Critical AI

GUEST FORUM: Adapting College Writing for the Age of Large Language Models such as ChatGPT: Some Next Steps for Educators

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Adapting College Writing for the Age of Large Language Models such as ChatGPT: Some Next Steps for Educators 

(Updated 4/17/2023 to include new links)

By Anna Mills and Lauren M. E. Goodlad (licensed CC BY NC 4.0

Large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT are sophisticated statistical models that predict probable word sequences in response to a prompt even though they do not “understand” language in any human-like sense. Through intensive mining, modeling, and memorization of vast stores of language data “scraped” from the internet, these text generators deliver a few paragraphs at a time which resemble writing authored by humans. This synthetic text is not directly “plagiarized” from some original, and it is usually grammatically and syntactically well-crafted.  

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From an academic integrity perspective, this means that “AI”-generated writing  

1) is not easily identifiable as such to the unpracticed eye;  

2) does not conform to “plagiarism” as that term is typically understood by teachers and students; and  

3) encourages students to think of writing as task-specific labor disconnected from learning and the application of critical thinking. 

Many teachers who assign writing are, thus, understandably concerned that students will use ChatGPT or other text generators to skip the learning and thinking around which their writing assignments are designed. 

In the future, the producers of language models may offer tools for identifying texts generated by their systems. Such tools may arise independently, like a recent app that claims to identify ChatGPT’s outputs. It is also possible that government regulators and other policy-making bodies will become involved in overseeing the use of LLMs in educational settings. New York City schools have already banned ChatGPT, and many experts argue that the abuse of LLMs could extend far beyond the impact on students.  

As a teacher and textbook author, one of us (Anna Mills) has been collecting multiple perspectives on the topic for the Writing Across the Curriculum Clearinghouse. Another of us (Lauren Goodlad) is the chair of the Critical AI @ Rutgers initiative and the editor of Critical AI.  Though both of us feel strongly that unsupervised use of LLMs for student assignments is detrimental to learning, we believe that, in the short run, a combination of the practices described below will effectively discourage students from submitting machine-generated writing as their own. At the very least, any student determined to use text generation will encounter significant obstacles.

In the long run, we believe, teachers need to help students develop a critical awareness of generative machine models: how they work; why their content is often biased, false, or simplistic; and what their social, intellectual, and environmental implications might be. But that kind of preparation takes time, not least because journalism on this topic is often clickbait-driven, and “AI” discourse tends to be jargony, hype-laden, and conflated with science fiction. (We offer a few solid links below.) In the meantime, the following practices should help to protect academic integrity and student learning. At least some of these practices might also enrich your teaching.  

Common practices that can be updated in the current context

Portrait of Cristine de Pizan Writing, British Library

Practices we recommend

Photo by Michael Burrows

Additional practices you might wish to undertake 

Practices you might wish to undertake once you learn more about language models

Practices we do not recommend 

Further resources on text generators

(Updated 4/17/2023 to include new links)

Note: Good journalism on language models is surprisingly hard to find since the technology is so new and the hype is ubiquitous. Here are a few reliable short pieces.    

The below academic article is now a classic:

A sample of resources on “AI” more generally (Updated 1/19)

To share your ideas or offer advice please feel free to comment below (the comments are moderated) or write to one or both authors. 

Anna Mills:

Lauren Goodlad:

In addition, the Modern Language Association and the College Conference on Composition and Communication have convened a task force on this topic (Anna is a member). Anyone who would like to contact the taskforce can write to Paula Krebs (MLA director) or Holly Hassel (CCCC director).

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