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Since the launch of ChatGPT in November, many faculty members in higher education have been worried about how use of the artificial intelligence text generator will harm student learning. Headlines about “the end of high-school English,” “the educational crisis” and, of course, “ChatGPT and cheating” have predominated. But from my perspective as a first-year writing program director, I’m excited about how this emerging technology will help students from all kinds of educational backgrounds learn and focus on higher-order thinking skills faster. Here are 10 reasons I’m excited about ChatGPT.
1. It’s going to help level the playing field. Here’s the truth about the “achievement gap” in writing skills: students who have professional parents and who went through K-12 in higher socioeconomic school districts tend to graduate knowing how to structure an essay and write grammatically correct sentences (for the most part); first-generation students who went through K-12 in underresourced and lower socioeconomic school districts do not graduate with these skills nearly as often. Here’s the very important takeaway from this disparity: the disparity is environmental, not biological. In other words: the students who know how to structure an essay and write grammatical sentences are not more intelligent than those who don’t. I’ve taught in the suburbs, the inner city and the rural Midwest, and if I consider the quality of the ideas, logical reasoning and critical thinking that my students submit, it tends to be fairly similar across similar populations (first-year writers, in this case). Unfortunately, the students who’ve not yet learned to properly structure and punctuate will always receive lower grades, because their work doesn’t present as well. If we allow AI to help students generate first drafts—and I’m saying we should—then they’ll all be starting from a similar place.
2. Moreover, just getting that first draft will serve as a teaching tool; students whose middle and high school teachers didn’t show them how to craft some basic essay structures will now receive explicit modeling from ChatGPT and the like. Over time, using such tools (as a starting point only!), they will begin to internalize those structures.
3. It will allow both students and teachers to focus on higher-order thinking. Let’s say we have a draft generated by AI. It’s going to be grammatically correct, yes, but boring and generic. It’s merely a starting place. From there, students and faculty will begin clarifying and concretizing ideas, adding detail and nuance, and rooting out vague abstractions; in other words, we can now get to the important parts of writing much more quickly.
4. It prioritizes the process of revision, which is the true work of writing. If we allow students to recruit AI to assist in initial drafting, then we get to start with revision. This will be a game changer. Anyone who’s ever taught first-year writing knows that it’s not that hard (nor that productive) to get students to spit out a first draft; it’s extraordinarily hard to get them to revise that draft and to understand that this is where the good writing begins. If we use AI effectively, then we can skip a lot of nonsense and immediately begin meaningful writing practices.
5. It will better prepare students for the world of work. Many professionals are already using AI daily; we are obligated to prepare our students to use these technologies professionally.
6. It will allow for better collaboration between students and faculty. Using AI depersonalizes the first stage of the writing process and gives the team (whether it’s students or student-faculty) a common artifact upon which to begin work.
7. It will improve linguistic skills by forcing what is now being called prompt engineering. This works on two dimensions: for instructors, because we have to account for AI in assignment design, and for students, because in order to effectively get AI to generate applicable content they will need to practice and tweak the prompts they feed it.
8. It will make grading faster and easier. Imagine how much more quickly you could assess for logic, structure and flow if you weren’t tripping over fragments and comma splices or getting lost in one three-page paragraph.
9. It will make grading more authentic. For the same reasons in No. 8—you’ll be able to focus on assessing the important stuff.
10. It’s going to force all of us to revise our curricula in a way that’s going to be more creative, more generative and more fun. I truly do believe this. It’s going to be work, but it’s work worth doing.