Educators should use AI writing tools

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in EdSource.

ChatGPT and other writing tools powered by artificial intelligence or AI can generate human-like stories, essays, poems and other written forms. Authors can use these tools in a variety of ways, including as a muse, inspiring ideas; a co-writer who helps create copy; a reviewer who provides constructive feedback; an editor checking the details; or a ghostwriter writing without credit.

Educators have many concerns about the impact of these powerful tools on teaching, learning, and the use of writing in schools. Should some uses of AI be considered appropriate while others are treated as modern forms of plagiarism? Should students master certain writing skills before being allowed to use AI tools? Can we monitor how students use them? Are AI tools fundamentally changing what students need to learn and how they should be taught?

A common first reaction is to ban the use of ChatGPT. However, bans will be futile as AI writing capabilities become widely available and built into word processors. We must accept that AI tools are changing the way writing is accomplished in all fields and accept that students must learn to use them effectively.

Reform of writing in schools requires careful consideration as it will involve changes in curriculum standards, teaching practices, student assessments, teacher preparation and educational policies. In a way, this parallels previous changes in mathematics education, where calculators went from being forbidden to being compulsory. These changes take time and cannot advance as fast as AI tools advance.

Limitations of AI writing tools

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The impressive capabilities of AI writing tools come with important limitations that educators should consider, including the following:

AI systems do not replicate human knowledge, cognition or emotion. AI systems are trained by processing an enormous corpus of digital text. In contrast, much of human knowledge derives from goal-directed activities, social interactions, modeling others, and other interactions in the real world. These experiences lead to an embodied understanding of cause and effect; emotional intelligence, which involves understanding the needs, motives, and perspectives of others; a sense of family, community and culture; and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of self. AI will never match the richness of human experience.

AI writing quality is limited. Because AI-generated text is based on patterns found in the training texts, it often has a boring, committee-written style that lacks engaging and creative writing. In addition, AI tools are limited in handling complex ideas, so their results are often too simple and unconvincing.

AI systems are often outdated. AI systems are trained as they are built and not continuously updated, so they may produce outdated information and do not respond well to queries that require timely knowledge.

AI systems can produce malicious content. Internet materials used to train AI systems may contain racist, sexist, homophobic and other forms of objectionable content. As a result, AI can produce unintended (or intended) toxic outcomes.

AI systems can lack truthfulness. AI tools can fabricate statistics, historical events, quotes, references and all sorts of other information, often producing authoritative-sounding text that is simply not true.

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Writing with AI tools

Given the limitations, AI tools don’t produce high-quality text at the click of a button. To use them effectively, students need to learn:

Set out directions for goals, content, audience, and style, which often involves writing parts of the text to inform the AI ​​tool what to produce. Prompt the AI ​​to produce the specific results required, often providing separate prompts for each desired result that can range from single sentences to a full report or story. Score the AI ​​output to validate the information for relevance, accuracy, completeness, bias, timeliness, and writing quality. Scoring can result in the instructions and prompts being revised and AI creating alternate versions of the text combining human and AI contributions to create a well-written document.

These steps, which form the acronym SPACE, encompass new forms of human-computer interaction to accomplish writing tasks.

Educators need to understand and embrace the changes brought about by advances in AI, and it’s time to start the challenging work of reforming the way we teach students to write with AI tools. Success requires the collaboration of educators, researchers, AI experts, policymakers, and others from the public and private sectors focused on what students need to learn to thrive in the AI-augmented world they will live in — and already live – to be successful.

Glenn M. Kleiman

Glenn M. Kleiman is a professor in the College of Education at NC State University. From 2007-2018, he was Executive Director of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, leading the Friday Institute team that worked with WestEd to develop the Sound Basic Education for All action plan for North Carolina.

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