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You may have seen a post on Inside Higher Education's blog by Georgetown Professor Edward J. Maloney, “The 4 Stages of AI.” Amidst all the wringing of hands and near hysterical hubbub surrounding the current state of artificial intelligence research and practice, I found Maloney’s take sensible, straightforward, and worth a read. In brief, Maloney has surveyed responses to the current status of AI “from ‘don’t worry about it’ to ‘it’s the end of humanity,” concluding that no matter who turns out to be right, “much of how we work and communicate is likely to change.”
That is the conclusion I have certainly come to, and like so many other teachers of writing, I am interested in engaging with the latest AI developments that we can use for writing, coding, and research. Likening our current situation as the AI version of “the seven stages of grief,” though Maloney articulates only four stages, which he describes as moving from defensiveness to avoidance to acceptance to reimagination. I think this framework can serve us teachers of writing and reading and speaking very well. We can begin, Maloney suggests, with considering whether and how to regulate some AI programs—from an outright ban, as Italy seems to be trying to do, to the use of tools to detect AI at work, to asking students to cite any text generated by AI, or other such policies. Maloney hopes that we will move beyond a focus on regulation, moving from a ‘position of restriction” to one of opportunity to learn how to work effectively with AI.
Maloney’s second stage of AI is therefore to “adapt” to the definite downsides and limitations of the current tools through more one-on-one or small group writing with our students, doing more and more writing in class, or tying assignments closely to in-class discussions that ChatGPT and similar programs would not be privy to. But he cautions that we should retain a strong focus on student learning (rather than on restrictions and punishment).
In Maloney’s third stage, “integrate,” we would use AI tools to foster learning and engagement, helping students learn how to use AI productively and ethically. Many writing teachers are already well into such integration, asking students to use ChatGPT, for example, to outline or draft essays they would then revise, or to use AI to revise and polish drafts they’ve already written. Other teachers are asking students to analyze pieces of writing by ChatGPT or similar programs and to write evaluations of them. As Maloney puts it, “We should teach our students to use these tools in the same way we teach them how to use a calculator, a spreadsheet, or the internet, all tools that have been variously banned …”
To me, these three stages seem well conceived and described. But it is the fourth most drew my attention. Here Maloney acknowledges that engaging AI is bound to affect and change how we teach, and one strong implication of such change is that we may well “need to reimagine what it means to learn, communicate, or create.” Doing so, he says, may reveal that our current approaches to teaching are “structurally misaligned” with the needs of students today and in the future. The AI thus may do far more than add to how we teach:
… the new crop of AI tools have the potential to shift something fundamental. Human beings are language-producing beings. Our primacy in this domain may be changing. If that happens, communication may change. What we think of as knowledge production may change.
Indeed. It seems to me inevitable that communication and knowledge production will change, are already in the process of changing. All I need to do is look over the forty-five years I (and others!) have been arguing that writing is not a solitary, singular act (the myth of the lone author struggling in a garret to produce a great and unique work) but rather thoroughly collaborative seems positively quaint today.
As teachers of writing and reading and speaking, we need to be charting these changes, documenting them and analyzing them. We are going to need new robust definitions of basic terms like “writing” and “speaking” and “reading,” not to mention “collaboration” that can underpin our efforts to teach these communicative acts in swiftly changing times.
Seems to me to be a pretty exciting time to be teaching, and learning!
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