image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
A new academic year is upon us! As we prepare for the year, many professors and teachers (and students too!) are concerned about the pervasiveness and seeming inevitability of AI tools in our classrooms. Some teachers are trying to come up with “cheat proof” tests; others are drafting assignments that are meant to teach students the limits of ChatGPT and its ilk.
I think the solution is, and should be, simpler. After all, it feels a bit … disingenuous to me to try to find a cheat or a workaround for something that is designed to be a cheat and a workaround. So if you’d like to help your students learn to trust their own voices and minimize the role of AI-generated content in your classes this semester, read on!
I’ve had a few instances of ChatGPT surfacing in my classes – yes, in MY classes, where I famously do not grade papers. As always, I dreaded the task of sitting down with the students who had violated our college’s honor code – but honestly, these cases all ended up being positive conversations and excellent learning experiences, both for the students and for me, and they’ve helped me hone and focus my approach for how I want to help students handle the allure of AI tools as they return to college in just a couple of short weeks.
Always my mantra: trust students. Talk to them. We are all human beings. We are all imperfect. We all get stressed and overwhelmed. We all procrastinate (well, if you don’t, then GOOD for you, but honestly I am not sure I can learn your ways!). We all, occasionally, look for an easy way out – whether it’s ordering pizza on a night that you had planned to cook a nice meal, or turning to an AI tool for inspo on your English paper.
My conversations with students who’ve turned to ChatGPT – or, in a similar instance, who’ve relied on SparkNotes, Shmoop, or similar sources and then so overly-Grammarly’d their papers so that they ended up sounding like they’d used ChatGPT – have all ended up positive because my goal was not to “catch” them or get them to “admit” anything. Instead, my goal was to find the root cause:
- What’s going on in your life?
- How busy are you?
- How many projects did you have due this week?
- Why are you anxious about trusting in yourself and believe in the power of your own voice?
We were able to talk, human to human. The students have thanked me – as in, “wow, this has really been weighing on me and I’m glad you gave me the opportunity to be honest about what I did.” And the work they have submitted after our conversations have been honest and genuine – papers that I was pleased to read and evaluate and return to the students with positive comments.
image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash
So how have these situations helped me with my own “ChatGPT strategy” for the next academic year? I’ve decided to get more proactive about this conversation with ALL of my students, rather than having individual talks once an honor code violation to pop up.
In the age of AI, where too much content sounds vague and bland, students need to be colorful. They need to be sincere, to be genuinely themselves. This is how they are going to stand out on the job market. Employers want teamwork, critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and other skills that AI just can’t handle.
So how are we going to practice that in my classes? I’m a big believer in the advantages of having technology in the classroom, but I also believe that there are times we should aim to work in analog. Brainstorming sessions on chalkboards. Mini quizzes and idea generation on index cards. Skits. Yes, SKITS. (We all roll our eyes at the idea, but we usually end up giggling and being genuinely, humanly silly in a skit!) And yes, all of these ideas can be adapted to meet the needs of ANY student with different learning challenges or physical needs.
I’m also going to require students to cite all online or AI tools they use – including ChatGPT, Grammarly, Zotero, etc – to help them recognize and acknowledge the ways that those tools are a part of their work and education. I will not judge them for turning to these tools – though I will encourage them to try flying without those nets. I want them to learn, to be curious, to engage, not to feel shamed or anxious.
These are just a few things I plan to try, but the most important item on my anti-ChatGPT strategy list is to ask students for THEIR ideas. How can we use our class time to build our human skills, as well as our knowledge base? What kinds of human work can we do, and how can we – should we – evaluate that work? This is the cornerstone of the collaborative evaluation process that I use in my classes. I do of course evaluate their work, but I expect them to do their part too, because in the end, they’re the only ones who truly know how much and how well they are learning.
Hey, what do you know? I’m actually looking forward to this!