Artificial intelligence (AI) is shifting how we experience reading and writing. Students and instructors alike need some understanding of the main limits and affordances of AI-generated writing. This page offers some basic information for writing instructors and some guidance on how to talk with students about generative AI.

Large language models (LLMs), like ChatGPT, use machine learning algorithms that produce responses to user-generated prompts and mimic human communication patterns based on the input they receive. ChatGPT and similar tools (like Bard, Bing, and Claude, etc.) use a chat-based environment that allows users to engage the tools in conversation on topics of their choosing. Users can ask questions, provide prompts, input large chunks of text, and request specific actions (summary, proofreading, etc.). 

Drawing on massive datasets that include billions of bits of text, LLMs can generate output reflective of a range of genres, including the academic essay. The size of those datasets and the architecture that houses them will very likely improve over time, including the tools’ ability to generate language that approximates human expression.

While there are plenty of reasons to be suspicious of AI-generated writing, we recommend a classroom approach that strikes a critical, reflective balance and supports learning objectives regarding such issues as engagement with sources, information literacy, genre awareness, and others. By addressing generative AI directly and being explicit about how and when it can be useful in the composing process, instructors can help close the “AI literacy divide” in a way that supports our equity goals as well as our learning objectives.

Teaching Recommendations

Before the term: Familiarize yourself with at least one LLM generative AI tool to understand the kind of output it produces relative to your course topic. For example, ask ChatGPT to generate essay prompts about your topic, to create classroom discussion questions based on course readings, or to respond to your assignment prompts. You may also wish to use this flowchart to help think through your approach to using AI in your classes.

At the beginning of the term: Within the first two weeks of the semester, set aside time in class to talk with your students about AI-generated writing. (They’re using tools like ChatGPT more than we may realize.) 

  1. Ask students about their knowledge of and experiences using AI tools. Considering incorporating Five Things Every College Student Should Know About AI-assisted Writing.
  2. Communicate to students the Writing Program’s baseline expectations: the AI use guidelines expressed in Section 2 of the WR syllabus templates. Make sure they know that different classes at BU may have different expectations about what kinds of AI use are permissible.
  3. Remind students that any text they enter when using LLM platforms is no longer private. It will be incorporated into the greater pool of data that the LLMs draw on, fair game for reuse without their permission and reason not to input sensitive or personal information.
  4. Discuss specific examples, noting particular affordances and limitations. You may also want to incorporate some of the following:
    • Compare AI-generated output with human writing samples. In groups, have students compare brief examples of human and AI-generated texts in genres and with content relevant to your course content. 
    • Create an inventory of key features of AI-generated writing,
    • Highlight a rhetorical situation and consider if AI output is reliable or useful given the context.
    • Identify examples of AI-text limitations: Misinformation, misattribution, reproduction of bias, generic style, vague/superficial content
    • Consider how generative AI might be helpful in the writing process: Brainstorming, outlining, generating counterarguments, offering formative feedback, standardizing format and language

If you plan to authorize uses of AI tools that go beyond the Writing Program’s AI use guidelines (as stated in Section 2 of the syllabus templates), help the class come up with a class agreement that details expectations and terms of ethical and responsible use for your section’s assignments, perhaps as part of a larger classroom community agreement discussion. Put your class AI guidelines in writing and offer guidance on citation. 

    Throughout the term: Continue to emphasize writing as an experience and a process, supported by in-class scaffolding activities that engage students in critical thinking, collaboration with peers, and reflection. You may want to revisit class expectations for ethical and responsible use of generative AI later in the term, in the context of particular assignments or activities. If you authorize particular uses of AI tools, do so explicitly and offer students guidance on citation. Avoid using AI tools that charge fees, which may put an unanticipated financial burden on students.

    Learn More: Writing Instruction in the Age of Generative AI