AI & Academic Writing

Artificial intelligence systems that generate sustained conversations in response to user input have captured headlines recently. Such composing tools offer challenges and opportunities for students and faculty who produce and assess writing projects. After all, writing is a creative process; it requires critical thinking, engaged reading, synthesis, and the iterative processes of seeking and responding to feedback. 

Chatbots and other such technologies promise “efficiencies,” but should they become (co)authors of our compositions? What do the texts on which the models are trained tell us about genres of human communication? Who “owns” the text that we feed into these tools, and how will our own questions and prompts be used by the creators of the next generation of AI tools? What is lost and what is gained when students turn first to these tools to support their research, drafting, translating, and/or revising?

This page does not answer all of these questions, but it does offer a few starting points for thinking about AI & academic writing. We invite you to contact us to share your pedagogical strategies for engaging with AI composing tools.

Intellectual honesty is central to the academic experience at CWRU. Our Academic Integrity Policy prohibits submitting AI-generated text as one’s own, just as it prohibits claiming authorship for text that was originally produced by another person.

We recommend that faculty make clear to students which (if any) uses of AI are acceptable in their courses. Because this may vary from one course to the next, we also recommend that students discuss any intended uses of AI tools with their instructors before they use them.

CWRU recommends that all syllabi contain a description of the academic integrity policy such as the following:

Students at Case Western Reserve University are expected to uphold the highest ethical standards of academic conduct. Academic integrity addresses all forms of academic dishonesty, including cheating, plagiarism, misrepresentation, obstruction, and submitting without permission work to one course that was completed for another course. Please review the complete academic integrity policy for additional information, including an overview of the processes & procedures for reporting academic misconduct.

In addition, we recommend that faculty add a sentence or two to clarify for students their course-specific expectations for students’ use of AI tools. For example:

  • [To prohibit use of AI tools] You may not engage in unauthorized collaboration or make use of AI composition software (such as ChatGPT) in this course. Using these tools puts your academic integrity at risk.
  • [To ask students to consult you prior to using AI tools] You must obtain permission from me before using AI composition software (such as ChatGPT) for assignments in this course. Using these tools without my permission puts your academic integrity at risk.
  • [To ask students to describe/cite their use of AI tools] In this course, we will discuss AI composition software (such as ChatGPT) as a tool for writing. However, your submitted work must represent your own thinking and engagement with the tasks and activities described in the course assignments. If you use AI tools in your composing process, you must acknowledge where and how you have engaged with the tools. (For example, preface your submission with an “author’s note” or use explanatory footnotes or in-text citations to indicate use of AI-generated language or images.) Failure to document your use of these tools puts your academic integrity at risk.

Writing scholars have long debated the merits and limitations of plagiarism detection software (e.g., Turnitin), and these conversations continue with the advent of new AI-detection tools, which have not been proven to be accurate or reliable. We recommend that faculty think carefully about whether or how to make use of these services, and we encourage them to make clear to students how such tools will be used and what will be done with the reports that are generated. (See, for example, this recommended syllabus language from Yale University’s Poorvu Center for Teaching & Learning.) 

For more on how writing scholars understand and respond to plagiarism, consider some of these sources:

Teaching now - when AI tools can produce grammatically sophisticated and coherent content - means different things for different classrooms.

  • In courses where writing assignments ask for simple recall of knowledge, AI composing tools appear to accomplish the task in less time, with very little human effort. Thus, the analogy of a calculator has appeared in many articles extolling the virtues of AI. When do we want students to use these tools in our courses?
  • In courses where writing assignments ask students to display their own intellectual engagement with ideas that are new to them, AI composing tools may well derail the process. How can we refocus instructional time on the recursive processes of discovery, articulation, revision, and insight?

"I think that ChatGPT opens up a teachable moment for getting students to think about, why do you learn to do stuff that a machine can do?

I think that the writing process, especially, or the thinking process, what’s important for a student is they’re learning how to organize their own thoughts. They’re learning how to really express themselves and to think clearly. And that’s the value of having people write, and it’s the value of having people think about stuff they read.

This could be a very teachable moment, especially at the outset of the semester, in a way to say, here’s why we’re doing this, rather than, I will come down on you with the wrath of God if you decide to cheat with robots."

- Andrew Reeves, Professor of History, Middle Georgia State University on The New York Times's The Daily podcast (28 June 2023)

The Writing Program invites CWRU faculty to contact us to discuss teaching writing in the context of freely available AI composition tools. We look forward to speaking with you!

The Writing Program offers faculty consultations focused on effective writing instruction, as well as providing support to student/faculty/staff writers through the Writing Resource Center. We maintain resources on our CWRU Writing Program Canvas site, and we host workshops, lectures, and other activities for CWRU community members interested in writing instruction. Contact us for more information or to schedule a consultation.

The University Center for Innovation in Teaching & Education (UCITE) provides resources, workshops, and consultations for faculty. They have assembled advice and resources - including a recording of a March 2023 panel discussion about AI tools such as ChatGPT - on their site.  Review the services offered by UCITE and/or schedule a consultation by visiting their website.

CWRU’s Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) division of UTech supports faculty by providing training and resources needed to integrate technology into their teaching in all formats. The team also has a number of resources to assist faculty in the design of courses in hybrid and online formats. In addition, TLT can provide specific advice on the functionality of TurnitIn, Canvas, Respondus LockDown Browser, and related technologies, including current and emerging AI features and capabilities present in these tools. Review their AI in Academic Technology notes for more information.

Many of our colleagues at other universities have developed useful guidelines and suggestions. The following list is not exhaustive; please share additional resources with us!