Using ChatGPT – a turning point for vocational schools?

Christina Bader, Sandra Zellhahn

This article was written by humans. In an era of ChatGPT and similar applications, it seems highly appropriate to clarify what previously was considered a matter of course. One of the reasons for doing so is the increasing blurring of the boundaries between content which is produced by humans and machine-optimised output. The article uses a practical example to highlight the possible areas of deployment of ChatGPT and to show the preparation of stakeholders at Bamberg Upper Vocational School (FOS/BOS) in Bavaria.

ChatGPT as a silver bullet

ChatGPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is a chatbot freely available on the Internet. It uses AI to mimic human conversation with its users. ChatGPT is able to supply context-specific and sophisticated responses in mere seconds, even for complex work orders. This enables the chatbot to open up new and low-threshold points of access to fields of knowledge which were previously only attainable with considerable (human) effort. But ChatGPT is much more than just a new search engine. It is a tool that is able to compose specific types of texts such as emails, business letters, and entire thesis. ChatGPT also can summarize and translate content, develop examination assignments (and answers them), solve arithmetical tasks, and generate simple programming codes etc. (cf. Bley 2023). Its underlying machine-based learning algorithm ensures constant improvement in the chatbot’s proficiency. The tool is thus able to learn, evolve itself and become more “mature”.

ChatGPT has “come to stay” (cf. Bley 2023, p. 3). Its reach is considerable. ChatGPT is used by more than 100 million active users, inevitably including school heads, teachers and pupils at vocational schools. The tool is therefore achieving its objective of bringing AI to the reach (and comprehension) of everyone. Its capabilities are (almost) boundless. Nevertheless, or perhaps precisely because of this, it is necessary to learn how to deal with ChatGPT and its limitations. The following examples illustrate some selected deployment options for vocational schools.1

ChatGPT in lesson preparation

ChatGPT can be a problem solver for teachers saving their time. In a still far away (?) utopia, ChatGPT will be able to perform the entire preparation process for a teacher. It will plan the individual stages of a lesson and the materials to be used. For now, ChatGPT is already proving itself a valuable assistant, at least with regard to certain individual aspects. Within the scope of designing teaching sequences, interaction with the chatbot may, for example, deliver an idea of relevant occupational actions and challenges which can lead to realistic (learning situation-based) teaching, didactically prepared as an employment-related problem situation.

ChatGPT can also “pimp” the relevant teaching materials. To foster a sense of multi-perspectivity the adaptation of information texts to various perspectives (e.g. business owner, consumer, supplier) may help; it thus may also support democracy and value formation. ChatGPT can also assist with the broad deployment of internal differentiation in lessons by, for example, reducing and practically eliminating the time factor associated with preparing internally differentiated learning materials. In order to counter the heterogeneity of the pupil, ChatGPT can, for example, be used to linguistically simplify basic texts. It can also shorten texts or transfer them into a different style or into a quiz. Also for company-based trainers some areas of potential are given.

ChatGPT as a vehicle for teaching and learning support

ChatGPT is finding its way into the reality of teaching. The active and mandatory use by pupils during lessons cannot, however, currently be required (for example out of data privacy reasons since registration takes place via an email address followed by verification using a mobile telephone number, cf. Stipberger/ Renner 2023). Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent voluntary use in lessons if the teacher permits this. The chatbot may, for instance, then act as a replacement for a “normal” search engine or can help with the solving of complex tasks (e.g. as an idea provider for the development of concepts). For the reasons stated above, interaction with the chatbot can also take place via the teacher. AI tools which comply with data protection regulations, such as one developed by the company fobizz, will be widely available in the near future. The pioneer in this regard is the State of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, which has been supplying all schools with an AI assistant via fobizz since September 2023.2 However, the possible deployment options listed do not nearly take account of the capabilities a chatbot is able to offer. In self-directed learning scenarios, ChatGPT can be converted into virtual learning environments via the formulation of “mega prompts”. The chatbot will then take on the role of a questioner and therefore also of an individual “learning partner”. As part of this process, ChatGPT takes over successive leadership of learners and helps them to get through this learning environment. It shows individual reactions and hints and subsequently undertakes coordinated adaptations to the further learning pathway.

ChatGPT “undercover”

However, it sounds tempting. It cannot be excluded that learners will use the tool for researching and writing assignments or for homework. The same risk applies to the “embellishing” of existing writings into “nice sounding” and grammatically correct sentences. For this reason, the Bavarian State Ministry for Education and Cultural Affairs (StMUK) has issued relevant guidance to upper secondary vocational schools in Bavaria: the use of ChatGPT in thesis by stating the questions posed to the chatbot (“prompts”) should be restricted.3 No clarification is as yet in place in respect of benchmarks for the future deployment of ChatGPT in examination situations, e.g. final examinations (cf. Schürger 2023). School means more than just lessons – that is true for pupils and for teachers. School management, teaching staff and working groups can also make use of suggestions from ChatGPT in extra-curricular matters for purposes such as the planning of school events (e.g. a pedagogical day) or in order to generate initial ideas for longer text passages in annual reports or speeches.

Preparing school stakeholders

ChatGPT is not just old wine in new skins. It is a true revolution, and the consequences need to be addressed. Preparing teaching staff at Bamberg Upper Secondary Vocational School on how to deal with ChatGPT took place as part of internal and inter-school teacher training programmes. Particular attention was paid to the use of ChatGPT in examination situations such as specialist assignments or seminar papers (a form of thesis completed at the transition from the 12th to the 13th grade). One consequence is the adjustment of examination-type questions towards topics which are less easy to research.

The preparation of the pupils at Bamberg Upper Secondary Vocational School was provided in specific information events for the specialist assignment and was also delivered by teachers during ordinary lessons. One of the results of these training measures is an increased but educated and reflective use of this instrument by learners. Concerning content and thematic terms, the information passed on from the considerations presented offered necessary competences to the pupils.

Necessary competencies when dealing with ChatGPT

One question which arises in connection with dealing with ChatGPT at school relates to the competencies which are required and fostered by use of the tool. Initial orientation is provided by the 4C model, which sets out the four learning and 21st century skills of “communication”, “collaboration”, “creativity” and “critical thinking”. These are key cross-cutting competencies in an age of digital education.4 The following alignment with the competencies of the 4C model offers an initial categorisation for reflective use of the tool. By no means it provides any final clarification of the competencies affected by dealing with ChatGPT.

Problem 1: With whom am I actually speaking? Communication with the chatbot involves a human-machine interaction. Unlike in a “normal” interaction between humans, the chatbot does not sense any emotions and nor does it have any recourse to personal experiences or opinions of its own. The texts issued are generated on the basis of probabilities derived from information fed in rather than originating from sources which can be checked (cf. Stipberger/Renner 2023). The limited store of data means that ChatGPT cannot supply current information or respond to unconventional questions on a multitude of topics (cf. Deng/Lin 2022). The art of communication with the chatbot is the following: you have to formulate the “right” prompts in order to receive answers which are as precise and as helpful as possible. Caution should be exercised with regard to the entry of sensitive business secrets (from training and school operations).5 You have to practice steadily.

Problem 2: May I trust the answers? Competencies relating to critical thinking and to the related skill of autonomous reflection are important when it comes to the answers issued by the chatbot. This is because ChatGPT may also give erroneous responses and becomes convinced by “false” information during the conversation (e.g. 2 + 2 = 5). If questions are posed in an unclear way, the tool may also provide incongruous responses instead of making a targeted query for clarification. This may provide a gateway for the dissemination of manipulative false information and propaganda (cf. Deng/Lin 2022). Critical evaluation and the scrutiny of credibility are difficult: that is because communication of the chatbot mimics human communication (cf. footnote 5). ChatGPT should therefore only constitute one possible source of information. Supplementary research, critical counter-checking of what has been read and the formation of the user’s own opinion are all required. Otherwise, in the worst case, a not reflected acceptance of the answers may lead to the dissemination of “fake news”.

Problem 3: What influence does ChatGPT exert on my creativity? The times of empty sheets of paper are over – thanks to ChatGPT. A conversation with ChatGPT undoubtedly provides new impetuses and perspectives to a whole range of different issues and stimulates further consideration, enrichment and mental connections. This might create a source of inspiration. However, you should be careful if the machine is acting as a replacement for independent thought processes and idea generation processes. From the moment on ChatGPT is used, times changes. The user has to bear this in mind; otherwise, he will lose the ability both to write and to think step by step.

Problem 4: Is it possible to use the tool for collaboration? And if yes, to what extent? ChatGPT is not a conventional collaboration tool. Nevertheless, information generated with its assistance can be used for collaborative purposes and therefore also to enrich mutual knowledge. For example, ChatGPT delivers a rapidly available basis of information, which may facilitate discussion and forms the prerequisite to successfully participate in a collaboration. One flaw is that ChatGPT until now is not providing any sources for its statements. This circumstance makes it more difficult to scrutinise the origin of information within the scope of cooperation (or an examination situation). Therefore, when sharing the information, one should keep in mind the original source.

Supporting the use instead of rejecting it

Schools are places of learning. That is the same with AI. A pedagogically and didactically solid approach to AI tools might be a better way of handling circumstances than their wholesale rejection and its rigorous banishment. The way in which ChatGPT is handled should always contribute to the maintenance and expansion of existing competencies. It should not become a replacement for independent thought and actions. AI will determine the future of our pupils already now. Therefore, schools should work with it rather than against it. 


Bley, S.: Gekommen, um zu bleiben - ChatGPT. In: vlb akzente 32 (2023) 03–04, p. 3. URL: www.vlbbayern.de/fileadmin/user_upload/www_vlbbayern_de/pdf/vbl-akzente/2023/0304_2023.pdf

Deng, J.; Lin, Y.: The Benefits and Challenges of ChatGPT: An Overview. In: Frontiers in Computing and Intelligent Systems 2 (2022) 2, pp. 81–83. URL: https://drpress.org/ojs/index.php/fcis/article/view/4465

Schürger, B.: KI-gestützte Sprachgeneratoren in beruflichen Abschlussprüfungen – Information
und Diskussion sind dringend nötig! In: BWP 52 (2023) 3, pp. 43–45. URL: www.bwp-zeitschrift.de/dienst/publikationen/de/19080

Stipberger, F.; Renner, T.: Künstliche Intelligenz. Chancen, Herausforderungen und Tipps für den Einsatz in Schule. In: Schulmagazin 5-10 91 (2023) 5/6, pp. 29–33

(All links: status 03/04/2024)

Dr. Christina Bader
Teacher at Bamberg Upper Secondary Vocational School/Otto Friedrich University of Bamberg

Sandra Zellhahn
Principal and head teacher at Bamberg Upper Secondary Vocational School


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 1/2024): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin