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ChatGPT And The Best Education Is More Than A Score

You may have noticed articles about ChatGPT which uses Artificial Intelligence to write in response to prompts. One of the worrying things is the potential for students to cheat.

Before we get down to the topic of education, I need to explain to you about finite and infinite games:

Finite games are games with a clear endpoint and a defined set of rules. The objective of the players is to win the game, and once the game is over, it cannot be played again. Examples of finite games include chess, checkers, and tic-tac-toe.

Infinite games, on the other hand, have no clear endpoint and the rules are constantly changing. The objective of the players is not to win the game, but rather to keep the game going. Examples of infinite games include relationships, politics, and business.

Finite and infinite games are concepts introduced by James P. Carse in his book “Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility” which he uses to illustrate the different perspectives and motivations of individuals, organizations and societies.

Now when I say that I need to explain, what I actually mean is that I need to cut and paste what ChatGPT wrote in response to: “Can you explain finite and infinite games?”

Personally, I think I could have written it better. For example, in finite games, once a game is finished, it’s finished and that’s what ChatGPT meant with “it cannot be played again”, but the way that it’s phrased it sounds like you can’t challenge to a rematch. And the AI uses similar examples, when I would have mixed them up with other finite games like tennis, golf and basketball. I would have also pointed out that there are different rules for winning. For example, tennis is played till a player (or players) reach a certain score while basketball is usually played for a set time.

Whatever, I managed to get something on infinite games to give to you in twenty seconds or so which freed up my time and let me move on to the main point I’m trying to make.

When it comes to coaching for an finite game, society gets it. When it comes to education, not so much. There is something dramatically wrong with the way we judge schools and it has to do with the fact that most of the measures we use are part of some finite game, while a schools real value is how it prepares students for the infinite games of life.

For example, if parents came to me and told me that their primary school child might be a tennis protege and they wanted me to coach him… Well, I’d actually be very surprised because, while I can actually hold a racket and hit the ball back over the net if it’s my vicinity and not travelling too fast, I’m not actually that good…

But they didn’t want to pay a good coach until they found out if he was worth the money and they heard that I was cheap.

Leaving aside all the implausibility of the scenario and accept for a moment that I’m asked to prepare him for a tennis tournament so they can see what he’s like. I agree and I give him a lesson and I tell him to go home and practise his ball toss because he doesn’t always throw it straight up. I also suggest that he may need to be fitter so I’d like him to run at least three kilometres twice a week. To check on this, I tell him that he needs to record it with a fitbit.

At no point do I imagine that he’ll cheat and get his older brother to do one or two of the runs, while his parents do the ball tosses. After all, that won’t make him a better tennis player.

On the other hand, if I were to ask him write a thousand word essay on what it’s like to be Ash Barty instead of any of the things I’ve suggested I could understand why he doesn’t feel like this is helping his tennis career. And I could certainly understand why he might feel the need to cheat. Similarly, if I explain that it would be really good to understand the physics of the ball movement through the air and in order to help him determine the area under the ball as moves from the serve to landing, he needs to study calculus so I’m putting the tournament on hold until he’s mastered his use of a slide rule. What do you mean we don’t use slide rules any more? Surely something that’s been around that long can’t be improved on.

The basic point is that if the kid is really serious about tennis, then he’ll do the things that seem relevant to improving his tennis, but he’s less likely to want to do the essay about Ash Barty or the calculus.

And, if he does manage to win the tournament and get taken over by someone else, was that a result of my great coaching or simply the fact that he had a natural aptitude for tennis? Of course, great coaching – like great teaching helps – but some kids succeed in spite of their coach and others only manage to perform at an acceptable standard thanks to a great one.

Which gets me back to the original discussion of finite and infinite games. Schools are not like a finite game where all that matters is the Australian Open and where the kid is seeded in the draw is a measure of previous success, as well as an indicator of expectations. Schools need to prepare their students for an infinite game of challenges and, while the eventual ranking is nice and worth aiming for, there’s only going to be a handful who make the finals.

Things like ATAR scores do have value, but the whole ATAR system is a zero sum game which produces winners and losers. Nothing wrong with winners and losers when you’re looking at a finite game. It’s only a problem when you forget that life is an infinite game and it’s what happens after the finite game that counts.

 

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8 comments

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  1. Stephengb

    I went to a Secondary School, a school that was not a gramma school but more of a “job ready school”.

    My school taught me such things as brickwork, wood work and metal forging, forming and cutting.

    Recently I saw a comment (I assume a business operator) where she complained that schools should be teaching kids to at least Certificate level III, so that when they got their first job at least they could carry out the very basics of work practices.

    Now it seems to me that this woman had no understanding of education and its purpose Nor much understanding of schools in recent history. It would seem that this woman’s view of education was based on the idea that schools at least were there to teach kids to be productive for their future employers, from day one.

    Sigh !!!!!!

    I left school 1965

  2. Michael Taylor

    Stephen, in my day it was horses for courses.

    I went to a rural area school on Kangaroo Island, hence almost all students lived on a farm. Subjects thus included woodwork, metalwork and agricultural science. In one lesson on the latter we learnt about the anatomy of a sheep.

    It was assumed that every student would live on the farm for life, and we were taught nothing about life beyond the farm.

  3. Clakka

    I grew up in the bush (urban outskirts) went to a state primary school, jumped a year because of aptitude. Then to state high school, stayed down a year because of ‘social incompatibility’, the following year had to get tuition in maths as the teacher was absent for 75% of the year, was dux of maths the following year. Then we moved interstate, they put me up a year, and doing STEM, I had no idea what they were on about. I applied for college, had to sit an entrance exam and passed. With 4 months to wait, I ran a pool room – loved it, became a master. Then we moved back to the old state.

    Didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do, and I detested rote. Albeit, being a ‘bushy’ and short and fit saw me leader of the Cub Pack, Scout Troop, and the High School Green House.

    Went to college in the ‘old state’ – it was their (and my) inaugural year – it was complete shambles, so I left. Started a carpentry apprenticeship, didn’t mind it, but for all the ignorant, bogan bullies – I snatched it. After a sabbatical in PNG, I returned and smooched into estimating and admin in construction.

    From that point onwards, via the school of knocks and bumps, I rose through the ranks of construction and engineering as a legal/financial specialist on some of the most significant projects in the country, and then branched into specialty areas of aerospace in Oz and OS. Then after the end of the ‘cold war’ back into construction / engineering.

    A few years later, my network crumbled – the nodes either retired or passed away. The world changed, despite a CV and refs as long as yer arm, I couldn’t get a job ….. no degree! Nevertheless, I wrangled my way in and completed a Masters – I was on the programme. Oooops, too late she cried ….. too old / too dangerous.

    I’m right up country now, with experience and reminiscences, and a blueprint for a barbed wire canoe.

    Ha ha ha haaar. Ya gotta larf!

  4. Stephengb

    I think it is high time that our education acedemics, stood their ground and explain to business and politicians (in no uncertain terms that even they can understand ) the actual purpose of educating the population.

    Of course it could be that our academics don’t know – or are actually a part of the problem.

    Neoliberal Ideological Agenda – anyone ?

    Every person should be cognisant of the 1971 Lewis Powell Jnr Memorandum.

    The Lewis Powell Memo: A Corporate Blueprint to Dominate Democracy
    DATE: August 23, 1971
    TO: Mr. Eugene B. Sydnor, Jr., Chairman, Education Committee, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
    FROM: Lewis F. Powell, Jr.

    If you have not read this memo – you need too !

  5. wam

    My weird brain has rarely been excited more than from your writing (and kaye’s) on schooling. Exams, like most school tests, have always been excluding tools disguised as selection. The results were varied by the rich and those with the knowledge and the power and were often ignored by tertiary entrance mechanism. ATAR, like the matriculation subjects of old, is just a computer generated number, it is useful for PR purposes and making some students feel good. The universities paid little more than lip service to it since at least the 60s.
    In 1990 a student scored high 90s but didn’t get entry into the degree he wanted in engineering. The correspondence school advised repeating.
    He was not only a bright lad but had a great attitude and self motivation. His score was unlikely to improve but, as the course had a diploma certificate, I convinced his mother that he was so good that he should enter for the diploma, rather than risk a wasted year.
    The boy was transferred to the degree course before the end of the first semester.
    The medicine course students do science for year one and will take on new students who excel at first year Since the lying rodent made bums on seats the norm students are in on raw scores(before moderation) and can transfer to degrees almost at will. This is supplemented by ‘bridging courses’ for the illiterate and enumerate. Indeed since HECS and HEES allowed uni and institutes, like the rabbitt’s daughter’s ‘scholarship’ access to the government trough without evaluation $billions have disappeared into chancellor’s projects. Albo could do nothing better than produce the amount paid under the help schemes and expose the rorts. ps In my high school arrogance primary school is educationally less effective than competent working class parents with permanent jobs and an extended family. In my experience few primary school teachers would excel at year 9 naplan and fewer had more than token maths/science experience at senior secondary level much less tertiary. Sadly, my last teaching, after retiring, was at a middle school in the maths and science faculty and these staff room conversations were at best, at primary school level. Indeed, I was not confident that these teachers were competent at the subject they were teaching. pps “What do you mean we don’t use slide rules any more? Surely something that’s been around that long can’t be improved on” I agree slide rules have not been improved just the skill needed to operate them have been lost. Similarly logarithms are just as useful today but the learning is not recognised.

  6. Rossleigh

    Anyone who stops and thinks, wam, knows that exams measure performance, not learning. While this seems self-evident and certain people will argue that life is about performing under pressure, etc, this conveniently overlooks the fact that the performance being measured may not be what people are meant to do with the knowledge and/or skills they’ve acquired. As I’m fond of pointing out, if we were to spend a few weeks learning how to win the Australian Open and then we were given a written test on what we’d learned, I suspect I’d outperform many of the players at this year’s event…
    Particularly the ones for where English is not their first language if there were no allowance made for this.
    However, if we were to pick up a tennis racquet…

  7. Rossleigh

    I apologise to anyone who read my previous comment before I corrected it. I said “if there was no allowance…” and as everyone knows when using the conditional tense, one should use the subjunctive form of the verb. I have since corrected it to “if there were…”

  8. Stephengb

    Rossliegh

    Being such an unejumacated soul,

    I did rise to the very pinnical of my chosen career, and I am talking 6 figure salary back 10 years ago.

    As for school, I hated every minute of it, I was subjected to redicule, corporal punishment and bullying, and that was just the teachers.

    If was not for two very good men, after I left school, who helped me to have faith in myself, I would still be chuking bricks.

    Not that there is anything wrong with chuking bricks.

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