5 Things About Using AI for Writing That I Wish Enthusiasts Would Remember

AI for writing
(Image credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

Despite all the discussion, I suspect the impact in some subjects of ChatGPT and other similar generative AI tools has been minimal. But for me as a college writing instructor, these AI tools have had a huge impact on my day-to-day work -- and not a positive one. I am regularly dealing with AI-generated papers submitted in my class and, like a character in a Philip K. Dick novel, I regularly have the unsettling experience of suspecting human-generated writing was actually machine-written. 

I still share enthusiasts' belief that there is potential for using AI in education, from individualized tutoring to research and teaching assistance, and I agree banning it is not the answer. But I do think more has to be done to protect the integrity of human-generated writing in schools and that the conversation around AI should always address this. 

As we continue to figure out how generative AI fits into our curriculums and the world as a whole, here are some things I wish the pro-AI crowd would consider and address in their talks and writing on the subject.  

1. Students Are Using AI to Submit Papers For Almost Every Written Assignment 

The problems posed by AI are here and real and occurring in classrooms every day. A recent survey of college students and their AI use found that 37% of students use ChatGGPT, and of those students, 96% use ChatGPT for school work, 69% percent use it for help with writing, and 29% percent use it to generate entire papers. 

Using AI to help study and be organized is great, using it to generate entire papers not so much. In my undergraduate classes, I have noticed the rate of AI submissions to be trending up. In a class of 20 students, I now expect to see at least three AI-generated papers per assignment. 

2. Reading AI Papers Is Demoralizing  

Until it happens to you, it can be difficult to fully grasp how unsettling and demoralizing it is to come across AI-generated work in your classes. When you suspect a paper is AI-generated but can’t prove it, you have to spend time grading inauthentic work and pretending this feedback matters to the student. 

AI submissions can also infect a whole batch of papers, making you wonder unfairly about ones that were actually generated by humans. It’s a new kind of stress that just wasn’t part of the job a year ago. 

3. Preventing Students From Submitting AI Papers is Hard

I’ve written about how instructors can rework their writing prompts to make these as AI-proof as possible. However, doing this requires extra time and is placing an undo burden on individual instructors. And at best, even AI-resistant prompts only limit the amount of AI-generated papers submitted. 

Suggesting that the problem of AI papers is overblown or requires just minor tweaks to prompts is underselling the scope of the problem and gaslighting those of us dealing with it on a regular basis. Schools and universities need to stop leaving this challenge to individual teachers, and we need stronger institutional responses overall to the problem of AI writing. Those dismissing concerns should remember this.  

4. Writing Isn't Drudgery

When I interviewed Anurag Acharya, one of the founders of Google Scholar, he told me that using a Google Scholar function or a similar tool to generate citations made sense. Essentially — in my words not his — students had better ways to use their time than look up archaic rules that a computer could generate instantly. 

I agree when it comes to citations, however, I vehemently disagree with those who suggest that the same applies to writing itself. Writing isn’t always fun but it's very rarely drudgery. It’s an ancient practice that has been inherently linked to how we interact with and understand the world for thousands of years.  

5. Writing is Linked to Cognition

Others are more qualified to talk about the link between human cognition and writing, but I know that writing about the world helps me understand it. And that when I consider a topic or a question or an argument and take the time to solidify my thoughts in paper, I understand that subject better and more deeply. 

I know writing doesn’t come as easily to everyone and different people process the world differently, except our students deserve a chance to develop this ability that can serve them in so many ways beyond the scope of what seems to be a short writing assignment. 

In other words, this conversation around AI and writing isn’t about writing at all, it’s about thinking and making sure we continue to facilitate the type of thinking writing supports.  

Recent updates

Correction April 24, 2024: The original version of this story misstated the number of students who said they used ChatGPT in a survey: 37% percent of students said they used it, not 96% percent as originally stated.

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.