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Notes on the Valley

By Monith Ilavarasan

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About this blog: My parents, brother, and I moved to Pleasanton when I was in the seventh grade. I then graduated from Amador Valley High School, went to college at UC Davis and started out a career in tech. After several years working in large co...  (More)

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The future of homework

Uploaded: Feb 1, 2023
Hey GPT, please write me a haiku about how the Sacramento Kings are a better basketball team than the Golden State Warriors.

Kings rise up strong,
Warriors fall from their grace,
Sacramento shines

Since the release of ChatGPT there has been a lot of buzz around how the tool can produce human-like responses with simple prompts. Much of the initial hype centered around business use cases.

Many a LinkedIn post extolled the opportunity of leveraging ChatGPT for drafting marketing content, responding to customer service requests, translating text from one language to another, or even automating parts of the sale process.

Recently, the East Bay Times ran a piece profiling students and teachers about the potential impact they saw to education. At first glance, ChatGPT looks to drive a seismic shift in the way that students approach school work.

Every kid at some point has looked at an algebra equation or an essay they have to write about Genghis Khan and thought to themselves “When am I actually going to use this in the real world”. The truth is unless they find themselves on Jeopardy, they won’t need to actually use any of the research that they do.

In grade school and later college I was a user of internet assistance. For English classes I would look up sparknotes for a chapter breakdown if I didn’t fully understand a portion of a book assignment. I would head over to Wolfram Alpha to help understand math problems when I was too exhausted to do another integral for Calculus.

In addition, there was always a network of students available to collaborate with and help ease the burden of doing every single homework problem independently. These resources came in handy especially when juggling the workload of a schedule maxed out in AP classes and extracurriculars.

The great penalty of using these resources were the tests that you would take. During test taking time it is just you, the problem at hand, and your wits. There are no other lifelines you can pull on to showcase your ability.

That wasn’t completely true. For math, you could program your TI-84 to store formulas or guides that you could slyly use during a test. But the hours spent manually programming everything into a calculator are probably better spent actually studying the material.

I quickly realized that there is a large penalty to skipping out on the actual work. Every time I got lazy and leaned on other resources the weaker I was during the times where it actually mattered.

As I got older, it became abundantly clear that unless I took the time to do the actual work needed to strengthen my knowledge on a subject, I would feel the pain come test time.

Coming back to ChatGPT, I’m not very concerned about the overall effect on homework or education in general. In my view, the purpose of an education is to foster the ability to think critically. It’s supposed to guide kids on how to process increasingly large amounts of information and synthesize it for a useful purpose.

ChatGPT can be used as a tool on how to get over a roadblock or how to help understand a concept that is initially difficult to grasp. Due to the structure of schooling and the testing safeguards in place, I feel it will simply turn out to be a useful tool to help further an education.
What is it worth to you?


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