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Writing instructors are not as concerned about students cheating with ChatGPT as one might assume.

A year ago, when ChatGPT was introduced, widespread concerns about potential student cheating flooded the internet, prompting headlines such as “the end of high-school English” and the demise of the college essay. Some outlets, including NPR, asserted that cheating was pervasive, while Teen Vogue suggested the moral panic might be exaggerated.

Contrary to these alarmist views, a more balanced perspective emerges from preliminary findings in 2023. Our survey delved into the attitudes and sentiments regarding artificial intelligence (AI) among college faculty teaching writing. The responses painted a nuanced picture, challenging the simplistic narrative that AI is universally detrimental.

Although worries about students cheating with AI persist, they coexist with another common concern: the fear of AI replacing human jobs. On the positive side, many educators acknowledge the potential benefits of incorporating this revolutionary technology into their teaching methods.

The comprehensive 64-item survey, conducted from March 2-31, 2023, included a scale to measure AI anxiety. Ninety-nine respondents, comprising faculty, writing program administrators, and others interested in writing instruction, participated. Over 71% belonged to English, writing, or rhetoric disciplines, representing a diverse range of institutions, from small liberal arts colleges to large research universities.

The complex nature of cheating concerns among writing instructors is evident in the survey results. While 89% expressed fears of “misuse” by students, the definition of misuse varied. Specifically, only 44% were “concerned” or “very concerned” about students using AI to compose entire essays, and merely 22% felt the same about students co-writing essays with AI without proper attribution.

Furthermore, 42% reported being “concerned” or “very concerned” about the necessity of revising university honor codes and plagiarism policies in response to AI, while only 25% advocated for increased plagiarism detection through tools like Turnitin.

Despite varying levels of concern, a mere 13% supported a complete ban on AI in college courses and classrooms. Instead, instructors expressed diverse anxieties, ranging from learning how to use AI tools to concerns about job security.

In the words of one participant, “While I want students to compose original works in my writing courses, I see no reason to ban them from using AI tools at their disposal during the writing process.”

Concerns Extending Beyond Cheating: The responses from survey participants varied widely when considering the potential of AI replacing their roles as writing instructors. Their sentiments appeared multifaceted, contingent on the scenarios and conditions presented in our survey inquiries.

As critics have previously indicated, there exists a genuine apprehension regarding colleges utilizing AI not as a tool to enhance instructors’ work but rather as a substitute for their positions. Over 54% of respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that the idea of AI technology displacing human jobs was unsettling. Additionally, 43% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they harbored concerns about keeping pace with advancements in AI techniques and products.

Notably, the anxiety levels varied among different faculty roles, with tenured and tenure-track faculty exhibiting significantly lower anxiety compared to adjunct instructors, graduate teaching assistants, instructors, and administrative faculty and staff. This discrepancy suggests that those most vulnerable to job loss due to AI are the ones who harbor the greatest apprehension.

Despite these worries, a considerable number of respondents expressed enthusiasm about incorporating AI writing tools into their teaching methods. Approximately 47% stated that they were “very likely” to teach their students how to use AI for brainstorming and idea generation. In fact, some respondents embraced the technology wholeheartedly, viewing it as an effective teaching tool.

One respondent shared a positive perspective, stating, “I’m not anxious about AI. When the computer first entered the writing classroom, there was a fear that it would change writing instruction, which it did. We needed to figure out how to help students use the affordances computers offered. Now, few people would suggest teaching writing without a computer.”

The survey results indicate that writing instructors recognize the potential of AI beyond merely generating papers for students. Sixty-one percent expressed they were “likely” or “very likely” to use AI in drafting and revision, while 63% expressed a similar likelihood of using AI to demonstrate how students could alter genre, style, or tone in their writing.

Certainly, 46% of respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that both teachers and students could develop a dependency on AI. However, only 20% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that their personal utilization of AI as a teaching tool would lead to student dependence and a decline in their reasoning skills.

Now that students have had access to ChatGPT for a year, even news headlines are beginning to acknowledge the potential benefits it brings to the classroom, alongside the associated risks. The Washington Post highlighted “all the unexpected ways ChatGPT is infiltrating students’ lives,” including its use for checking grammar mistakes. The Wall Street Journal featured teachers advocating for students to learn how to leverage the tool for its potential in future careers. Time magazine reported on the additional support ChatGPT provides to busy teachers in the continuous creation of lesson plans. Clearly, both students and teachers are actively engaging with AI. The current inquiry revolves around the methods, reasons, and objectives guiding their use.

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