The Conundrum of AI:

Why teaching our students to adopt lifelong learning is important and how learning basic academic writing skills will help our students succeed now and in the long term

What do Wikipedia, the Internet and ChatGPT all have in common?

They have all caused a rumpus in the halls of education when they first arrived on the scene.

In each case, fears have arisen that students will use these tools to cheat without teachers noticing that something is amiss. Panicked echelons of administrators change rules and regulations in order to circumvent student ability to exploit technology. Tests are taken on paper and in person. Phones are turned off and left on teachers’ desks while computers are forbidden and stowed in bags during exams. Distrust arises between professors and students as assignments are returned; was the work done independently or by AI? How can educators best tell what is real and what has been fabricated by AI? Does the student actually merit this grade or was it a computer-generated paper? These and many more concerns and queries about the honesty of students come to the forefront of discussion when new technology arrives on the scene.

However, all these questions are secondary to the fundamental question that should actually be asked: why do students hurt themselves by using any means except their own mental capacities to achieve temporal goals while foregoing the possibility of actually learning important information, skills and tactics that will serve them better in their immediate and professional future?

The initial answer to this is that education itself and educational institutions explicitly overvalue grades to learning. From childhood, most schools have carefully taught students to value the mark they get for their project more than the experience and knowledge they earn from actually doing the activities themselves. This is not only detrimental to the present situation of our students (they risk graduating without actually having achieved the necessary skills and understanding they need to succeed when they get their first job) but it will be an even greater disadvantage when they actually get into the real world of business and discover that their learning journey has not ended but is actually just getting started. Business people who believe they know it all when they enter business will ultimately fall flat on their face, because they will be inflexible, uninterested in innovation and stuck in the easiest routine to get by as possible.

So, the real question is not, “How do we thwart our students’ cheating?” but “How do we (re)instill the desire to learn and a love of learning in our students?” and if we cannot do that, how can we at least help them understand why true learning has long term benefits that outweigh the short-term gains of cheating?

As an academic writing teacher, I have had it easy in this area; my first class always includes a discussion on the concept that students need to do their own work in order to benefit from the dedicated time and energy given to them in the detailed feedback concerning their work. There is a huge emphasis on the fact that, if it isn’t their work, they will not be able to improve their quality of output. In the same way that runner cannot get faster or fitter by paying someone else to run for him or her, it is not possible to improve your personal writing if you do not write it yourself.

The following classes focus on learning how to gather personal ideas, take notes and/or research, before narrowing the topic, creating an opinion and logically supporting that opinion via lived experiences or acquired knowledge. Next they learn to build an outline and flesh out those ideas through a series of drafts. Of course, all of these steps are required to be submitted with the final project complete with proper references and citation. As a result, the laziness that normally inspires students to cheat, will quickly enable student recognition that having to fabricate all the missing materials will take longer than doing it themselves from scratch!

Even more important is that, as an increasing number of teachers will once again be requiring paper tests to be written by hand in front of them, it is again becoming imperative that students can not only do this, but know how to do so in a complete, succinct manner. For this reason, the learning process required to be able to improve any sort of writing must take place over an extended period of time. Logically, freshmen should follow writing courses over their entire first year, since apprentice writers must not only learn the steps but practice them repeatedly in order to hone those actions into second nature. This second nature will also disincline them from taking the easy way out via technological advances on a daily basis. Therefore, when they are required to produce written work, they can do so confidently and coherently in class and in their professional lives.

As time has gone by and methods have evolved, we have indeed found ways to recognize, cite and make use of both Wikipedia and the Internet and ChatBots and other AI will be no different. What we need to remember in the meanwhile is to continue to encourage a learning mentality each and every chance we get.

Bethani Ann De Long Vehapi