Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at Westfield State University all about teaching writing in the age of Artificial Intelligence. In addition to myself and Mr. Kvarnstrom, the room was filled with English Language Arts teachers from all over Western Mass, everything from second and third-grade elementary teachers to first-year composition professors, all of us with the same question on our lips: In the age of artificial intelligence, how do we teach our students to write?
It is hard to believe, but the ubiquity of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is only about a year old, with the first version of ChatGPT, perhaps the most well-known and popular AI chatbot, releasing in November of 2022. Since then, it feels as though AI has integrated (or infiltrated, depending on how doom-and-gloom you’re feeling) into many parts of our daily lives and technologies. From Grammarly’s AI assistant giving me writing advice on my emails to Kahoot! offering to use AI to write review questions for me, artificial intelligence is everywhere I seem to look, swooping in to ostensibly make my life easier. And yet, despite the myriad benefits and time-saving potential, one can’t help but wonder… what’s the catch?
The catch, of course, is that in just a short period of time, Artificial Intelligence has changed the landscape of teaching and learning and, as educators, we are only left with questions. How can I tell if my students are using ChatGPT to write their papers? Can I use AI to write my lesson plans? How do I know if the information AI provides is accurate or not?
There are no quick and easy answers to these questions. Some websites claim to be AI-detectors, but their reliability is spotty at best, something that led one Texas professor to mistakenly flunk half of his class for using ChatGPT when they were (mostly) innocent. Additionally, many AI detectors have shown a bias against the writing of multilingual students and English Language Learners.
So… no easy fixes there. But I would argue that, rather than perseverating on catching our students using ChatGPT, we start shifting our focus towards educating our students on using ChatGPT. The fact is that, whether we like it or not, Artificial Intelligence is here to stay.
Do’s and Don’ts For Using AI in the Classroom
I want to share with you some of the DO’s and DON’Ts that Westfield State University’s Reading and Writing Center has generated as a guideline for educators interested in using AI.
Like with anything worth doing in the classroom, the use of AI requires significant reflection and thoughtfulness in order to do well. It is not enough to set students to its use without preparation, nor is it wise to ban its use completely in your classroom. We must find a middle ground that invites careful reflection and ethical use, both for our own purposes and for our students.
Possibilities for Students
How many times have you set your students off working and then surveyed the room, only to see a dozen hands raised, a chorus of voices calling your name, asking you for help? How many times have you finally gotten to a student, only frustrated to discover they’d been sitting idly by while waiting for you to come help them?
Consider how AI might provide a second “voice” in the classroom, a second resource that students could turn to with their questions. ChatGPT, and many similar tools, can offer students a constellation of options for moving forward when they get stuck.
Consider teaching students how to use Chat GPT to…
- Break down a larger assignment into smaller, manageable chunks
- Restate a problem in a different way that is easier to understand
- Highlight key vocabulary or terms in a larger text
- Engage in conversation about a topic or discussion question to brainstorm ideas and generate thinking
- Give feedback, suggest counterarguments, help with transitions, detect tone, etc.
And while you give students these options, ensure that you teach them important concepts like hallucination, when generative AI tools provide incorrect or made-up information. You might also remind students that these AI tools are trained on human-provided data, which means they are as susceptible to biases and prejudices as the humans who trained them.
Possibilities for Educators
Our students aren’t the only ones who deserve to leverage the tools of AI! Think of these tools as an extension of your brain, a way to shift the cognitive load away from the nitty-gritty to leave room for the good stuff!
While I don’t personally believe that AI is going to write perfect lesson plans for you or your students, there are a lot of things AI can do to improve and streamline your teaching.
- https://www.lessonplans.ai/ can help generate ideas and outlines for your lessons
- https://curipod.com/ can help you take your boring Google Slides and turn them into visually engaging presentations
- https://www.humata.ai/ can break down long documents and help you generate reading and discussion questions for class
- https://beta.diffit.me can help you find or created leveled texts that are differentiated for different reading levels and abilities, even exporting to Google Docs to create worksheets and handouts
Use AI to create assignment sheets, to design projects, to revise rubrics. The options are endless!
The point is this – AI doesn’t replace you. AI is only as good as the human who uses it. Only you can decide if the content generated by the AI will work for your classroom and your students.
In an age of standardized testing, online textbooks, asynchronous learning, and on and on, it can feel as though we, as teachers, are doomed to be replaced by robots and computer programs, but I don’t think that’s true. The human dimension of teaching cannot be removed from the equation. Our students are not raw data points to be molded, but minds and hearts to be shaped and touched.
The world is going to end, maybe. But it’s not going to end tomorrow, and it’s not going to end because we or our students turned to a tool that made our lives a little easier, a little gentler. Take some time to check out some of these tools and consult some of the other options listed below.