What is GPT-4? What Educators Need to Know About ChatGPT’s Next Chapter

(Image credit: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay)

GPT-4, the most advanced version of OpenAI’s headline-grabbing chatbot, was unveiled on March 14 and now powers ChatGPT Plus and other apps.  

The free version of ChatGPT we’ve all become familiar with since it was released in November uses GPT-3.5, and after experimenting with both versions of the app, it’s clear to me that it’s a whole new ballgame with potentially significant implications for me as an educator and my colleagues in classrooms across the globe. 

Here’s what you need to know about GPT-4. 

What is GPT-4?

GPT-4 is the latest and most powerful version of OpenAI’s large language model. It is now used to power ChatGPT Plus and has been integrated into other education apps including Khan Academy’s new teaching assistant Khanmigo, which is being piloted by selected Khan Academy students and educators. GPT-4 is also being used by Duolingo for its top-tier subscription option

GPT-4 is much more advanced than GPT-3.5, which powered ChatGPT initially and continues to run the free version of the app. For instance, GPT-4 can analyze images, and make a graph based on data provided, or respond to individual questions in a worksheet. It can also pass a bar exam and perform in the top percentile on the SAT, GRE, and other assessment tests. 

GPT-4 is also less prone to the “hallucinations” – inaccurate statements – language models are known to fall victim to. In addition, it has an advanced ability to write code. 

In one small example of what GPT-can do, I asked it to create a lesson plan to teach the inverted pyramid journalism technique for a basic new writing college course. This is a topic I teach, and in mere seconds it generated a lesson plan that would be easy to build on. It also produced a 10-question quiz on the topic. As much as it bruises my ego to say, these materials were arguably as good as what had taken me hours to put together in the past. 

How Does GPT-4 Compare to the Original Version of ChatGPT  

Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, recently told me that GPT-4 has next level “science fiction” type capabilities. “GPT-3.5 really can't drive a conversation,” Khan said. “If a student says, ‘Hey, tell me the answer,' with GPT-3.5, even if you tell it not to tell the answer, it will still kind of give the answer. What we're able to get 4 to do is something like, ‘Good attempt. It looks like you might have made a mistake distributing that negative two, why don't you give it another shot?' Or, 'Can you explain your reasoning, because I think you might have made a mistake?'”

When it comes to GPT-4’s ability to generate text, its advantages over GPT-3.5 are immediately clear. The original version of ChatGPT could create startlingly lifelike sentences at times but its writing felt merely proficient rather than skilled. For instance, when I assigned graduate students in January to read a poem written by ChatGPT without telling them, none of them suspected it was AI-generated work. Even so, for the most part my students were not very impressed with the quality of poems it produced. Their verdict, which I agree with, was that they were good enough to pass for human-produced, however, ChatGPT was not good enough to compete with a “real” poet. 

On the other hand, GPT-4 creates better poetry and is also capable of producing longer, more lifelike writing. For example, I asked both versions to "Write a poem about the joy of teaching." 

The Free GPT-3.5 version of ChatGPT's first stanza is: 

To teach is to sow the seeds of knowledge,
To light up the minds of those in college.
It's a gift to share what we've learned,
To watch our students' curiosity burn.

It is corny and obvious in its rhyming yet still kind of impressive for a computer.

The GPT-4 version of ChatGPT's first stanza is: 

In hallowed halls and classrooms bright,
Where eager minds take wondrous flight,
The joy of teaching comes alive,
As seeds of knowledge start to thrive.

Still corny but noticeably more sophisticated, like a student who is trying hard to get this whole poetry thing, even if they are still coming up short. 

How Do You Get GPT-4 and ChatGPT Plus?  

To subscribe to ChagGPT Plus I created an account with Open.AI. To do this click on the “Try ChatGPT” option in the middle of the page. You’ll then have to provide an email address and verify that you are over 18. After that, you’ll have the option of upgrading to Chat GPT Plus on the lefthand menu by selecting “Upgrade to Plus” on the lefthand corner. 

You’ll have to provide credit card info as ChatGPT Plus costs $20 per month. 

What Are The Implications for Educators?  

The education community is going to need to figure out this question in the coming months. Right now it’s obvious that potential benefits for educators and students are significant as is the potential for plagiarism, cheating, and other ethically questionable practices. For example, if GPT-4 can grade your student’s work accurately and fairly, should you let it? 

Less obvious questions about equity also abound. All the tools currently utilizing GPT-4 of which I am aware require substantial per-user subscription fees. While AI developers hope to drive operating costs down, generating the computing power necessary to operate these tools is currently expensive. This could easily result in a new digital divide around AI. 

As educators, we need to use our voices to help ensure GPT-4 and other AI technology is used responsibly and ethically. We’ve seen in the past that this won’t happen automatically, so it’s time to start shaping the future of what AI in education looks like. We need to write the script ourselves, not let GPt-4 or another AI do it for us. 

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Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.