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Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at email@example.com or visit her website: Acts of Composition
So... The buzz lately is Open AI language generators and Chat GPT, in particular. It’s got teachers talking, scrambling, and rethinking our roles and pedagogies in the classroom and what it means to write. No doubt, as educators, we have many concerns about the negative implications of these tools. We hear tension in our communities pointing to the major disruptive impact of these language generators, or as Steven Marche writes in the Atlantic article, The College Essay is Dead (December 2022).
The essay, in particular the undergraduate essay, has been the center of humanistic pedagogy for generations. It is the way we teach children how to research, think, and write. That entire tradition is about to be disrupted from the ground up.
We will experience disruption and this tool does present us with real concerns. It is undoubtedly a major paradigm shift that asks us to rethink much of what we know about the teaching of writing. We wonder how it will challenge issues of plagiarism and intellectual property. We recognize the potential threat to students’ abilities to write and think critically on their own. We worry about a world where creativity is merely an algorithm, and the humanity of our discipline is lost.
The fact of the matter is that... we are here... there IS no turning back. We can choose to enter this conversation from a place of fear where students lose the ability to write and think critically or we can search for opportunities, new definitions, and pedagogical approaches. Theorists and practitioners, such as Professor Mike Sharple urge educators to “rethink teaching and assessment” in light of the technology, which he said, “could become a gift for student cheats, or a powerful teaching assistant, or a tool for creativity” (Marche).
This is not the first time in my career that I was forced to reflect on my practices because of the introduction of new technologies and tools. When we moved from typewriters to writing with computers, we had to rethink how we compose and revise. This shift opened opportunities for writers to see revision as more than correction and connected it to thinking and “Seeing again” (Re-vision). It allowed us to revise sentences during the act of composition, reorganize, and substantiate in ways that were difficult with the typewriter as a tool. It helped us to understand the recursive nature of revision beyond a lock-step process. We wondered how tools like spelling, grammar checkers, and citation generators would affect students’ abilities to spell, research and know how to write grammatically correct sentences on their own.
We were concerned when the internet hit the scene that students would no longer spend time in the library and instead find sources in ways that were much more convenient. We worried that students would no longer gain the research practices necessary to foster strong critical thinking and succeed. We had to shift our teaching to focus less on the location of sources and towards the analysis and evaluation of sources since students faced many available options. We taught them new practices such as how to use online databases, key words, and develop a critical eye towards locating themselves within a range of ideas and perspectives.
I was part of the early wave of teachers embracing multimodal composition in our writing classes. In those days, our work was met with criticism, skepticism, and fear. Multimodal assignments were seen only as “creative” supplements to the writing of essays rather than a valid form of communication to prepare our student writers for success in college and beyond. Multimodality pushed us to think about how we defined composition and what would happen if we moved students away from alphabetic writing as their primary method of communication. We introduced multimodal texts for analysis and eventually followed with the composition of multimodal texts as a viable and compelling way to understand and express meaning. Our focus moved off the production of texts towards teaching writing as a rhetorical act through which students analyze their purposes, audiences, subjects, and contexts to come up with the best modes of delivery for their messages. We came to value rhetorical agility and new understandings of genre conventions in light of new audiences, purposes, and digital affordances. We had to redefine our definitions of originality and creativity and open our minds to the idea of remixing and recognizing the ways texts, images, sound, and motion work together to communicate meaning. We questioned our ideas on intellectual property and fair use as composition became more collaborative and participatory. We moved towards an integrated curriculum through which we engaged writers in multimodal analysis and composition throughout their writing processes – from invention to production.
None of us can really say where this is all going and once we get our minds around these tools, things will change again. Some, such as Ian Bogost, in his article, Chat GPT is Dumber than You Think, argue that the tool does not have the ability to, “truly understand the complexity of human language and conversation” suggesting that we will seek out a human component in these texts. I am not sure how this will play out as we learn more about the limitations and affordances of these tools. However, I do know that I will resist practices that put us in a place of fear and have our primary goal to police student writing. First, that is not a winning game and second, it is not why we teach. Instead, we can bring these ideas into the conversation in ways that will help us learn and grow.
Here are some practical ideas we can consider as we move ahead:
- Let students know that we are aware of these technologies and work together with them to understand their potential and limitations. Show the tools to students. Have them play with them, discuss them, challenge them.
- Study these tools as cultural artifacts in the digital landscape, including the human factors and ethical frameworks.
- Use them for brainstorming and invention. AI’s can be a place for students to try out their ideas, explore sources and generate directions for research and writing. The bots can encourage us to ask thoughtful questions and follow up questions.
- Understand and analyze style, tone, and voice as we can guide the tool to emulate these characteristics.
- Incorporate what we already know about process approaches and scaffolding and include the tool as part of a series of incremental steps towards more finished projects.
- Turn our attention towards teaching revision through thoughtful hybrid texts that recognize both student ideas and the ideas of others.
- Keep our attention on teaching writing as a rhetorical act and design assignments that ask students to gain rhetorical agility.
- Celebrate multimodal composition and its many possibilities for meaningful work and expand our creative and critical writing practices.
We always say that we don’t “teach tools” because tools change. Instead, we can focus on the processes of composition and develop a sense of digital intuition through which students explore new tools and learn as they go. We serve our students well to allow them to experiment with digital tools and contribute their experiences to classroom conversations and collaborative work. Ultimately, we will be OK if we keep our eyes on the prize – helping students to read, write, and think critically and recognizing the impact of their unique ideas and contributions.
Marche, Stephen. “The College Essay Is Dead.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 16 Dec. 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2022/12/chatgpt-ai-writing-college-student-essays/672....
Bogost, Ian. “CHATGPT Is Dumber than You Think.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 16 Dec. 2022, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2022/12/chatgpt-openai-artificial-intelligence-writin....
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