AI as a Collaborative Writer

ChatGPT got my attention. Through multiple news and magazine articles about it in such a short time, it was difficult to ignore. Here are the stories that got my attention within a 48-hour period of time during the week before the Spring 2023 semester began:

It was the New York Times article that got to me as it was the top news story on their website for most of the morning. It’s not very often that something directly related to my profession makes the “front-page news” of America’s leading newspaper. This coincided with seeing the article from The Conversation, which is my browser’s homepage and the NPR article as my browser’s “recommended” readings. After reading those articles and more, Chat GPT’s obviously perceived as a threat to journalists and educators, two populations that are getting used to threats more frequently these days, and I’m in that second camp.

Even though I’m a director of an intensive English program now, this artificial intelligence tool got the attention of the instructional designer rather than the university administrator in me. I saw and still see ChatGPT as more of a tool than a threat, and it’s opened my eyes to how artificial intelligence will shape education from 2023 onwards.

My mind is spinning with so many possibilities I can imagine as how AI will help and hurt teaching and learning in addition to administering and developing education programs. For the purpose of this blog post, I will focus on the microscale rather than the macroscale with something I am most familiar with as both a student and a teacher–academic writing.

AI as Writer and Editor

What freaks people out the most, at least in these initial reactive articles, is that the ChatGPT can produce a piece of writing given almost any prompt that doesn’t require information about events from 2021 onwards. Daniel Herman’s article in The Atlantic demonstrates how ChatGPT’s essays are just as good if not better than his talented high school students. Although that was shocking, it was more intrigued by the fact that ChatGPT could revise a student’s writing and make a great paper even better.

The purpose of most academic writing is for students to demonstrate their understanding, at the very least, of the content they learned from a course’s textbooks, lectures, and other sources of information. We educators are familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy for critical thinking, so we’d like our students to demonstrate analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as much as or even more than understanding. And ChatGPT can do it all if given the prompt and the source material to demonstrate AI’s critical thinking.

When a student asks ChatGPT to do the writing for them, the student has asked the AI to demonstrate its understanding and/or critical thinking of the material or information. Maybe coincidentally AI knows just as much as the student, so the AI’s production accurately represents the students understanding/critical thinking. Likely it will know either more or different information. Occasionally AI will write wrong information, but not enough to stand out as the worst writer in the class, perhaps ranked somewhere in the middle.

Where most education systems in the world stand right now, this is wrong. Students should write their own papers because the papers represent their learning. There are other ways for students to demonstrate their learning but writing is the easiest to assign, especially in higher education where multiple choice and short answers don’t cut it. A lot of assessment is designed for the convenience of the grader or scorer. AI will be changing this for teachers, but we’ve just entered the transition phase. Almost every teacher in the field knows the importance of the essay as a demonstration of learning and representation of the student’s voice.

Let’s say the best workaround is writing by hand in class, which is become a far less authentic way to write in the workplace. Cursive is already not taught because nobody writes handwritten letters anymore. I am fine for the first year or two of ChatGPT to use writing by hand as a workaround until most educators know how AI can help us with both teaching and learning. Even if the first draft is on paper, must the whole writing process be? I think that is wrong and harms our students.

Writing by hand may still prove to be a worthwhile skill, but writing every step of the writing process by hand is not. Most employers will require writing on word processing software like the ubiquitous Microsoft Word. By the time most school-age children are in the workplace, Microsoft Word will likely have its own AI that may fill in the entire piece of writing after the thesis statement has been completed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

AI as Peer Editor

During this transitional phase towards AI-assisted learning and teaching, I do not believe there is any harm in using AI as an editor. Right now and for the past few decades at least, many English teachers like using peer editing as a step in the writing process. Some English teachers don’t like this step because it’s “the blind leading the blind,” but that argument is for another paper. I suggest that English teachers should include ChatGPT as one of these peer editors. Let the ChatGPT do the most technical parts of peer editing and let the peers or classmates provide feedback on the more human elements. For example, does the writing capture the students’ voice or stance?

Some writing assignments require the writer’s viewpoint or narrative, and AI cannot capture that…at least not for now and I’m guessing we have at least another generation until AI will know each of us well enough to put our own thoughts to its writing. Now that’s a scary thought! But for now, essay writing assignments should capture the individual’s feelings and unique opinions more than just the facts they learned. Writing assignments should be given to capture what you as an individual know, feel, and believe and not what everyone knows. It’s what we do with the facts presented to us.

I am thinking of the social sciences, not only because I’ve been immersed in the sea of social sciences for decades, but because my earlier years as a student had more essay assignments in social sciences than the humanities or the sciences. Humanities required more creative writing, which is the subject for another blog post, and the sciences required more short answers in hand-written form. From high school through graduate school, I’ve had to write so many papers that I have a lot of examples to provide.

History – AI will be able to write a better paper summarizing a certain period of US and world history than most high school and undergraduate students. The history teacher or professor has at least a couple of options:

  • Write the first draft in class by hand, or, if internet access and AI software can be blocked, write the first draft on MS Word or another similar application. Nobody’s first draft is great, so students should be able to run the first draft through AI to revise. The last step is for the student to revise AI’s writing to accurately reflect the original intention in the first draft. The grader or scorer should be able to see the progression of ideas from a poorly written first draft to a well-written AI draft. The final draft should have the ideas of the first and the stronger skills of the second.
  • Change the prompt so the students have to apply the historical lesson to something that affects them personally, so that they demonstrate how history impacts their personal life (and not people in general)
  • AI can be used to help the outlining process for students to conduct a debate on historical issues. Hashing out the issues with AI may be great practice for presenting one’s case or viewpoint on history. The student should present their chat with AI to demonstrate how they debated AI before they debate their classmates.

Philosophy or any college course focusing on the theories of a field – AI will be able to summarize a school of philosophy or theory better than most students. The philosophy or theory teacher can apply similar options as the history teacher, plus:

  • The prompt asks students to demonstrate the evolution of their thoughts on philosophical/theoretical issues such as life after death, the mind/body duality, the existence of one or more deities, if we’re living in a simulation, etc. If the student gives AI enough information about their original viewpoint, AI may compose a paper comparing the original viewpoint to the learned viewpoint, but the student would need to explain how they got from point A to point B or why they found point B unconvincing.
  • A philosophical conversation with AI itself may be a useful philosophical exercise. This area is ripe for a conversation about intelligence in general. The teacher can grade the student on how deeply or broadly they guided or navigated the AI conversation. The student could even ask AI to write a summary of the conversation with the instructor following up with the students on AI’s summaries in a class discussion.
  • There will be some theories where AI is limited in knowledge and understanding, so finding these limitations will be a useful exercise for both instructors and learners.

These are just a few examples of the many ways we can integrate AI into the classroom, and I hope it helps teachers see how it can be used as a tool for writing. It should end the worst writing assignments where students are to demonstrate their rote memory or critical thinking through an essay. Critical thinking may be better demonstrated through a recorded written dialog with AI followed by a discussion in class.

Lastly, I’d like to remind my readers that this is just one area at the microscale of how AI could transform writing. One area that I need more time to think about is the intensity of writing necessary for tenure-track professors and how AI could make this system both better and worse. Another is how teachers can use open AI to develop lesson plans and curricula more efficiently. I need more time to learn if AI can develop them more effectively. And lastly for this blog, but not in my head, is how specialized writing will be impacted. For example, I’m wondering what law schools think of AI that can write legal briefs and other legal documents better than many lawyers. To what extent is writing an essential skill for a lawyer? Can they pass that skill off to AI? Or perhaps this is already happening.

BONUS – ChatGPT’s Revisions

After completing the above as my first draft, I asked ChatGPT to make improvements for your entertainment and judgment. For me, the improvement is a summary and possibly an “observation” that I struggle with being succinct.

ChatGPT has recently gained a lot of attention in the media, with multiple news and magazine articles discussing its potential impact on the creative process and education. As a director of an intensive English program, the author sees ChatGPT as a tool rather than a threat, and is excited about the possibilities of how artificial intelligence will shape education in the future. The author specifically focuses on how ChatGPT can be used as a writer and editor for academic writing. They mention that ChatGPT can produce high-quality writing and revise student’s writing to make it even better, but also note that this raises ethical concerns about whether students should be using AI to write their papers. The author concludes by saying that the education system is currently in a transition phase and that teachers will have to adapt to using AI in assessment and grading.

Lastly, Grammarly has found two issues with ChatGPT’s writing, so that’s entertaining.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s