaziboni is head of research, Institute for the Future of Knowledge, University of Johannesburg.

He recently published an opinion article that first appeared in The Citizen, 05 September 2023.

‘’Even minor misunderstandings of English grammar can hold back students from recognition and opportunity.’’

OpenAI is a prominent artificial intelligence (AI) research and deployment firm based in San Francisco, which aims to create technologies that benefit the whole of humanity and not a minority.

The “Open” in “OpenAI” refers to the tech company’s mission to develop and promote AI in a safe and beneficial way.

On November 30, 2022, it released ChatGPT, a chatbot that uses GPT models to generate human-like text. The chatbot has been the subject of much discussion and debate – from homes and schools to offices and governments.

The Institute for the Future of Knowledge (IFK), a flagship institute of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), has been exploring the intricate relationship between our existing knowledge and the future outcomes.

The IFK has been looking specifically into the role of technology in different spheres in Africa and the global south and is committed to aligning its research efforts with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It recognises the transformative power of emerging technologies and seeks to harness their potential for sustainable development.

In response to the hype surrounding ChatGPT, it held a hybrid seminar in May titled “The Implications of AI Tools in Teaching and Learning: A Case of ChatGPT”.

It hosted another webinar on August 10, “Ethics for Technology Use in the University”, focusing on the ethics of using large language models like ChatGPT by academics, researchers and students.

These events have drawn attention from faculty, students, and representatives of civil society, government and business from countries such as Canada, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, the United Arab Emirates, the US, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

On August 31, OpenAI announced it would release a guide for teachers using ChatGPT in their classrooms. The guide includes suggested prompts, an explanation of how ChatGPT works and its limitations, as well as the efficacy of AI detectors and bias.

Furthermore, OpenAI updated its frequently asked questions to contain additional resources from leading education institutes on those mentioned above.

It cited four unique cases of how the chatbot is being used in teaching and learning in North America (US), Europe (Spain), Africa (SA), and Asia (India).

In the US, OpenAI discussed how ChatGPT is being used to simulate challenging conversations. Dr Helen Crompton, a professor of instructional technology at Old Dominion University, encourages her education students to use ChatGPT as a stand-in for a specific persona, such as a debate partner, a job interviewer, or a new boss.

In Spain, Fran Bellas, a professor at Universidade da Coruña, shared how ChatGPT can be used to create quizzes, tests and lesson plans from curriculum materials. He recommends that teachers use ChatGPT as an assistant in developing these materials.

In SA, I have found that ChatGPT can be a tremendous asset for students who are non-native English speakers. Even minor misunderstandings of English grammar can hold back students from recognition and opportunity.

I encourage students to use ChatGPT for translation assistance, English writing improvement and conversation practice. As many universities in SA – and worldwide – are hurriedly putting together guidelines on using ChatGPT responsibly, we eagerly await OpenAI’s ChatGPT guidelines for teachers.

*The views expressed in this article are that of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg.

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