“It will take 10 years for academia to face this new reality: two years for the students to figure out the tech, three more years for the professors to recognize that students are using the tech, and then five years for university administrators to decide what, if anything, to do about it,” writes Stephen Marche on AI generated writing programs in an Atlantic article that came out at the end of 2022. But all of this handwringing begs the question, “If assignments can be easily completed by a computer response, are they worth doing in the first place?” (Susan Barber, Education Week)
It all started with this article from The Atlantic at the end of 2022 (PDF here). The college essay was finished, the article claimed, because of a new text-based A.I. that would allow students to have their essays written for them by generative A.I. Well, were the predictions true? Where are we now? And how will emerging technologies like Chat GPT (and others) permanently change the landscape of the college writing experience? I think it is still too early to tell, with any certainty, what the future holds regarding the role of A.I. in the research writing process. But we can, at the very outset, begin to develop a mindset for how we will work with these technologies. Our task is to enhance our own work, save time and energy, access a wider variety of ideas, and synthesize what we have learned into a more coherent response without compromising quality or our ability to develop the skill set that we earn through a full engagement of the essay writing process.
But first, a little context.
How Big is the Internet?
The size of the Internet, the speed and sheer amount of data transfer, has become far more than any of us can hope to manage:
- 2 – 4.5 billion pages (difficult to accurately count at any one time).
- Some individual pages, such as the NYT website, have over a hundred million individual articles on them.
- Internet doubles in size every two years.
- More information has moved around the planet in the last 30 years than in all of human history before it, combined.
- Data shows people are less and less satisfied with their online experience, and use less and less information to make their decisions.
- People entering education today will be retiring in 2083. None of us have a clue what the world will look like in five years, let alone then. So how do we educate them for a future none of us can truly comprehend?
Furthermore, what about the massive equity gaps that can be closed, or at least substantially lessened, by students having access to this technology? Students who have English as a second or third language. Students with learning disabilities or attention disorders. Students who have big imaginations and ask great questions but have limited access to the resources necessary to explore those questions fully? Generative A.I. has the possibility to be life changing for such students.
By the time you are reading this, many of the predictions about the future of A.I. in the college writing class will have proven true. Many will be seen as predictable fear-based reactions to drastic change. Many will turn out to have been ridiculous. Much of what is coming cannot even be imagining at this point. So what are we to do? Many writing teachers are devising ways to “catch” students who use generative A.I. to write their essays for them. Others are reverting to in class writing in old fashion blue books to grade students’ writing and critical thinking skills. Some of us, however, see an opportunity here to further build our tool kits as we move towards being more integrative and collaborative thinking, writers, and problem-solvers in an ever-changing, increasing complex world. While Chat AI can be a useful tool for college students, it is important to use it in conjunction with other methods, such as free writing, academic research, and working with a writing tutor or teacher, to ensure that essays are of the highest quality.The following is a list of suggestions for how to meaningfully and effectively incorporate text-based A.I. into any college writing assignment:
- Ask students to participate in co-creating a set of shared values and best practices for the use of ChatAI technology in your class. This shared ownership will likely be more effective than “banning” it or trying to use software to “catch” students using it without proper attribution. (Let’s try to get beyond this notion of “cheating” altogether.)
- Provide students with multiple opportunities to use the technology in ways that highlight its advantages while not losing sight of its limitations.
- Have students take a classroom discussion to ChatGPT and have a “conversation” with the AI which helps to summarize and properly contextualize the major points from that discussion. Then have the students do further research and writing about what they learn from the process. Then bring those findings back to the full class for discussion.
- Have students verify what they discover through interacting with ChatAI by subsequently finding relevant, reliable, authoritative sources in a different medium/modality.
- Have students apply what they have learned in their interactions with ChatAI to their own lives in ways that minimizes the need and incentive for “cheating,” and increases the immediate and long term value of the learning process for their lives, careers, and further educational goals.
- Have students ask a research question to a few different ChatAI programs and compare and contrast the responses.
- Ask ChatGPT to answer a given essay question but have it include scholarly research to justify the response. In fact, command the AI to respond several times. In the time it would have taken students to research one idea, they could have read and evaluated several critical responses from AI to determine how their personal interpretations either confirm or refute ideas in the text.
- Instruct students to enter original ideas in a simple format and ask ChatGPT to convert those ideas into standard essay format. The student could then analyze and evaluate several responses to further develop their own ideas as well as their understanding of formal academic writing.
- Allow ChatGPT to help with the revising and editing process. Students can use all that saved time to engage in further discussion and application of key thematic ideas and link to the world around them.
- Ask ChatGPT to generate a series of outlines to a given question about important concepts from a selected text. Students could then read, analyze, and evaluate which outline most closely reflects their interpretation of the text as well as the reality of their own lives.
- Encourage students who are new to English language, college-level writing to enter sophisticated thoughts in their native language and watch the AI translate them into a polished piece of academic English. This may allow students to practice making meaningful connections with their peers, teachers, and the world around them before they have to produce written work on their own.
Where does Chat AI get its information? How does it generate its responses to questions?
Chat AI is a type of language model developed by OpenAI and other organizations. It uses deep learning techniques and is trained on a massive corpus of text data, typically sourced from the internet. This training data includes a wide range of text, from news articles and scientific papers to social media posts and books, and the AI uses this information to learn the patterns of language and build its understanding of the world.
When a user asks a question, the AI uses natural language processing (NLP) techniques to parse the question and understand its intent. The AI then generates a response by selecting the most relevant information from its training data and using that information to construct a coherent answer.
It’s important to note that Chat AI does not have direct access to the internet or any external knowledge source, but rather generates responses based on the information it was trained on. This means that the accuracy of the AI’s responses can be limited by the quality and relevance of its training data, and there may be gaps in its knowledge or misunderstandings.
Is a college student plagiarizing by using Chat AI to write their essay?
Plagiarism is defined as using someone else’s work or ideas without giving them proper credit. If a college student uses Chat AI to write their essay, it’s important to ensure that they are not simply copying and pasting the AI’s output into their own work. If the student uses the AI’s suggestions to guide their writing, but writes the essay in their own words, gives credit to the AI as a tool used to help them, and provides original ideas and insights, then it is not considered plagiarism.
However, if the student submits the AI’s output as their own work, without making any changes or giving proper credit to the AI, then this would be considered plagiarism and could have serious consequences, such as a failing grade or disciplinary action by the university.
It’s important for students to understand the ethical and academic implications of using technology to assist with their writing, and to ensure that they are using it in a responsible and honest manner.
How is using Chat AI different from just Googling something?
Using Chat AI and Googling are both ways of finding information, but they work in different ways and offer different benefits.
When you Google something, you are using a search engine to find web pages that match your query. You can access a wide range of information from various sources, but you have to sift through the results and determine which ones are the most relevant and trustworthy.
On the other hand, when you use Chat AI, you are interacting with an artificial intelligence system that has been trained to understand language and generate responses. The AI can provide a more conversational and personalized experience, allowing you to ask follow-up questions and receive more targeted information. Additionally, the AI can provide information based on its training data, even if it’s not directly available on the web.
In summary, Googling is a useful tool for quickly finding information from a wide range of sources, while Chat AI offers a more interactive and personalized experience, but with a potentially more limited scope of information. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the best approach may depend on the specific task or information you are looking for.
Should writing teachers and other college instructors be afraid of being replaced by Chat AI?
Writing teachers and other college instructors should not be afraid of being replaced by Chat AI. While AI and other technological advancements have the potential to automate certain tasks and functions, they are unlikely to replace the critical thinking, creativity, and human interaction that are so central to the role of writing teachers and college instructors.
AI and other technologies can certainly aid writing teachers and college instructors in many ways, such as by providing suggestions for improving writing, identifying errors, or generating content. However, the role of writing teachers and instructors goes beyond simply grading papers or providing feedback on writing. They also play a critical role in facilitating learning and helping students to develop critical thinking and creative skills that are essential to success in a wide range of fields.
Moreover, AI is still limited in its ability to understand the complexities of human language and communication, and it cannot replicate the empathy, creativity, and personal interaction that are so important in the educational process. While AI may be able to perform certain tasks more efficiently than humans, it is unlikely to replace the value that teachers and instructors bring to the learning process.
In conclusion, writing teachers and other college instructors have a unique and valuable role to play in education, and the advent of AI is unlikely to replace this role entirely. Instead, AI and other technological advancements can be seen as tools to support and enhance the work of writing teachers and instructors, rather than a threat to their continued relevance.
Can you explain the benefits and the drawbacks for college students who use Chat AI to write their essays?
Certainly, here are some of the benefits and drawbacks of using Chat AI to write essays for college students:
- Convenience: Chat AI can be accessed 24/7 and can provide instant feedback, allowing students to work on their essays at any time, without having to wait for a tutor or teacher to be available.
- Personalization: Chat AI can be trained to understand specific writing styles and preferences, providing personalized feedback to each student.
- Speed: Chat AI can quickly analyze an essay and provide feedback in real-time, allowing students to make improvements faster than they could with traditional methods.
- Accessibility: Chat AI can be used by students with disabilities or other special needs, providing them with an alternative to traditional writing tutors.
- Accuracy: While AI has improved, it is still not perfect and may provide incorrect feedback, leading to students writing essays that are not up to their full potential.
- Lack of Creativity: Chat AI may not be able to provide creative feedback or suggestions for making essays more interesting, leading to generic, unengaging writing.
- Limited Understanding: Chat AI may not have a deep understanding of the subject matter or context of the essay, leading to inaccurate or irrelevant feedback.
- Dependence on Technology: By relying on Chat AI to write essays, students may not develop their own writing skills and become overly dependent on technology.
Can you provide some suggestions for how college writing instructors can effectively and ethically incorporate chat ai into their courses and assignments?
Yes, here are some suggestions for how college writing instructors can effectively and ethically incorporate Chat AI into their courses and assignments:
- Use Chat AI as a tool, not a replacement: Chat AI can be a valuable tool for writing instructors, but it should not be seen as a replacement for the instructor or human interaction. Instead, Chat AI can be used to support and enhance the work of the instructor by providing suggestions and feedback on writing.
- Clearly communicate the role of Chat AI: Writing instructors should clearly communicate the role of Chat AI in the course and what students can expect from its use. This includes explaining that Chat AI is just one tool among many and that students will still be required to engage in critical thinking and independent writing.
- Ensure accuracy and fairness: Chat AI can be limited in its understanding of language and context, and there may be inaccuracies in its feedback. Writing instructors should carefully evaluate the accuracy and fairness of Chat AI’s suggestions and ensure that students receive appropriate and effective feedback.
- Encourage original thinking: Writing instructors should encourage students to engage in original thinking and creative writing, rather than relying solely on Chat AI to generate content. Chat AI can be used to provide suggestions and feedback, but students should be encouraged to express their own unique perspectives and ideas.
- Respect copyright and plagiarism: Writing instructors should educate students on the importance of respecting copyright and avoiding plagiarism, regardless of whether they are using Chat AI or other sources. Chat AI should not be used to generate content that is not original or that violates the rights of others.
By following these guidelines, writing instructors can effectively and ethically incorporate Chat AI into their courses and assignments while preserving the quality and value of the educational experience for their students.
Chat AI could further assist a student with a college writing assignment in several ways:
- Research Assistance: Chat AI could help the student gather information and data on their research topic. This could include articles, reports, studies, and other sources that provide evidence and perspectives on the topic.
- Content Generation: Chat AI could generate outlines, summaries, and other forms of content that could be used as a starting point for the student’s writing. This could include key points and arguments that support the student’s thesis.
- Feedback and Editing: Chat AI could provide feedback and suggestions for improvement on the student’s writing. This could include identifying areas where the argument is not clear, making suggestions for how to strengthen the writing, and offering suggestions for how to improve the overall structure and organization of the essay.
- Reference Checking: Chat AI could assist the student with checking their references and ensuring that all sources are properly cited and attributed. This could help the student avoid plagiarism and ensure that their essay is both accurate and properly supported.
It’s important to note that while Chat AI can provide valuable assistance with research and writing, it should not be relied on exclusively. The student should still engage in independent critical thinking, analysis, and writing, and should not simply use the AI’s output as their final product. Instead, Chat AI should be seen as a tool to support and enhance the student’s writing and research processes.
What is the difference between using available and emerging technologies to assist us and save us time in the research, writing, and editing processes and using them to “cheat” or otherwise minimize our true engagement with the skills necessary to become competent thinkers, researchers, and writers?
When I was a student and even a young instructor, there was a very different attitude about the use of technology in the writing classroom. The general attitude was one of skepticism and worry. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, students were routinely told not to use the Internet at all for doing research, and eventually they were told that only one or two of their sources could come from a source found on the internet. Today, we no longer hold to these restrictions because most peer-reviewed, scholarly research is published on the Internet, along with all of the more questionable material we wish students to avoid.
Similarly, when online citation builders first came on to the scene, writing instructors routinely banned them and forced students to create their bibliographic entries from scratch, without the assistance of these emerging resources. And just like before, teachers were forced to bend on their prohibitions and gradually learn to accept these time-saving resources and move over to teaching students how to properly use them. So something else is needed. Prohibition doesn’t work, so student need to be shown the best and worst ways to use the emerging technology to enhance their experience without compromising the quality of their work. So what is the difference? How do we teach students the difference between using technology to save time, increase productivity, and enhance their research and writing experience without compromising the quality of their work or missing out on the relevant skills they are supposed to be developing.
An analogy occurred to me that might help illustrate the difference. I have struggled with maintaining a healthy weight and being in good physical shape for my entire life. I wasn’t taught a healthy lifestyle as a child and I chose a career that involves a lot of time sitting in front of a computer. So getting into, and staying in, good shape has always been a struggle for me. But there are “experts”: out there who are available to help me change these bad habits and learn how to incorporate more healthy routines into my life. My doctor, for instance, suggests that I try to get around 6-10,000 steps a day. There are even various kinds of technologies available to help me with this. I can use a Fitbit. I can use the fitness tracker on my phone. I can find out how many steps are required to walk around my neighborhood or my favorite parks.
There are several technological options available to me to help me get to my goal. Some are high tech, some involve little to no technology. There are also people available to help me get on track and learn how to be more active and healthy. I am completely encouraged and within my right to engage as much or as little of this support as I need in order to help me achieve my goal of getting healthier. None of what I mention above would be “cheating” the process. But, let’s say I took my fitness tracker and attached it to my dog every day for a week. I could take the results and show them to my doctor to “prove” that I was getting the proper amount of steps in my weekly routine. This would be considered “cheating.” But who am I really cheating here? The doctor may or may not be fooled by this, but ultimately I would be the one losing out on getting closer to my goal of better fitness and overall health.
Similarly, writing instructors must teach students how to use available technologies to enhance their experience in the course, save time and energy in an increasingly busy and demanding world, and find the relevant sources and support they need to thrive and succeed in the courses without compromising the quality of the work or the access to the relevant skills the student is supposed to be developing in the course. Teaching students this critical difference will go a long way to helping them self-navigate these spaces and make their own best decisions with regard to when and how to best use these various kinds of tech in their process. Once they learn how to use the technology to enhance their analytical and rhetorical toolkits rather than trying to use it to replace these skills, they should be more motivated to engage in best practices. It all comes down to clearly communicating the pros and cons of engagement.
Tips for Instructors
- Create Quizzes for Reading Checks.
- Generate Writing Prompts.
- Generate Outlines for Supporting Reading and Writing Prompts.
- Translate Assignment Instructions across Multiple Languages.
- Provide Basic Suggestions for Grammar, Vocabulary, Syntax, and Formatting.
- Create Writing Samples for Students to Practice Revising and Editing.
- Generate Weekly Email Update Templates for Students.