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HomeTechnologyAutomated Mentoring with ChatGPT – O’Reilly

Automated Mentoring with ChatGPT – O’Reilly


Ethan and Lilach Mollick’s paper Assigning AI: Seven Approaches for College students with Prompts explores seven methods to make use of AI in instructing. (Whereas this paper is eminently readable, there’s a non-academic model in Ethan Mollick’s Substack.) The article describes seven roles that an AI bot like ChatGPT would possibly play within the schooling course of: Mentor, Tutor, Coach, Pupil, Teammate, Pupil, Simulator, and Software. For every position, it features a detailed instance of a immediate that can be utilized to implement that position, together with an instance of a ChatGPT session utilizing the immediate, dangers of utilizing the immediate, tips for academics, directions for college students, and directions to assist trainer construct their very own prompts.

The Mentor position is especially essential to the work we do at O’Reilly in coaching individuals in new technical expertise. Programming (like some other talent) isn’t nearly studying the syntax and semantics of a programming language; it’s about studying to resolve issues successfully. That requires a mentor; Tim O’Reilly has at all times mentioned that our books ought to be like “somebody smart and skilled wanting over your shoulder and making suggestions.” So I made a decision to offer the Mentor immediate a strive on some brief applications I’ve written. Right here’s what I realized–not significantly about programming, however about ChatGPT and automatic mentoring. I gained’t reproduce the session (it was fairly lengthy). And I’ll say this now, and once more on the finish: what ChatGPT can do proper now has limitations, however it should definitely get higher, and it’ll most likely get higher shortly.


Study quicker. Dig deeper. See farther.

First, Ruby and Prime Numbers

I first tried a Ruby program I wrote about 10 years in the past: a easy prime quantity sieve. Maybe I’m obsessive about primes, however I selected this program as a result of it’s comparatively brief, and since I haven’t touched it for years, so I used to be considerably unfamiliar with the way it labored. I began by pasting within the full immediate from the article (it’s lengthy), answering ChatGPT’s preliminary questions on what I wished to perform and my background, and pasting within the Ruby script.

ChatGPT responded with some pretty primary recommendation about following frequent Ruby naming conventions and avoiding inline feedback (Rubyists used to suppose that code ought to be self-documenting. Sadly). It additionally made some extent a few places() methodology name inside the program’s most important loop. That’s attention-grabbing–the places() was there for debugging, and I evidently forgot to take it out. It additionally made a helpful level about safety: whereas a primary quantity sieve raises few safety points, studying command line arguments straight from ARGV fairly than utilizing a library for parsing choices may go away this system open to assault.

It additionally gave me a brand new model of this system with these adjustments made. Rewriting this system wasn’t applicable: a mentor ought to remark and supply recommendation, however shouldn’t rewrite your work. That ought to be as much as the learner. Nevertheless, it isn’t a major problem. Stopping this rewrite is so simple as simply including “Don’t rewrite this system” to the immediate.

Second Strive: Python and Information in Spreadsheets

My subsequent experiment was with a brief Python program that used the Pandas library to investigate survey information saved in an Excel spreadsheet. This program had just a few issues–as we’ll see.

ChatGPT’s Python mentoring didn’t differ a lot from Ruby: it advised some stylistic adjustments, equivalent to utilizing snake-case variable names, utilizing f-strings (I don’t know why I didn’t; they’re one in every of my favourite options), encapsulating extra of this system’s logic in capabilities, and including some exception checking to catch potential errors within the Excel enter file. It additionally objected to my use of “No Reply” to fill empty cells. (Pandas usually converts empty cells to NaN, “not a quantity,” and so they’re frustratingly arduous to cope with.) Helpful suggestions, although hardly earthshaking. It could be arduous to argue towards any of this recommendation, however on the identical time, there’s nothing I might contemplate significantly insightful. If I had been a scholar, I’d quickly get annoyed after two or three applications yielded related responses.

In fact, if my Python actually was that good, perhaps I solely wanted just a few cursory feedback about programming model–however my program wasn’t that good. So I made a decision to push ChatGPT a little bit tougher. First, I advised it that I suspected this system could possibly be simplified by utilizing the dataframe.groupby() operate within the Pandas library. (I not often use groupby(), for no good cause.) ChatGPT agreed–and whereas it’s good to have a supercomputer agree with you, that is hardly a radical suggestion. It’s a suggestion I might have anticipated from a mentor who had used Python and Pandas to work with information. I needed to make the suggestion myself.

ChatGPT obligingly rewrote the code–once more, I most likely ought to have advised it to not. The ensuing code regarded affordable, although it made a not-so-subtle change in this system’s habits: it filtered out the “No reply” rows after computing percentages, fairly than earlier than. It’s essential to be careful for minor adjustments like this when asking ChatGPT to assist with programming. Such minor adjustments occur steadily, they appear innocuous, however they will change the output. (A rigorous check suite would have helped.) This was an essential lesson: you actually can’t assume that something ChatGPT does is appropriate. Even when it’s syntactically appropriate, even when it runs with out error messages, ChatGPT can introduce adjustments that result in errors. Testing has at all times been essential (and under-utilized); with ChatGPT, it’s much more so.

Now for the subsequent check. I by chance omitted the ultimate traces of my program, which made various graphs utilizing Python’s matplotlib library. Whereas this omission didn’t have an effect on the information evaluation (it printed the outcomes on the terminal), a number of traces of code organized the information in a means that was handy for the graphing capabilities. These traces of code had been now a sort of “lifeless code”: code that’s executed, however that has no impact on the outcome. Once more, I might have anticipated a human mentor to be throughout this. I might have anticipated them to say “Have a look at the information construction graph_data. The place is that information used? If it isn’t used, why is it there?” I didn’t get that sort of assist. A mentor who doesn’t level out issues within the code isn’t a lot of a mentor.

So my subsequent immediate requested for ideas about cleansing up the lifeless code. ChatGPT praised me for my perception and agreed that eradicating lifeless code was a good suggestion. However once more, I don’t need a mentor to reward me for having good concepts; I need a mentor to note what I ought to have observed, however didn’t. I need a mentor to show me to be careful for frequent programming errors, and that supply code inevitably degrades over time when you’re not cautious–even because it’s improved and restructured.

ChatGPT additionally rewrote my program but once more. This last rewrite was incorrect–this model didn’t work. (It may need performed higher if I had been utilizing Code Interpreter, although Code Interpreter isn’t any assure of correctness.) That each is, and isn’t, a problem. It’s one more reminder that, if correctness is a criterion, it’s important to test and check every little thing ChatGPT generates fastidiously. However–within the context of mentoring–I ought to have written a immediate that suppressed code technology; rewriting your program isn’t the mentor’s job. Moreover, I don’t suppose it’s a horrible downside if a mentor sometimes provides you poor recommendation. We’re all human (not less than, most of us). That’s a part of the training expertise. And it’s essential for us to seek out functions for AI the place errors are tolerable.

So, what’s the rating?

  • ChatGPT is sweet at giving primary recommendation. However anybody who’s critical about studying will quickly need recommendation that goes past the fundamentals.
  • ChatGPT can acknowledge when the consumer makes good ideas that transcend easy generalities, however is unable to make these ideas itself. This occurred twice: once I needed to ask it about groupby(), and once I requested it about cleansing up the lifeless code.
  • Ideally, a mentor shouldn’t generate code. That may be mounted simply. Nevertheless, if you need ChatGPT to generate code implementing its ideas, it’s important to test fastidiously for errors, a few of which can be delicate adjustments in program’s habits.

Not There But

Mentoring is a crucial utility for language fashions, not the least as a result of it finesses one in every of their largest issues, their tendency to make errors and create errors. A mentor that sometimes makes a nasty suggestion isn’t actually an issue; following the suggestion and discovering that it’s a lifeless finish is a crucial studying expertise in itself. You shouldn’t imagine every little thing you hear, even when it comes from a dependable supply. And a mentor actually has no enterprise producing code, incorrect or in any other case.

I’m extra involved about ChatGPT’s problem in offering recommendation that’s really insightful, the sort of recommendation that you just really need from a mentor. It is ready to present recommendation if you ask it about particular issues–however that’s not sufficient. A mentor wants to assist a scholar discover issues; a scholar who’s already conscious of the issue is properly on their means in the direction of fixing it, and should not want the mentor in any respect.

ChatGPT and different language fashions will inevitably enhance, and their capacity to behave as a mentor shall be essential to people who find themselves constructing new sorts of studying experiences. However they haven’t arrived but. In the intervening time, if you need a mentor, you’re by yourself.



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