Many of you have heard about the possible ways that new AI tools, particularly ChatGPT, might impact student work. ChatGPT is a recent and complex iteration of AI that uses natural language more so than previous bots.
The Adams Center will be hosting a series this semester about AI: what you need to know about it, impacts on higher ed, ethics, and teaching strategies. Mark your calendars for Jan 23, Feb. 16, Mar 9, and April 12.
In the meantime, we’ve gathered a starting place of resources and suggestions:
- Freaking Out about ChatGPT Pt. 1 Inside Higher Ed
- Update Your Course Syllabus for ChatGPT Medium
- Teaching Actual Student Writing in an AI World Inside Higher Ed
- The Alarming Deceptions at the Heart of an Astounding New Chatbot (AI will sometimes just make up facts in order to satisfy a prompt) Slate
“If you ask ChatGPT to write an essay contrasting socialism and capitalism, it produces what you expect: 28 grammatical sentences covering wealth distribution, poverty reduction, and employment stability under these two economic systems. But few professors ask students to write papers on broad questions like this. Broad questions lead to a rainbow of responses that are impossible to grade objectively. And the more you make the question like something a student might get—narrow, and focused on specific, course-related content—the worse ChatGPT performs.” – AI Could be Great for College Essays
“The answer can be found in taking a vintage innovation approach. With vintage innovation, we avoid the extremes of a reactionary ‘just block it all’ approach as well as the naivety of futurism. Here, we mash up the old school and the new tech. We overlay best and next practices. We ask, “what do students need in a world of AI? What does it mean to do human work in a tech-centric world?’”
“All of those strategies may work, but underlying them, teaching experts said, is a need to talk to students about why they write. For most professors, writing represents a form of thinking. But for some students, writing is simply a product, an assemblage of words repeated back to the teacher. It’s tempting to blame them, but that’s how many students were taught to write in high school.” – AI and The Future of Undergraduate Writing
Suggestions for your classes this semester:
Types of Assignments that Don’t Work Well for AI
AI (so far) is not very good at scaffolding work from one assignment to another, so any time you can build writing assignments that build on prior work, it’s more difficult to rely on AI to produce meaningful content. Topic proposals, intro paragraphs, drafts and revisions, any kind of scaffolding is difficult to fake with AI. And it’s just generally good teaching.
AI (so far) has no concept of “indexicallity,” it can’t refer to external objects in a meaningful way. Consider requiring student to reference class materials and notes, or sources that are not available on the free internet (books or articles that are recent, behind firewalls).
- Include visuals — images or videos that students need to respond to — in your assignment. Be sure to include alt-text for accessibility.
- Reference or connect to current events or conversations in your field, especially since ChatBOT is primarily relying on pre-2021 information.
- Ask for application or engagement between personal knowledge/experience and course concepts or topics.
AI (so far) doesn’t know how to synthesize knowledge or make inferences. If you ask it to write a book report or summarize an article, it can do that surprisingly well. If you ask it to compare and contrast the themes of two different books, it struggles to do that coherently and tends to just stack two book reports on top of each other.
AI (so far) has a difficult time replicating writing assignments that require close reading and extensive citation.
Alternative Assignment Ideas
For short reading responses, instead of using open-ended questions in Canvas, try social annotation tools that require students to engage with a text along with their classmates, such as Hypothes.is or Perusall.
Replace an essay or short-answer writing assignment with one that requires students to submit an audio file, podcast, video, speech, drawing, diagram or multimedia projects.
Extend Flipped Learning
- Ask students to read, view, and digest material at home, and then apply, demonstrate, and perform in class.
- Have students write responses in class. If students have 30 minutes to write brief responses to the kinds of questions you might have provided as homework, they will learn a great deal, and as a bonus, your subsequent class discussion will benefit from that engaged individual work.
- Have students respond orally, requiring each student to respond to a different question.
- Have students work in small groups in class to present on topics in class.
When All Else Fails
- Require handwritten responses. Students will groan, and you may too as you attempt to read student handwriting again, but not only will this deter the use of ChatGPT, but research shows that we actually remember better when we write by hand.
- Be on the lookout for AI-produced texts. Foreign language instructors have been coping with the problem of Google Translate for years, and so perhaps must the rest of us learn to cope with AI-produced texts. Play around with the tool and get an idea of what kind of prose is produced to the questions you typically ask. Not only will you gain insights on how to better write your assignments, but you may get a sense of the “voice” — or lack of voice — of the tools. Some users of ChatGPT describe ChatGPT text as follows:
- It’s atypically correct in grammar, usage, and editing.
- It’s voiceless — correct and easy to read, but without any sense of a human person — fallible, uneven, passionate, awkward — present.
- It follows predictable formations: strong topic sentences at the top of paragraphs; summary sentences at the end of paragraphs; even treatment of topics that reads a bit like patter: On the one hand, many people believe X is terrible; on the other hand, many people believe X is wonderful.”
- Take advantage of tools for detecting AI. There are several out there, including openai-detector, found on HuggingFace, a platform for natural language processing based on machine learning. The tool is simple. You can take some text you find and suspect is AI generated, and drop it in to receive a probability reading. Remember that no tool is perfect – and it can take a few minutes to run.
Finally, consider incorporating ChatGPT in your assignments. For example, ask students who choose to open an account to generate a ChatGPT response to a question of their own choosing, and then write an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the ChatGPT response. ChatGPT is interesting! Engage with the tool and discover with your students what it can and cannot do.
“I suspect students could learn more than you would expect about the content of your course while playing with ChatGPT. They could work on teams to experiment with what different prompts and tweaks produce, asking it to write in different styles, and most importantly for learning, analyzing the quality of the results in terms of accuracy of information, logic, style, depth, and so on.
“This could be an interesting opportunity to get students more interested in revision. Ask them to have ChatGPT write the first draft for them, and then ask them to revise the heck out of that, explaining their thought processes.
“ChatGPT is good at providing choices. For example, for a recent article, I asked it to give me ten more interesting titles than the one I was currently using. Students could ask it to generate a number of possible alternatives and then debate which is the best.
I get stuck or stalled sometimes when I write, but I find that for more novice writers, these can be significant roadblocks. Here is where AI could be a true windfall. Help students experiment with how AI can help them get ideas flowing both in the initial stages of writing and when they get blocked or need a boost in later stages.” – Cynthia Alby