Learning Technology Coach Podcast

S3E3. Academic Writing and the Impact of Artificial Intelligence

November 07, 2023 Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL), Memorial University Season 3 Episode 3
Learning Technology Coach Podcast
S3E3. Academic Writing and the Impact of Artificial Intelligence
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Featuring Carolyn Best - Manager, Writing Centre, Memorial University

Carolyn is an expert in academic writing and has extensive experience teaching it to second-language students.

In this episode, hear what a writing expert says about using generative AI in academic writing. Carolyn believes that, despite some of the potential drawbacks of AI, it can be valuable in aiding students to improve their writing. The way we think, write, and use our creativity might change under AI – change, not worsen. Also, we’ll hear some tips on how instructors could implement AI in their teaching and embrace it as a learning tool.

The Learning Technology Coach Podcast is a CITL production.

Speaker Key:
TO              Timilehin Oguntuyaki
VK              Verena Kalter
CB              Carolyn Best
AN              Announcer


TO | Hello, everyone. My name is Timilehin.

VK | And I am Verena. 

TO | And welcome to the Learning Technology Coach Podcast. 

VK | In Series Three, we delve into the world of artificial intelligence…

TO | It’s role in post-secondary education…

VK | How it’s being implemented into the learning space…

TO | Plus a whole lot more. Welcome to another episode of the Learning Technology Coach Podcast. With me in the Media Services production studio of The Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning is my amazing co-host, Verena. Hello, Verena. 

VK | Hello, Timilehin. Thank you so much. It’s good to be back in the studio with you today. Timilehin, let’s be honest, writing is hard. It’s something that takes a lot of practice and can be particularly challenging when you’re just starting out. 

TO | That’s right. I used to think that I love writing until I started writing in graduate school. However, there are many resources out there that can help students succeed in their writing. For example, Memorial University’s Writing Centre assists students in their writing by reviewing grammar or by helping organise scientific papers. 

VK | That’s right. It’s great to know that you’re not alone and can get support in this challenging but important task. Of course, artificial intelligence has found its way into academic writing as well. In this episode, we want to explore the potential implications of this. 

TO | And we are excited to let you know that we interviewed the manager of Memorial University’s Writing Centre, who shared her experience regarding student writing and the use of AI with us. Every student and teacher should listen to this. Enjoy and learn. 

Welcome back to the studio. Writing is an essential part of completing a degree. And since we’ve been exploring how generative artificial intelligence tools can make or mask students’ creativity, we would like to discuss how AI impacts student writing today. 

VK | Yes, absolutely. We have witnessed the rise of many generative AI technologies that students can leverage to improve their writing skills. It is also important though to mention that these tools shouldn’t be used without critically assessing their output. 

TO | That’s very true, Verena. These tools are good and they have come to stay. Always know that you are in charge of your work though. You are the one in control of these tools. Don’t let them control you. 

VK | Yes, exactly. And that’s the reason we are inviting somebody today that works with students to come tell us about what her observations have been since generative AI tools have become more accessible to students. 

TO | Yes. We have the Manager of the Writing Centre of the Memorial University, Carolyn Best, with us today, and we’re excited to learn from her experience. Verena, please introduce our special guest to our listeners. 

VK | Yes, gladly, Timilehin. Carolyn is the Manager of The Writing Centre at Memorial University. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Applied Language Studies, and her work has taken her to places like Germany and Ottawa, before returning to Memorial University in Newfoundland. 

She has extensive teaching experience and has used her training to teach academic writing for second language students before taking on a more administrative position in the area of English as a Second Language. Carolyn, schön dass du da bist.

CB | Danke. 

VK | Well, her German is impeccable. I can hear that. Timilehin, would you like to get us started? 

TO | Right. I heard the word, danke, and that means thank you, if I’m correct. 

VK | Absolutely. Yes, you’re good. 

TO | Interesting. So Carolyn, welcome to the show. 

CB | Thank you very much. 

TO | Well, I learned that you are the Manager of The Writing Centre, and I know that The Writing Centre is a subdepartment of The Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Memorial University. Do you want to tell us how these two…? Even though The Writing Centre is a subdepartment, how do they connect, and what do you do at The Writing Centre? What programs do you offer students, and what’s your role? What do you do, specifically? 

CB | Well, we are one of the student services at the university, so we fit very well into CITL in that respect because we also have other units in CITL, like the Academic Success Centre. So both of our units work with students, in different areas of their academics. 

So if we look at The Writing Centre, we help all of the graduates and undergraduates at the university. They can come to us from any discipline. They can come at any stage of their writing. Actually, they don’t even have to have anything written. They can come before they even start writing to do some brainstorming, get some clarification on what their… 

TO | Wow. 

CB | Yes, on what their instructors are looking for. So we offer one-on-one sessions, that they can come in and sit down with our tutors. We also have online services as well. So the students can send in their papers, and then they receive written feedback from our tutors. And for those who can’t make it to campus very easily but want to speak one-on-one with a tutor, we can also offer sessions through WebEx as well. 

TO | Interesting. 

CB | Yes. 

VK | Yes, that’s so awesome. And now that I’m wrapping up my dissertation, I wish I had known about you sooner, but here we are. I was wondering, Carolyn, if you’ve noticed any changes in the way that students write or go about their writing since the rise of tools such as ChatGPT, for example? 

CB |  Well, certainly in talking with our tutors over the time, I guess starting back in the winter semester, when ChatGPT was taking over a lot of discussions, we sat down with the tutors to find out what they were hearing, what they were seeing. And they were certainly saying that students were coming into The Writing Centre with some things that they used or that they got from ChatGPT and other AI tools. 

And it was interesting, because the tutors, they’re in between, I would say, the instructors and students, so they’re all students themselves, because they’re peer tutors, but they know that you can’t depend completely on AI. So when they’re speaking with the students about using it, they do try to tell the students, you’ve got to be careful with the information that you’re getting, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing your factchecking. 

If we look at tools like ChatGPT, you have to make sure that the citations that it’s giving you are correct and all those little things that maybe a lot of students are not always aware of. And they also… Excuse me. They also try to instil, I guess, in the students the idea that because you’re putting information into ChatGPT, it may not be your own after, so they want to really think about the terms of use when it comes to using these kinds of tools. 

Do the tools take your information and then archive it somehow so that other people will have access to it later? So all those kinds of things we’re trying to put together for the students, but also for our tutors, because as I said, they’re tutors… Or they’re students as well. 

TO | Interesting. So I’m very happy to hear that from you, that you are considering doing enough things for students. And that will take us to the next question. I have a two-part question for you which goes to that. So the first one is, you’ve basically touched on it a little bit, what are the implications of using these tools? 

CB |  Yes, it can be… I guess it really depends on what the students are using them for and what courses they’re using them for as well. There are definite things that students have to be really careful with. So for example, if they’re just asking one of these tools to write an essay for them, the students may not realise that the information that is in there could be incorrect, if they’re not doing their factchecking. 

And they could also be just surface-level information. They’re not really delving deeper into the information that they could be putting into their paragraphs and into their essays. They may not be focusing really on the critical reading that goes along with these kinds of tools and also just academics in general. 

So there are lots of little things like that, that I think students sometimes don’t take into consideration when they’re using these things. But I think that there are ways of turning the cons into our benefits when we’re working with students. 

TO | Nice. So you mentioned that the peer tutors, they came back with some feedback that they observed the students come up with essays that have been generated through these AI tools. So apart from what the tutors are doing for the students, they are students themselves, what they are doing for their peers, as a body, as a unit, as a department, what is The Writing Centre doing exactly? 

CB | So what we’re trying to do, we’re actually in the process of doing it right now. So I believe that with a lot of these things, education is really the key. So I think that we need to educate ourselves more in what’s happening in this new world of… Well, the up and coming new world, I guess, of some of the generative AI, because it has been around for quite a while. 

So what we’re trying to do is to put together some sessions and some documents for our tutors so that they have a better background and so that they are better able to speak with the students when they come in, so they feel more confident talking about this. 

I think part of the problem right now is that not many people are experts in this area, so we’re all coming at it from our own points of view. So once we feel that our tutors are educated and that they feel confident with that, then they’ll be more confident in explaining it to the students as well. And that way, we’ll be able to put together documents for the students that they’ll be able to take away with them that may be something that maybe they haven’t gotten in classes. 

VK | Yes. And I think we can highlight that we’re all still learning about this, and AI is rapidly evolving. Almost daily, there are new changes and developments that we need to keep up with. So I just want to ask, because you mentioned that we can turn potential drawbacks of cons of AI into positives and into good things or into a helpful tool, so what do you think would be the benefits of AI, specifically in writing? 

CB | Well, I think that there are so many things that you can actually do with some of these tools. So for example, if we’re thinking about a classroom, maybe the professor is seeing that the introductions are not very strong in the class from the essays that they’re receiving from the students. So I think that’s a great way to use these AI tools to your advantage. 

Have the tools produce something, and then have the students work through, is this a good introduction, is it not a good introduction? What could we add to it, what do we need to take away? So instead of trying to avoid using these tools, bring them into the classroom and show them what can be useful for the students and how they can actually use them in a better way. 

VK | I think that’s a good idea. But as a follow-up question, I’m wondering, what do you think does it do to creativity? If we’re taking an introduction and we’re just putting it into ChatGPT, and then we want to assess, is it a good or a bad introduction, but we’ve never actually produced a good introduction ourselves, how are we supposed to know what’s good, what’s bad? 

CB | Well this, I guess, goes along with education when we’re talking about modelling and scaffolding. So in education, very often, we’ll give the students a model of something so that they can see how it’s used and how you can put something together. So by giving students different examples of good introductions or thesis statements or whatever, the students will start to get a better idea of what is possible. 

I think sometimes, when we’re just asking students to write a thesis statement, they’re only getting feedback on that thesis statement or on that particular introduction that they wrote. But by seeing different ones from different areas and from different disciplines perhaps, they might get a better idea of how to write better ones.

TO | Yes. I love the fact that you talked about what professors can do, especially comparing introductions and trying to look at which one is more quality. But what other things do you think instructors can do? Do they need a total curricular revamping? Do they need to adopt new strategies for teaching? Do they need to adopt new methods? What do you think instructors can do? 

CB | Yes. I think definitely, as many people say, this is not going away. And it’s been around for a long, long time, so I think we just have to get used to it being here and staying and eventually turning into other things as well. So it is going to be a bit of a learning process. 

And I think for instructors, because this has become quite a loud conversation now, using these kinds of tools in education, I think the instructors are going to have to find ways to work with these tools. In my opinion, I think it’s better to work with them instead of telling students not to use them at all, because it’s a better learning situation for them. 

So I think that instructors might have to look at maybe changing their assignments, for example. Instead of having the students perhaps write an essay on something, they may have to make sure that it’s maybe a very recent type of thing that they can write about. ChatGPT, I think, only goes up to about 2021 with the data that it has so far, so if they can find prompts that they can use that maybe came after 2021, for example. 

They might want to print something out from one of these tools, give it to the students to test and see, are the students understanding the kinds of things that are going on in the field, so they can try to find other information that they can maybe add to this printout to see if they can add other things as well. So I think that there are a lot of different ways. And I think that’s the fun part of it all is that I think there are a lot of different things that can be done in the classroom. 

 But I think too, for the professors and for any instructor, it will come back to education as well, so trying to get more education themselves, maybe attending sessions to find out how they can use these. And I know that there is some research out there, I know there are documents out there that have different kinds of assignments that instructors can give to their students, using AI. 

TO | Yes. I like the fact that you are being inclusive about education, that not just for students, instructors should also get educated about it. And I just want to jump in now to say that the CITL, Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, has a lot of info sessions for instructors, for professors to come in and learn new things. 

VK | Yes, wonderful. Thank you. Carolyn, I have a question that ties more into academic integrity, I guess. So ChatGPT, if we stay with ChatGPT, is often thought to be a tool for cheating. Students can just create a whole essay in it if they wish. At the same time, MUN has a licence for Grammarly, which now also uses AI software to help improve students’ writing. 

And I’m wondering, where do we draw the line? So what do we consider a student’s own work versus something that’s generated by AI? With Grammarly, you could essentially also change the whole text that you’ve written. Do you have any opinion on that?

CB | Yes, I would say that it’s really quite hard to tell right now. We’ve been looking at some of the position statements at different universities, and I don’t think that anybody right now is 100% sure about what is considered plagiarism or not. So it’s a grey area right now. 

I think the main thing to know or the main thing to remember is that as long as we’re trying to help the students do the best that they can without relying too much on these tools, so that they’re getting the best education that they can and also learning how to critically think and write and read, I think that’s the best that we can do. 

So there may be a little bit of scaffolding going along, trying to use these types of tools. I have read articles where it says even if a student does ask one of the tools to write an essay for them, it’s not really considered plagiarism, because it's not in a place that they can access that again. So it’s new material when it’s coming up. 

So it’s really hard to say right now. But I think that a lot of professors are looking at that part as well. And so they are either saying in their course outlines you can use it, you can’t use it or you have to try to reference it somehow. And I think that by referencing it, at least the students will be acknowledging that they’ve gotten it from somewhere else. So even if they are using it, if they can acknowledge it at least, then they are being honest in where they got the material. 

TO | Interesting. So at this point, do we just say AI is the bad guy, don’t go near it, or, well, there are smart ways of using it, or, well, it’s left to you, a judgement issue, just do it as you deem fit, that you think is okay? So if I were a student and I came to your office, and I say I really find it hard to write, I know my topic, I was given a topic in my class, I really want to use AI to generate the essay, but I don’t know, I just want to check with you because you are the Manager of The Writing Centre, what would you advise me? 

CB | Well, first of all, I would advise the students to look at their course outlines to see what the instructors have actually said about that. And one of my biggest pieces of advice, I think, is to always have a human look at your writing or any work that you’re doing. 

So we can rely on these tools to help us along the way. And even if we look at Grammarly, for example, Grammarly is a great tool. It really does help with writing. But Grammarly is not always correct either. So we have to look at those. We have to be careful when we’re using these tools. So I always tell students, always make sure that a human looks at your writing last. Okay? So I think that that’s what I would recommend. 

And then for the instructors, if they need help, I think bigger discussions are coming. And as you mentioned, through CITL, there are going to be sessions in that kind of thing so that they can try to figure out how they feel about it. I think, at the moment, right now, since it’s fairly newish, let's say, in the classrooms when we’re looking at tools like ChatGPT and those kinds, there’s a little bit of apprehension there. 

And so the instructors, some are just not sure where to go with that. So I think the more that they learn about it as well, the more comfortable they will feel with using it and then maybe be able to incorporate it into their classrooms. And then they will feel more confident giving answers to their students about questions like that as well. 

VK | Absolutely. I think we’ve learned so much from you today, and any student and instructor listening to this podcast, I’m sure they will be able to better assess how they can use AI tools in their writing, if at all. It’s really up to your own judgement, and yes, whether to… Whether you can learn to critically assess the output, but we always need a human to look over it. Wow, that was so interesting. I think we’ve learned a lot today. Thank you so much, Carolyn. 

CB | Thank you so much. 

TO | Thank you. We hope to see you again. 

CB | Thanks. 

VK | Welcome back to the studio. Well, that was an insightful interview. It was really inspiring and so interesting. Timilehin, what do you think? 

TO | I think it was a great one. Our guest was cool like a cucumber. 

VK | Okay. You will have to tell me later what that is. But can you tell me what’s your big learning moment? 

TO | Well, there are lots of things to take away from that interview. But what I really like the most is the fact that the tutors at The Writing Centre are students themselves, so they know a lot about the use of AI in writing, and they could easily spot it where students submit essays to them. And then the students don’t really have to submit their essays to higher authorities, so they can feel comfortable sharing their vulnerabilities and be truly honest about what they’ve done in their essays. 

And the fact that these students are being offered professional development to get enhanced skills, just like the Learning Technology Coach programme, which is like a student development programme, so I really love it. 

VK | Thank you, Timilehin. That was amazing. Thank you, everybody, for listening. Until next time, I’m Verena. 

TO | And I am Timilehin. 

VK | Ciao. 

AN | The Learning Technology Coach Podcast is a CITL production. 

Episode Introduction
Guest Introduction
Changes in Student Writing Habits Since Generative AI
Considerations When Using Generative AI for Writing
Preparing Writing Centers to Instruct on the Use of AI Tools
Using Generative AI as a Tool in the Classroom
Finding Ways for Instructors to Work with AI Writing Tools
Plagiarism and Generative AI
Advice to Students Considering Using an AI Tool
Summary - Big Learning Moment!