304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Discover how ChatGPT is redefining the classroom experience, turning students into skilled writers, not cheaters. Explore the innovative ways AI is enhancing education in this eye-opening article!
Last autumn, when ChatGPT first emerged, numerous U.S. school districts responded by banning the tool. Their concerns were valid, as they feared ChatGPT could transform into a “chatbot,” with students exploiting it to complete their essays on literary works like “The Great Gatsby.” However, schools have come to realize that ChatGPT and its generative AI counterparts such as Bard, Bing, DALL-E, and others are becoming integral in education. Teachers are now exploring innovative ways to leverage ChatGPT effectively while ensuring it aids in developing writing skills rather than promoting cheating.
As former high school English teachers turned educational researchers, we find this question to be of paramount importance. Our optimism about the answers lies in our recent partnership with a high school teacher and his students, where we observed how they utilized ChatGPT for various writing tasks, including persuasive essays and short stories.
Our analysis of the students’ work revealed that they did not simply copy and paste from ChatGPT. Instead, they sought ideas for stories, outlines for arguments or compelling opening sentences to engage their readers. They regarded ChatGPT not as a tool for cheating but as a writing collaborator or mentor.
For example, when tasked with writing letters to their school administration advocating for a new mascot, students primarily used ChatGPT for mascot ideas. One junior, Xavier, asked the bot, “Provide me with characteristics of a warrior.” ChatGPT generated an extensive list of characteristics, including “disciplined, adaptable, and honourable.” Xavier selected some from the list, added his own, and crafted the first sentence of his argument: “The warrior stands as the ideal mascot for our school, embodying qualities of discipline, resilience, and adaptability.”
In adopting ChatGPT in this manner, we believe students can expand their vocabulary, refine their arguments, consider diverse perspectives, and perhaps even evolve their own viewpoints.
Is it considered cheating to seek ideas, outlines, or even complete sentences from ChatGPT? We assert that as long as students acknowledge ChatGPT’s contribution to their work, it does not constitute cheating. In reality, students’ choices underscore the collaborative nature of writing. Writing, like all forms of learning, is inherently social. To compose this article, for instance, we relied on a network of resources, including academic research, YouTube tutorials on ChatGPT, our students’ insights, the guidance of editors at this publication, and online spell-checkers and thesauri. ChatGPT is a powerful addition to this network.
We believe that ChatGPT can be beneficial for all students, especially those lacking an existing support system for writing. Now, these students have access to a co-author, debate partner, editor, and translator. Equally important, ChatGPT can assist teachers who, despite their expertise and dedication, may not have the capacity to fulfil all these roles for their students.
In our study, ChatGPT served other valuable purposes for students. For instance, Laura, when tasked with writing a superhero story, initially struggled to begin. She requested ChatGPT to provide an example of such a story, which it did:
“Jake, a student, is starting his first day at a new school and immediately finds that this is no ordinary school. Students at this school possess superpowers that they use to keep the city safe.”
Although Laura found ChatGPT’s story somewhat uninspiring, it ignited her creativity by offering ideas for characters, action sequences, and a structural framework for superhero narratives. With this guidance, Laura crafted a new story that commenced with:
“I hate school. I’m the only one without a superpower. Brandon’s got a dimension he can walk into, and Dave can hear what he wants no matter how far it is. My biggest brag is that I passed my last algebra test.”
Did Laura cheat in this process? We maintain that she did not. Experienced writers often draw inspiration from existing stories when creating their own work. Without ChatGPT, Laura would likely have sought inspiration elsewhere, possibly from a recent Marvel movie she had watched.
ChatGPT can serve as a muse for students, providing a wealth of examples across various genres, and enabling students to develop a deeper understanding of narrative structure and style. This can significantly enhance their writing skills. While a single teacher cannot fulfil the role of muse for a classroom full of students, AI can.
Students in our study appreciated the ways in which ChatGPT facilitated their writing. However, they also recognized its limitations. Many found ChatGPT’s writing to be mechanical and lacking inspiration, leading them to reject its editing suggestions. One student described ChatGPT’s output as “distant and robotic,” while another deemed it “overly perfect.” Interestingly, ChatGPT appeared to reinforce the value of students’ own voices in their writing.
Will some students misuse ChatGPT and other AI tools for cheating? Undoubtedly, yes, and possibly at higher rates than before ChatGPT’s emergence. Nevertheless, as educators and students become adept at employing AI strategically, we anticipate that more students will gain a deeper understanding of writing and may even engage in more reading than before ChatGPT. Importantly, they will continue to cherish their ability to think independently, as one student succinctly put it, “ChatGPT may echo others’ words, but we still want to express our own thoughts.”