What Happens When AI meets Adult Ed?

ChatGPT is a form of artificial intelligence that can assist in teaching English to adult immigrants living in the United States by generating responses to prompts that simulate real life conversational situations. It can be used to generate idiomatic expressions, responses to common questions or complete dialogues. It can also be used to generate quizzes and exercises that test students’ understanding of grammar and vocabulary. However, it’s not without its limitations and controversy. When first introduced in November of 2022, it was decried by many teachers and experts as a tool for plagiarism because ChatGPT could produce work that plagiarism checkers like Turnitin might not detect. Furthermore, representatives of ChatGPT recommend that it be seen as complementary to learning with an experienced human teacher and other more traditional learning approaches.

That said, Kristi Reyes and Ryan Detwiler, in their article, “ESL Meets AI: How We Can Make Our Lives Easier with ChatGPT” outline a number of benefits for ESL teachers employing this technology. They point out that it is simple and easy to use, but that it is not Google. It doesn’t just search an index of results. Instead, its answers are intelligently paraphrased, using concepts that it “understands” after identifying them in a query. Search questions can be tailored and refined for results that can be expressed in different tones and for a specific audience. Responses can also be written from a specific voice, perspective, or format. It can also be used to generate conversations within specific parameters.

Reyes and Detwiler brainstormed multiple ways teachers might use ChatGPT to supplement and enhance work done in the classroom, including:

  • Writing model dialogs with target vocabulary and grammar
  • Comparing formal versus informal tones
  • Generating conversation questions for class topics, vocabulary and grammar
  • Punctuating and formatting text
  • Scanning text and listing Academic Word List Vocabulary
  • Generating multiple quizzes
  • Rewriting texts for different levels
  • Generating cloze and gap-fill activities
  • Generating a list of vocabulary words and definitions from a text
  • Asking students about their interests and needs and then creating individualized materials
  • Generating sentences, paragraphs, and stories for vocabulary and grammar introduction
  • Defining vocabulary and idioms with examples
  • Answering complex grammar or vocabulary questions that a teacher may not be prepared to answer in the moment
  • Writing scenarios for discussion and problem-based learning
  • Writing lesson plans

The article provides a nice introduction to ChatGPT with practical applications that ESL (and also basic skills) teachers can implement in the classroom easily. It also includes additional ideas that should have a direct impact on engagement and persistence in the classroom as well as a link to other AI tools and resources for further research. It’s a fairly compact article with a high degree of return for the time invested.
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