If you’re a teacher, chances are some of the essays you collect from students were actually written by an algorithm. How do you handle this brave new frontier?
Algorithms capable of generating a trial have proliferated over the past decade. Go online to find help writing your class assignment and you’ll immediately find dozens of options to choose from.
Even the top-tier AI-generating language has its quirks and problems, including a kind of weird language valley. But despite all their many shortcomings, it’s clear that the computer algorithms have reached the point of being able to generate a passably poor high school essay.
This presents a new challenge in cheating detection. Unlike the old copy-and-paste method of computer-assisted cheating, algorithmic writing leaves no traces online; it’s not plagiarism. You can find a lot of arguments justifying this kind of cheating (“I know the subject, I’m not very eloquent”). But what should a teacher do?
It is useful to remember how “writing” software works. He does not “think” the prompt and develop certain ideas. It examines key terms and generates strings of words that mimic the way those words are most often strung together in the number of samples the software used to “learn”.
Set some parameters
There are brute force responses to computer generated trials. Teachers can ask students to write all the essays in front of them, in class, but often good writing takes time to sink in. Teachers may require all assignments to be handwritten, but this can make life much more difficult for the teacher who has to read the assignments.
The software is not very good at using and citing sources; requiring a source for an article can hamper the algorithm. In fact, the more elements there are to include, the more difficult it is for the software to simulate it. Requiring students to compare and contrast a pair of literary works (provided the comparison is not worn out) can force students to use their own brains.
There is also the old habit of asking the student to read their essay aloud and answer questions from the class, which reveals how well the student understands their own work.
What software is good at is cobbled together a piece of inauthentic writing. The teacher’s best response to this is to assign authentic writing homework.
Authentic homework comes from class discussions and debates. When an English class is studying a particularly rich work of literature, the emphasis and emphasis will come out of the class itself, naturally leading to ideas for essays on the work. The discussion becomes one of the texts considered, and it is a text to which the software does not have access.
Essays from local concerns, current events, and real-world issues in the school community all provide material for authentic essays that are hard for algorithms to falsify. And they have the added benefit of being richer and more rewarding assignments for students.
Do some real research
Many teachers have already abandoned the classic Shake and Bake research paper, in which students find sources, choose one, and rewrite that expert’s ideas with enough differences and footnotes to avoid accusations of plagiarism. . It was never a great mission.
Instead, use primary sources, such as local newspaper archives or interviews with living humans. For years I have had students research some of the local history; it was an exercise in research and writing as well as learning about their community.
If I was still in class, I would love to use computer-generated essays in the peer review process. We shared essays with the class (no names attached) and discussed ideas for editing and improvement. What might students notice about the work of the algorithm? I can even imagine a regular “spot the computer essay” contest. All this could serve not only to develop writing skills, but also to understand why the software is not the optimal choice.
Consider an alternative to a traditional essay
There are other ways to convey and synthesize understanding. Computer tools allow students to create a project in which themes and elements are connected in a non-linear way. My co-worker checked her elders’ understanding of Paradise Lost every year by having them try John Milton before local lawyers (if he had succeeded in vindicating God’s ways to man).
There are many formats that involve students writing and understanding without necessarily writing essays. Teachers will need to take a step back and ask themselves what exactly they want to get out of the task.
I have taught English with a strong emphasis on writing for decades. I have made many changes in my approach during this time, and current technology would require another. The many employers who say they want employees who have learned to communicate well in writing may want to think about what that really means to them.
In the meantime, as providers also try to perfect computerized writing assessment, we are getting dangerously close to a world in which computers generate essays which are then scored by other computers and where real human beings are sitting next to them, without learning anything.