New ChatGPT eyed for better learning at universities

Haya Ajjan eagerly sat in front of her computer on Monday, joking she was on the edge of her seat, watching OpenAI announce its newest iteration of ChatGPT.

“I thought, right away, this is going to change personalized learning,” said Ajjan, associate dean at Elon University’s Love School of Business in North Carolina.

ChatGPT’s newest version, GPT-4o (the “o” standing for “omni,” meaning “all”), has a more realistic voice and quicker verbal response time, both aiming to sound more human. The version, which should be available to free ChatGPT users in coming weeks—a change also hailed by educators—allows people to interrupt it while it speaks, simulating more emotions with its voice and translating languages ​​in real time. It can also understand instructions in text and images and has improved video capabilities.

The new version adds to the tsunami of interest in generative artificial intelligence since ChatGPT’s launch in Nov. 2022. Over the last two years, some in higher education have shunned AI, while others embraced it, and the majority have cautiously begun tinkering.

Ajjan said he immediately thought the new vocal and video capabilities could allow GPT to serve as a personalized tutor. Personalized learning has been a focus for educators grappling with the looming enrollment cliff and for those pushing for student success.

“That application in education is really profound,” Ajjan said. She gave the example of solving a math problem, where GPT could walk a student through solving the equation.

With its announcement, OpenAI released a video showing that very example.

“The technology would allow us to lift up the learning curve,” Ajjan said, describing the Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem, which theorizes students that get one-on-one tutoring perform better than those in a standard classroom environment. “That problem would be resolved; this is a game changer.”

Balancing Concerns and Benefits

As with all things at the intersection of AI and education, the latest advances are also welcomed with caution.

“Despite the advancements of GPT-4o, it’s important to remember that GenAI tools should be used to augment, not replace, the traditional learning experience,” said Darren Person, chief digital officer at Cengage Group, an education and technology firm in Boston. “As the educational community experiments with these tools, it is imperative that the safety and privacy of students and faculty are not put at risk.”

While promoting the recent advances for the potential personalized learning and tutor support, Person said tech companies are releasing these models to capture data to improve the technology, so “it’s important to be cautious, as adopting these models too early can pose a significant risk.”

Risks aside, Gašper Beguš, director of the speech and computing lab at the University of California, Berkeley, said the new technology could help supplement learning by delving deeper into specific concepts.

“When you have a book and don’t understand a passage, you have to ask someone,” Beguš said. “With this, if you don’t understand a subsection, [GPT] can answer you. It’s super powerful; the future is in the very personalized curriculum they will be able to offer.”

There’s also the potential for role playing, according to Ajjan. She pointed to mock interviews students could do to prepare for job interviews, or, for example, use GPT to play the role of a buyer to help students prepare in an economics course.

AIs That Listen and Speak

GPT-4o joins a growing number of offerings from tech companies focused on verbal communication. Those include Google’s Gemini Live, announced Tuesday, which lets users have real-time conversations with the chatbot. OpenAI also has earlier forays into voice responses: premium and enterprise models of ChatGPT already offered it, with five types of voices.

Terumi Miyazoe, a senior associate professor at Tokyo University of Science, used a previous form of GPT’s voice-interaction features last fall to create a lesson design. She said it was “comparable to a colleague.”

In a case study she conducted using the voice interaction features with five students, she found the students asked the bot more challenging questions, something they might not have done with their professor.

Ajjan agreed, saying the tool could also questions otherwise asked during office hours supplement.

“What will happen is students will feel more comfortable to ask questions they didn’t want to in class, and dive deeper into the larger subject I’m teaching,” she said.

Beguš said that since the voice of the new ChatGPT sounds more human, the tool could see a bigger uptick in use compared to a system like Apple’s Siri, which he said sounds robotic. That said, he does not believe the talking AIs will serve as replacements for teachers.

“You can ask ChatGPT about anything you want to learn about, but you need the inspiration to learn in the first place,” he said. “I think that’s what we go to humans for. You want people who are inspired by an object of study and have a human conversation.”

He and Ajjan both said it is important to continue evaluating the technology and its potential pitfalls — but to continue experimenting.

“This technology is going to get better with every version, but it’s important to understand the limitations while still experimenting,” Ajjan said. “We can’t shy away from it. Even the faculty who say, ‘I don’t know where to start,’ or ‘This doesn’t impact my field,’—I don’t think that’s a thing anymore. OpenAI opened the entry field by removing the cost associated with it.”

GPT-4o allows all users to access GPT-4. The older GPT-3.5 served as the previous free model. The new version has fewer false facts—otherwise known as hallucinations—and it is quicker and more nuanced. That could encourage more professors to utilize the technology, according to Ethan Mollick, an associate professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an AI analyst.

“[The] The biggest actual implication of today’s OpenAI announcement is very practical: The top barrier I see when I give talks on using AI is that people don’t pay for AI to start, and they use GPT-3.5 (the free model) and are disappointed, not knowing that the GPT-4 model is 10 times as good,” he said in a LinkedIn post. “Now everyone around the world gets GPT-4 free. This also has huge implications for education and other uses where equity of access to top models has been an ongoing concern.”

Education as the path to peace

In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 24 January as International Day of Education, in celebration of the role of education in peace and development. Education goes beyond critical literacy and numeracy skills, and research demonstrates that it increases competencies like empathy, tolerance, and intercultural understanding. Education is a right, a public good and a public responsibility.

Education, in all its forms and dimensions, in and out of classrooms, can and should be a pathway to bringing about lasting peace in Yemen and beyond. Against the backdrop of high tensions, growing inequalities, and the climate crisis, prioritizing and investing in education is now more compelling than ever.

Children learning at an elementary school in Yemen.

UNDP Yemen / 2023

As part of the UN Peace Support Facility’s phase I interventions, a training of trainers on school safety was conducted to enhance the safety of more than 50,000 students in 50 schools across six governorates in Yemen.

Ensuring that places of education are safe havens for students and education personnel is critical to the continuity of learning and teaching, the right to access quality education, and to fostering peace and social cohesion.

Children learning at an elementary school in Yemen.

UNDP Yemen / 2023

In 2022, the UN Peace Support Facility joined forces with the Women’s Research and Training Center (WRTC) at Aden University to establish a peacebuilding network that aims to upskill and equip community members with mediation, dialogue, analytical thinking and negotiation skills. In addition, the network puts forward the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda and advocates for women’s participation in all spectrums of peace processes through trainings, workshops, and lectures at the university.

The 100 women and men network members continue to actively transfer the knowledge and the skills that they acquired through the peacebuilding network to members of their local communities.

Discussion during a WRTC training session in Aden.

UNDP Yemen / 2023

Dr. Saeed Al-Qashbri is an Associate Professor and Gender Analysis Consultant at the WRTC and the Executive Director of the WRTC’s Feminist and Development Studies Master’s Program Alumni Network.

With more than 15 years of experience as an academic, Dr. Saeed believes that investing in peace education can accelerate progress towards peace in Yemen.

“Due to the diverse demographic composition in Yemen, the educational system has to be recalibrated to allow for the development of competencies such as tolerance, social cohesion, cooperation, and acceptance of others, and rejecting intolerance and extremism.”

“When the educational system becomes more gender inclusive, more women will be able to reach decision making positions. This contributes to the achievement of just and equal societies, thus the achievement of durable peace.”

Dr. Huda Ali Alawi is a Professor of Criminal Law at the Faculty of Law, a researcher in human and women’s rights and consultant in conflict resolution. She is also the Director of the Women’s Research and Training Center at Aden University.

“We cannot achieve lasting peace without education. Education contributes to the psychosocial and cognitive development of communities. It allows communities to learn skills such as mediation and changing people’s behaviors for the better.”

“Raising awareness on the importance of conflict prevention, and the links between the achievement of durable peace and sustainable development, climate action and food security, especially among children and youth, is important because peace is more than just the absence of violence.”

Education offers learners a path to a promising future and a ladder out of poverty, the latter being a key driver of conflict. It should be transformative, and help empower learners with the necessary knowledge, values, attitudes and skills and behaviors to become agents of peace.

These activities were made possible thanks to the generous funding from the European Union, the German Cooperation, and the Government of Norway.