ChatGPT and AI-Generated Writing Models: Prioritizing Equity and Learning

ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence (AI)-generated writing models have come to prominence recently with the public release of ChatGPT. Many have written about the basics of ChatGPT, including how it works and some of the tasks it can complete (such as writing essays, developing syllabi, and generating code). We encourage you to sign up for an account and test out how it works so you can get an idea of the content that it produces.  

From our perspective, ChatGPT’s work is amazingly average. It can construct a reasonable essay, but has a difficult time synthesizing and producing novel ideas. The writing is bland and devoid of any personality or voice of the writer. It can’t incorporate personal experiences, and instead is quite formulaic in its composition. ChatGPT may be able to describe a scientific topic, but it can’t summarize a journal article or analyze that article’s strengths and weaknesses. 

ChatGPT is a tool that can (and should) be leveraged within higher education settings as it likely will be used in the workforce. In just a few short years, students may require AI-related skills to be hired into positions spanning all of our disciplines. Instead of seeing ChatGPT as a threat to higher education, we should think about how to utilize this tool to encourage learning and give students the skills they will need as AI tools become more prevalent. We can also use this time to revisit our syllabi and course content to have a focus on the process of learning, something that ChatGPT can’t capture (at least not yet). 

As you’re considering this new pedagogical tool and challenge, here are some tips to keep in mind. 

  • Talk to students about plagiarism, ChatGPT, and your expectations
    • Tell your students if and how using ChatGPT for the course is a form of academic dishonesty and that you expect their work to be generated only by them (unless you plan to use the tool as part of the writing process, see “if you can’t beat it, use it” below). Explain to them the value of learning (and struggling with learning), and perhaps discuss ways to get assistance if they are having difficulty with the course content and/or assignments.  
    • Rather than taking a punitive approach, frame academic integrity as a transdisciplinary skill that can be built, and which will aid them in their professional work. Offer students examples of what they should do to practice academic integrity instead of just examples of what will land them in trouble. Guide students in appropriate goal-setting for completing writing assignments, provide rubrics and examples of successful submissions, and work with students to generate strategies for what to do when they feel under pressure to act outside of academic honesty guidelines. 
  • Use metacognition strategies for students to reflect on the learning process
    • Ask students to reflect on the process of writing and to examine their choices in constructing a submission. They may even keep a log of how writing is going and what challenges and successes they experience along the way. Why and how did they construct their argument? How did they choose sources and structure? This offers an important metacognitive opportunity for students to examine their strengths and weaknesses as writers, and to outline how they can improve for future submissions. 
  • Focus on the process in addition to the product
    • Offer opportunities during class time for students to develop their writing. You can give them time to map an outline for their writing assignment, receive peer feedback, and/or take time to incorporate your feedback. That way, the process of writing comes across as a more collaborative, iterative effort that benefits from the support and feedback of peers and the instructor. 
  • Incorporate personal experiences in writing prompts
    • Connecting course content to students’ personal lives is a great pedagogical strategy, in general, to increase student engagement and motivation. It is also effective at curbing ChatGPT usage since the tool does not have personal experiences to incorporate or connect to the course. 
  • Ask students to reference course materials and notes in their responses
  • Include visuals/multimedia for students to respond to (with accessibility in mind)
    • Offer images or podcasts for students to respond to and incorporate within their assignments. Make sure to include transcripts, closed captions, and/or alt text if you are utilizing multimedia within your course. 
  • Incorporate different assignment formats that require students go beyond writing (e.g., presentations, infographics, video/audio recordings)
  • Consider a flipped-classroom model
    • Students could be tasked with reviewing and reflecting on course content and/or lectures outside of class, and then engaging with that material during class time. Essentially, students would be doing their “homework” in class, with their instructor in the room to assist when they struggle, which is an effective pedagogical framework even without ChatGPT-related issues. 
  • If you can’t beat it, use it!
    • To help students develop their skills in using AI tools productively in their learning, you might even encourage them to use ChatGPT to generate writing, or provide them with a writing sample, which they then critique and/or amend through a disciplinary lens. For instance, you might ask students to edit and add to the generated writing using course materials and class discussions, or critique the generated writing and explain the strengths and weaknesses of the AI’s structure, arguments, and so forth. 
  • Have students write in Google Docs
    • While we do not promote a punitive response to ChatGPT usage, Google Docs can provide some assurance that students are creating and editing their own work. You could create folders for students to complete their work in, and then be able to track the learning and editing process for individual assignments. 

As you consider what response to these ever-changing tools is most appropriate for you and your students, keep learning at the forefront and equity in mind. If we focus on banning technology, using AI-writing detectors, or asking students to write by hand, we introduce significant equity concerns while also avoiding working with, not against, powerful technology that is here to stay. Dr. Cynthia Alby writes,

I want to beg you not to turn to increased punishment, surveillance, and control, and instead consider how this fascinating turn of events might be a reason for rejoicing.