Telling Students to Use AI


2023 was certainly a year for AI. In education, some teachers avoided it and some embraced it, perhaps reluctantly at first. Some educators have reacted, partially to AI that can write essays Some schools, some teachers, some school districts some colleges some departments have tried to ban it issues. Of course, that is impossible, just as it was impossible to ban the use of Wikipedia or going back to the previous century, the use of a word processor, or a calculator in a math class, or use the Internet to copy and paste information.

What happened when an entire class of college students were told to use ChatGPT to write their essays?

Chris Howell, an adjunct assistant professor of religious studies at Elon University, noticed more and more suspiciously chatbot-esque prose popping up in student papers. So rather than trying to police the tech, he embraced it. He assigned students to generate an essay entirely with ChatGPT and then critique it themselves.

When I first caught students attempting to use ChatGPT to write their essays, it felt like an inevitability. My initial reaction was frustration and irritation—not to mention gloom and doom about the slow collapse of higher education—and I suspect most educators feel the same way. But as I thought about how to respond, I realized there could be a teaching opportunity. Many of these essays used sources incorrectly, either quoting from books that did not exist or misrepresenting those that did. When students were starting to use ChatGPT, they seemed to have no idea that it could be wrong.

I decided to have each student in my religion studies class at Elon University use ChatGPT to generate an essay based on a prompt I gave them and then “grade” it. I had anticipated that many of the essays would have errors, but I did not expect that all of them would. Many students expressed shock and dismay upon learning the AI could fabricate bogus information, including page numbers for nonexistent books and articles. Some were confused, simultaneously awed and disappointed. Others expressed concern about the way overreliance on such technology could induce laziness or spur disinformation and fake news. Closer to the bone were fears that this technology could take people’s jobs. Students were alarmed that major tech companies had pushed out AI technology without ensuring that the general population understands its drawbacks.

The assignment satisfied my goal, which was to teach them that ChatGPT is neither a functional search engine nor an infallible writing tool.


Detecting AI-Written Content

chatbotWhen chatGPT hit academia hard at the start of this year, there was much fear from teachers at all grade levels. I saw articles and posts saying it would be the end of writing. A Princeton University student built an app that helps detect whether a text was written by a human being or using an artificial intelligence tool like ChatGPT. Edward Tian was a senior computer science major. He has said that the algorithm behind his app, GPTZero, can "quickly and efficiently detect whether an essay is ChatGPT or human written."

GPTZero is at I was able to attend an online demo of the app now that it has been released as a free and paid product, and also communicated with Tian.

Because ChatGPT has exploded in popularity, it has gotten interest from investors. The Wall Street Journal reported that parent company OpenAI could attract investments valuing it at $29 billion. But the app has also raised fears that students are using the tool to cheat on writing assignments.

GPTZero examines two variables in any piece of writing it examines. It looks at a text's "perplexity," which measures its randomness: Human-written texts tend to be more unpredictable than bot-produced work. It also examines "burstiness," which measures variance, or inconsistency, within a text because there is a lot of variance in human-generated writing.

Unlike other tools, such as, the app does not tell you the source of the writing. That is because of the odd situation that writing produced by a chatbot isn't exactly from any particular source.

There are other tools to detect AI writing - see

Large language models themselves can be trained to spot AI-generated writing if they were trained on two sets of text. One text would be AI and the other written by people, so theoretically you could teach the model to recognize and detect AI writing.

Rethinking Accessible Courses

accessibilty word cloudWhen I was working full-time as an instructional designer, I became very concerned with making courses (especially online courses) accessible. In the early days of this century, very often the college I worked at was quite focused on making accommodations for students with special needs. That was a quick fix but not a sustainable approach.

Retrofitting online courses became part of my department's purview. Our instructional design thinking believed that access(ible) are more than making accommodations. We knew that courses that were accessible for students who had particular needs were also courses that ate probably more accessible for all the other students too. There were so many small examples of things we did. It turned out to be useful to all the students in the course.

One semester now 20 years ago, I decided to provide audio files of my short online lectures and of explanatory talk about some of the more complicated assignments. Some students told me that they would listen to them while driving in the car, or commuting on the train, or on their walks with their dogs. Most of these audio files were taken from videos that I had made often with accompanying PowerPoint slides. So the visual was lost but we all know that a good number of PowerPoint slides used for lecture or text, so not all of the visual content was needed.

The fact that students use them this way, not only convinced me to continue the practice but made me rethink what I was putting in those slides. Perhaps the truly visual presentations needed to be truly visual and not offered as audio files so that students would have to sit down and view the video version. I was rethinking my use of visuals overall.


Begin. End. The Waning Days of Coding

code on screen

A piece in The New Yorker (not exactly a technology magazine) titled "A Coder Considers the Waning Days of the Craft," set me thinking about what tech careers will be lost in the near and far future. Yes, artificial intelligence plays into this, but there are other factors too. Coding seems to be a likely candidate for being on the decline.

The author, James Somers, says that, "Coding has always felt to me like an endlessly deep and rich domain. Now I find myself wanting to write a eulogy for it." With his wife pregnant, he wonders that " the time that child can type, coding as a valuable skill might have faded from the world." 

It is an interesting read. Kind of a memoir of a coder.

Schools still teach coding. Coders are still working. The question is for for how long? Should a student in middle school think about it as a career? I used to tell my middle school students that a lot of them will go into careers that have titles that don't exist today. Who can predict?

Somers concludes:

"So maybe the thing to teach isn’t a skill but a spirit. I sometimes think of what I might have been doing had I been born in a different time. The coders of the agrarian days probably futzed with waterwheels and crop varietals; in the Newtonian era, they might have been obsessed with glass, and dyes, and timekeeping. I was reading an oral history of neural networks recently, and it struck me how many of the people interviewed—people born in and around the nineteen-thirties—had played with radios when they were little. Maybe the next cohort will spend their late nights in the guts of the A.I.s their parents once regarded as black boxes. I shouldn’t worry that the era of coding is winding down. Hacking is forever."

The future of coding is likely to be affected by all of these factors:

Artificial Intelligence and Automation: AI is already influencing coding through tools that assist developers in writing code, debugging, and optimizing algorithms. As AI continues to advance, it may take on more complex coding tasks, allowing developers to focus on higher-level design and problem-solving.

Low-Code/No-Code Development: The rise of low-code and no-code platforms is making it easier for individuals with limited programming experience to create applications. This trend could democratize software development, enabling a broader range of people to participate in creating digital solutions.

Increased Specialization: With the growing complexity of technology, developers are likely to become more specialized in particular domains or technologies. This could lead to a more segmented job market, with experts in areas like AI, cybersecurity, blockchain, etc.

Remote Collaboration and Distributed Development: Remote work has become more prevalent, and this trend is likely to continue. Tools and practices for collaborative and distributed development will become increasingly important.

Ethical Coding and Responsible AI: As technology plays a more central role in our lives, the ethical considerations of coding will become more critical. Developers will need to be mindful of the societal impact of their creations and consider ethical principles in their coding practices.

Continuous Learning: The pace of technological change is rapid, and developers will need to embrace a mindset of continuous learning. Staying updated with the latest tools, languages, and methodologies will be crucial.

Quantum Computing: While still in its early stages, quantum computing has the potential to revolutionize certain aspects of coding, particularly in solving complex problems that are currently intractable for classical computers.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR): As AR and VR technologies become more widespread, developers will likely be involved in creating immersive experiences and applications that leverage these technologies.

Cybersecurity Emphasis: With the increasing frequency and sophistication of cyber threats, coding with a focus on security will be paramount. Developers will need to incorporate secure coding practices and stay vigilant against emerging threats.

Environmental Sustainability: As concerns about climate change grow, there may be a greater emphasis on sustainable coding practices, including optimizing code for energy efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of data centers.

How do I know this? Because I asked a chatbot to tell me the future of coding.