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Artificial intelligence is changing the way writing is taught

OpenAI’s ChatGPT can write B-level middle school essays quicker than you can read.

When I heard about ChatGPT and its abilities, I was fascinated and immediately showed it to my English teacher. After feeding the bot a few essay topics he had assigned in his classes and seeing the results that ChatGPT could spit out faster than you could read it, he was floored. He printed the results and immediately sent them to a colleague, who stormed into the room with an equal amount of shock.

With the newest AI chat bot, ChatGPT can write B-level middle school essays and could be used as a structure to build upon to create well-written essays faster and easier than from scratch. ChatGPT can also summarize pieces of writing, give advice, write poems, share information, and give feedback on writing. However, with being able to pass plagiarism tests, the English education system is unsure of how to manage this new writing technology.

8forty interviewed an English Journalism teacher from a BC high school on the quality of ChatGPT’s work. “I wasn’t aware that it could produce such naturalistic and correct language. I expected an AI writing bot would produce something that was a little bit off, slightly uncanny or surreal that had flaws that were clearly written by a computer. This was completely correct English and the ideas were thoughtful, and is what I would expect an average student to be able to do.”

As a machine that writes things seemingly from scratch, it wouldn’t be flagged for plagiarism. 

One AP English Literature teacher addressed the bot with her class, explaining how it could potentially be used unethically. “Traditionally, teachers look for plagiarism. It is really easy to spot as teachers,” she told her students. “It’s very easy to copy and paste phrases into Google to find the website where it’s from. ChatGPT is not plagiarising in a sense. It is creating the essay for you, it’s writing it.”

English education across the world is concerned about the new technology and its implications. New York City has already banned the AI from use in schools, the department’s spokesperson Jenna Lyle saying that “While the tool may be able to provide quick and easy answers to questions, it does not build critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which are essential for academic and lifelong success.” 

Some fear that the software will bring a new wave of cheating and laziness, while others are excited on how this can improve the workflow and efficiency of essay writing.

This doesn’t mean that every student can get ChatGPT to write all their essays, as the essays may sound different to previous pieces of work. The English Journalism teacher stated that “it wouldn’t necessarily pass the initial sniff test. For a grade 8 student, it would be too good. I might still strongly suspect it’s not the students’ work.”

However, teachers and students alike commented that the writing of the AI “felt very mechanical and didn’t have much nuance, but had good structure.” This means that a student could easily get the AI to write an essay on a desired topic and use it as a template to build from, saving a significant amount of time and possibly have a better structure than if it was built from hand. But it wouldn’t be too practical to use the AI to create the final product.

But the AI itself could not be completely relied on to create a quality essay by itself. The AP English Literature teacher expressed that,“[ChatGPT is] almost like a literacy calculator. People used the calculator to help in math when it was released.” It’s designed to be a tool to aid humans with writing, not to replace them.

In terms of how it’s going to change English classes, we aren’t completely sure yet. “I think it just emphasizes further the need to teach students about originality and independent thinking, finding the correct answer now is in reach of anybody,” said the Journalism teacher. ”Originality and critical thinking is now so much more important because it’s the only thing that we can contribute.”

As AI continues to improve, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s still a relatively new and developing technology. The AP English Literature teacher said, “Right now it’s an imperfect, just-beginning thing. It is only gonna get more powerful. It’s only going to get smarter. A tool that could very quickly have trouble controlling.” While it’s exciting to see what AI will be capable of in the future, it’s also important to be cautious and consider any potential risks or challenges that may arise as it becomes more advanced. 

Either way, it can still help a journalist write a decent conclusion paragraph and include quotes ;).

Featured Image: DALL-E 2

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