The availability of generative AI requires writing instructors to be more deliberate about assignment design. Yet many principles we have always valued remain the same: Prompts should provide opportunities for students to use writing as a means to practice critical thinking and reflection; to engage deeply with texts, using sources to help them generate interesting questions and develop compelling arguments; and to recognize the ethical and social dimensions of writing.
We can encourage students to embrace these opportunities through tapping their intrinsic motivation—striving, as John Bradley puts it, to craft assignments that are “transformational” rather than “transactional.” We begin with some general recommendations that draw on Mary-Ann Winkelmes’s research-based guidelines for transparent assignment design and are oriented toward this goal.
Writing assignments should include the following, ideally in about one page:
Purpose: Begin by briefly describing the purpose of the assignment, how doing the assignment helps students reach a particular learning goal of the course. You may want to connect this goal to a future application in or beyond your course.
Tasks: Craft a concise, specific prompt that is meaningful and relevant to students’ lives. This might mean asking students to draw on personal experiences, but it might also mean asking them to write for an authentic audience (not just you), in a genre relevant to their future professional or civic lives, or in connection to an urgent local or global challenge.
Be sure to incorporate a series of process steps and deadlines. This might include brainstorming activities, proposals, drafts (for peer review, in-class workshops, or conferences), and reflective writing.
Criteria: Show students what success looks like. Offer models of effective compositions, and invite students to analyze those models to develop a critical understanding of how they work. Consider using models published in Deerfield, the Writing Program journal of outstanding undergraduate writing, or other BU student publications.
Tell students what you will focus on in your feedback and assessment. Consider deemphasizing criteria that AI-generated prose can easily meet and emphasizing criteria like intellectual risk-taking, originality, nuance, etc. (Note the useful distinction Kevin Gannon makes between “logistical rigor” and “cognitive rigor”—and don’t mistake the former for the latter.)
See also Anatomy of an Assignment Sheet.
Crafting Assignments That Discourage AI Use
- Be specific about quotation and citation expectations. Ask students to write or talk about these quotes or sources in class as part of the writing process.
- Have students record their reading and research process. Consider assigning a research log or using a social annotation tool like Perusall. Formal or informal stepping-stone (scaffolded) assignments can help to ensure that students are engaging in authentic research and reading deeply.
- When assigning canonical texts that are likely already part of AI’s database, consider pairing them with less canonical texts—such as a particular response to the canonical text or a source located by the student that is available only through library subscription access—that AI might not be able to reference or discuss as easily. (Note that AI tools like Claude can “process” PDFs, and similar capacities are likely to become more common across platforms.) You might have students present orally on the source as part of the writing process.
- Offer opportunities for students to write about their own lives and experiences, as appropriate to the assignment genre and course topics.
- Value creativity and difference. Invite students to explore nonstandard language and question genre conventions in a way that is relevant to your topic.
Crafting Assignments that Incorporate Generative AI
- Be explicit about the kind of AI use you are authorizing for the assignment, and model effective prompting for this use.
- Consider an assignment that showcases what AI can do well and where it falls short–for example, a two-part assignment that asks students to use AI to draft, then write a critical analysis of what AI does well and poorly before they go on to revise or discard the draft.
- Engage AI in the revision process after students have drafted an essay. Let students experiment with the ways that AI can help them reformulate, rephrase, or reorganize their ideas. Include opportunities for reflection regarding their experience working with AI as a collaborator.
- Remember that servers which run AI, such as ChatGPT, are not always accessible during times of high demand, and plan ahead if you intend to use AI live in the classroom. For instance, if you are planning a live demonstration of AI, have it generate one or two responses to be used as backup in the event that the AI tool is not accessible during your class meeting.
- Be explicit about how you want students to cite AI sources. For example, refer to the MLA guide on Citing Generative AI in MLA Style.
More ideas that can be incorporated into the scaffolding for a writing assignment are available here.
Responding to Unauthorized Uses of AI for Writing
—MLA-CCCC Joint Task Force on Writing and AI
Therefore, if you are concerned that a student has used AI to do their work in a way that violates academic integrity, it’s best not to accuse a student based on detector results. Instead, invite the student to have a conversation with you about their process and their ideas. Be honest about your concerns and allow the student an opportunity to respond.
Learn More: Writing Instruction in the Age of Generative AI