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I asked the artificial intelligence writing tool ChatGPT to respond to a writing assignment I’ve previously taught in my Introduction to Literature course: compare Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” poem with Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. The response from ChatGPT was not perfect, but it would have been good enough to earn a decent grade.
Students may be tempted to use AI to automatically complete assignments because these machines are free, quick and relatively good at mimicking an academic style. Whether artificial intelligence will advance education or destroy it, faculty members need effective methods for teaching in a world with easy access to these powerful machines.
I have tested my assignments against multiple AI programs as a faculty member and Writing Across the Curriculum director. I may incorporate this technology in future courses, but for now, here are my 10 strategies that prevent the use of AI by students.
- Make a policy. Since AI writing programs are relatively new, students may not know if using them is acceptable. A good policy is simple and concise for students, and it also gives faculty flexibility if they decide to work it into their curriculum. Here is my current syllabus policy: “The use of artificial intelligence (AI) to produce writing for this course is not allowed unless it is otherwise stated by the instructor. If a student is found to have used AI-generated content for an assignment, that student may fail the assignment or the course.”
- Get familiar. Right now, ChatGPT is free to use, and other programs have free trials. Take advantage and experiment. It is easier to spot AI-generated content after working with one of these machines for a day. I have found that AI programs tend to answer my writing prompts in similar ways. Keep anything these programs write to compare with student writing. Such writing machines will continue to improve and be less obvious to humans, but until we have robust AI detectors or other methods, we faculty members will have to rely on our own abilities.
- Take a class field trip. AI programs are not yet capable of writing from real-world observations. In one of my assignments, students have to incorporate an art object from the campus gallery into their writing. In another assignment, students describe interactions between people on the campus. Not only do students enjoy these experiences because it gets them out of the classroom, but also there is currently no way for an AI writing program to write such papers. You can also incorporate service learning into your course.
- Require course-based research. Interviews, surveys, experiments and observations are challenging for students, but they are practically impossible for AI to perform. Incorporating one or more of those activities into a writing assignment will thwart AI programs. However, be forewarned. These machines are capable of writing up fake results. To counter this, have students turn in any raw data or documentation as proof of their efforts.
- Unplug. This is the obvious one. Ask students to write short reflections and analyses in the class with a pen or pencil. Without a connection to a device or the internet, students cannot rely on AI. Consider keeping paper copies that can be used to compare against what a student produces with a computer.
- Use the testing center. Such centers may not be the most inspiring spaces on a campus, but they can be a great place to focus, and they can prevent student use of AI. Contact your testing center to plan what can be used for their writing including the internet, printed articles, textbooks and other materials. Students may even find that writing in a testing center provides a more focused and less distracting space to complete their work. If you do not have access to a testing center, consider holding writing time inside your classroom.
- Assign content behind the paywall. ChatGPT and its competitors were largely trained on open-access internet content. By using paywalled materials, these programs will struggle to produce meaningful responses from that content. Most campus libraries have access to paywalled content, including articles from newspapers, magazines, journals and even television or film series.
- Ask student to show and tell. One tried-and-true method for encouraging students to learn how to perform math with limited or even no help from a calculator is to require students to show their own work. The same method can be used in courses with writing assignments. Require students to submit unedited drafts, markups and any other materials along with their finished papers. Ask students to explain their writing process, which can be done in person or in a separate assignment. If you really want to, require students to use a screen-recording tool to show proof of their process. Although a student could bluff against some of these tactics, it makes relying solely on AI much more difficult.
- Dispatch students to the archives. Archival materials can be rich sources of inspiration for writing. Such materials include physical objects, documents, photographs, audio and videos. The National Archives is a great place to start for curriculum ideas, but many museums and libraries have collections that students can browse in person or online. Because archival materials can be unique and esoteric, they are more difficult for AI to write about.
- Quiz students on their own work. Imagine that you are a student who decides to use ChatGPT to write a paper. You read the paper over once to check for major issues, edit it lightly and then submit it. You show up to class the next day or the next week and are given a quiz on your own paper. Can you remember the main points? Sources used? What about basic factual questions about your subject? Can you even remember the opening paragraph, the body paragraph or the conclusion? Quizzing students on their own paper is a tactic used in writing programs when students are suspected of submitting plagiarized or paid-for papers. And though most faculty members don’t like to use this method, it works.
Have other strategies for controlling how AI is used in your classroom? Let me know what you think. The more we share about our experiences with such emerging new technologies, the better we’ll be able to use them as tools to help our students actually learn more in our classes.