I used to think I knew what it meant to write and to teach how to write, but in recent weeks I am not so sure anymore.
I’ve read how AI Chat GPT can write paragraphs hard to distinguish from student-written paragraphs. I’ve read some of those Chat GPT paragraphs, and I can’t tell the difference. Is this how students—those who can afford Chat GPT—will write now: input information and receive coherent, grammatically correct output to turn in for assignments?
Since students will certainly use Chat GPT and other AI like it, what do teachers teach? If not on the writing process, should the focus be on key words? Should teachers look at the output and think, well, the input must have been pretty good to achieve this good of an output, so I’ll give the student an A+ on input. Are key words what we will be grading from now on since we can expect the actual composing will be done by a machine?
Do teachers need to ask students to weave some highly local information—the spelling bee yesterday at XYZ School, the performance of substitute teacher Mrs. Poggi last week—into their writing so that AI has no way to access that local information into its output, and so students are forced to write for themselves?
Do teachers need to look at the kind of writing AI can do well—description, for example, and historical summaries—and no longer assign that kind of writing? Do teachers need to look at the kind of writing AI can’t do well—hypothetical situations, for example, or inference or human emotions—and and assign writing embedding those concepts? (If General Lee had asked for your advice when President Lincoln offered him command of the Union armies at the start of the Civil War, what would you have advised him in view of his reputation then and today?)
With visual information sources (streaming TV, YouTube, video games, and Facetime) replacing more static sources (newspapers, journals, and letters) in the 21st century, is the kind of writing teachers focused on in the 20th century no longer useful to students today? Should English teachers stop asking students to write essays determining who is responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet and instead ask students to create a video comparing the open carrying of swords in 16th century Verona to the open carrying of guns in the US today—complete with photos of swords and guns and videos of sword fights and gun fights?
We are living in a period of rapid flux, with the technology of 2022 already out of date in 2023. The teacher education I received in the early 1990s was outdated then, with no mention of how to incorporate computers into learning—and for that matter, no course on how to teach writing. I assume courses on teaching writing are now offered, but I suspect none incorporate how to use Chat GPT as a writing tool. And by the time they do, it will be supplanted by a more advanced technology.
Which brings me back to my point: What does “to write” mean in 2023.