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Setting Default Constraints for Creative AI in the Classroom
Heuristics for develop AI guidelines in the classroom
The more I work with AI in the classroom, the clearer it becomes that we need to be consistently explicit about how and when we want students to use AI writing tools.
But most importantly, we need to explain the why.
Soon, using AI in our writing will be the default, just like word processors today. If we want students to handwrite their texts, we have to be explicit about it and give a rationale.
This week I rolled out a new AI policy to my AI & Digital Storytelling class, setting boundaries on how far AI-generated writing can go and also encouraging students to think critically about the technology and its effects on their writing.
At the end of class, I handed out index cards for students to submit questions or comments anonymously. Here are a few things I learned.
Why Limit Generations?
Perhaps the most innovative element of this policy is my limit on text generations. As a default, students may generate 3 iterations of 150 words each when using AI-generated text in their stories. Most students did not understand this, because they’ve only used ChatGPT.
Though you can do this with some fancy prompt work, ChatGPT does not encourage users to generate multiple possibilities in small chunks, which is what I think integrates best into the writing process. Basically, you write your own text and then ask AI to give 3 possibilities of what comes next. You can see an example below from Soduwrite (the tool we will be using to write stories).
📹 3 Generated Possibilities for a Story Ending.
Notice how each of these generations fit into the story but provide very different options for how to conclude.
This technique helps students explore new possibilities without letting AI take over their writing. When the buzz around ChatGPT finally subsides, writers will be using tools like this that can be customized to specific genres and purposes and prompt creative interaction between human and machine. ChatGPT has its uses, but not really as a writing tool.
This 150-word generation limit confused many students. I realized that this is because they’ve never used a real AI writing tool … ChatGPT does not count. I consider ChatGPT a text generator … not a writing tool. That is why my class is focusing on using tools like Soduwrite. ChatGPT reinforces the binary between human and machines, making it more difficult to use creatively.
This is useful for me to know as I roll out our writing tool for my students this week. They will be required to think about AI writing in a whole new way.
Oh my word … these AI Detectors!
Unfortunately, we spent too much time talking about AI detectors. Personally, I’m not interested in labelling text. AI detection is most likely a futile endeavor (especially if you use the constraints set up in my AI policy). But I don’t really see the point in making a distinction when used as a writing tool.
But students weren’t so interested in how to get away with plagiarism. They wanted to know how they could prove their innocence if falsely accused of using AI in their writing. We spent a lot of time testing out different texts in tools like GPTZero, showing students just how unreliable they are.
That said, it disappointed me how this starts the discussion with fear, which is the least useful way to learn a new technology or even to understand the writing process. Writing is about experimenting … and that can’t happen in an environment of fear.
While we shouldn’t be afraid of the potential of AI in our classrooms, we need to be clear in our expectations and protocols. Setting up the right framework will pave the way for creativity and experimentation. That was my true goal as my students experimented with OpenAI playground last week.
Moreover, students need to be taught to understand and interact with the technology. AI writing is still new and will continue to develop as we use it. This is an opportunity for students to dig deeper into how they will adapt as new technology emerges … AI or otherwise.
Constraints & Creativity
There were a lot of questions about how many AI-generated words could be used and what qualifies as “your own writing.” Mostly, I care little about these questions. If students follow my default AI policy, the writing will be their own.
I realize I can make my stance towards AI clearer … or I need to remind students I take a posthuman approach. I don’t really distinguish between human and machine text. What I am interested in is how the interactions between human and machine produce writing (or meaning).
There is always a human and always a machine somewhere in every piece of text.
But the rules I set up are not to police students and their use of AI … they are productive constraints that will boost creativity and help them approach AI writing tools interactively. It’s not about limiting texts or denying the creativity of AI writing … it’s about giving students the opportunity to use the technology in a new way.
These constraints are arbitrary and can (and should be) changed depending on the context and writing task. There are times when prompting entire chunks of text is useful. And there are times when writing without AI can drive creativity. And then there is everything in between.
Digital storytelling will make use of the entire range … but my AI policy is the default. We will explore other ways of using AI, which I signify by specific badges.
For example, this one allows student to use AI however they want.
📹 This badges allows students to experiment as they see fit.
I call these toggles because they signify parameters that can be turned on and off with different assignments.
Next week we are taking a deep dive into Soduwrite, so I will be interested in how this tool changes the way my students think about AI writing.