ChatGPT can hinder students’ critical thinking skills

Artificial Intelligence is changing how students learn to write

Image supplied by: Photo by Curtis Heinzl
Ben believes AI-generated writing can leave students feeling unmotivated.

The artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot ChatGPT has created a stir in the world of education. Although ChatGPT has its limitations, it has an abundance of potential and is already a game-changer in the classroom.

Many educators are willing to embrace the chatbot as a new education tool and understand AI inevitability will play a role in the future of education. There’s also another camp that’s been quick to pump the brakes and point out its potential harm to learning.

Although the societal impact of different forms of AI is hard to predict, ChatGPT has the potential to disrupt many key learning elements that primary and secondary schools seek to instill in youth.

ChatGPT’s greatest potential for learning disruption may be its impact on student essay writing. If younger students become too reliant on ChatGPT while learning to write, their critical thinking development and their motivation to continue learning could suffer.

A common concern raised about ChatGPT is that it may lead to more instances of cheating or academic integrity issues. However, it’s simple to check submitted work for plagiarism or use an AI classifier to distinguish between AI-written and human-written text.

The bigger concern is the impact the AI will have on removing the need for students to develop foundational learning skills early in their academic careers.

Critical thinking is one foundational skill students must develop during their time in school. Almost every student must write essays of various forms that gradually become more difficult throughout primary and secondary school.

Essays are a useful educational tool because they promote and force students to think critically. Not only is the student consuming information, ideas, and creating different arguments, but they’re also reflecting on this work and internally synthesizing the content to draw conclusions.

ChatGPT will significantly impact how essays are written. It possesses the ability to instantly generate coherent essays on whatever topic the user asks it to write.

When I asked the chatbot to write an essay on the NHL’s original six teams, it took all of 15 seconds for it to write me an essay on the correct subject with a proper introduction, a narrative, and a well-structured conclusion—no critical thinking required.

Admittedly, it’s unlikely most students would simply copy and paste an AI-written essay. Most users will edit and tweak the essay, a process which requires thought and a synthesis of information.

Therefore, ChatGPT could be viewed as harmless only at the start of a writing assignment. This would allow students to get the lay of the land on their topic and then proceed to editing. Perhaps more AI generated writing will teach this generation of students how to be great editors.

Yet, despite the potential to teach students how to be great editors of AI-written content, students cannot simply rely on editing as the main form of their writing. Students would not be learning to use their own words to express thought, only the words of AI.

There’s an element of flexibility and creativity that come with using your own words to express your thoughts and ideas. Taking that away from students at such a critical stage in their learning development will hinder their ability to creatively express themselves.

When ChatGPT can instantly comb through vast amounts of Internet data and decide what to present to a student, it eliminates another form of critical thinking: judgement. We shouldn’t have students develop a dependence on AI to filter out the information clutter in their lives.

In the digital age where students are surrounded by an information overload, being able to critically evaluate different sources of information is more important than ever before. There’s significant value to be had in learning to comb through different sources of information when scrutinizing what can or can’t be used to support an argument in an essay or paper.

Writing teaches primary and secondary school students how to communicate in an efficient manner. This is a skill required of students throughout their entire academic career, including post-secondary education. If a student completes the bulk of their writing assignments using AI, they will severely stunt the growth of their communication skills.

There’s also inherent value in the process of learning to write itself. Learning to write and seeing improvements motivates students to try new things and understand the value of education.

When the writing process becomes inputting a prompt into ChatGPT to get their desired outcome, the jump from point A to point B leaves no room for learning. Using ChatGPT to circumvent the learning process gives students little incentive to change anything about their writing or the way they learn. 

Primary and secondary schools should strive to instill a love of learning in their students and provide them with opportunities to find their unique intrinsic motivation to continue learning. If AI hinders those objectives, then it’s a serious concern for educators everywhere.

Educators need to find appropriate uses for AI in student learning because it’s here to stay. Nevertheless, they must ensure that at the core of these uses, there are plenty of learning opportunities to be had. 


Ben is a third-year Law student.


artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, essays, learning, students, writing

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