Monday, May 13, 2024

The declining value of writing in college courses

Asking students to write in college courses has been a long-time educational strategy. Writing a summary shows that the assigned work has been read. Paraphrasing is to express information and ideas in our own voice, thereby putting a personal stamp on what has been read. Higher order thinking is (hopefully) accomplished via applications, analysis, and similar cognitive operations. Altogether, written assignments can be described as a write-to-learn strategy. 

New advances in generative artificial intelligence (AI) have raised questions about the value of these traditional approaches. 

Summarizing written work can now easily be done by AI systems. Student submissions are increasingly well-done, but bland AI summaries. These are often just vague overviews. A request to summarize no longer demonstrates that the student read anything. Maybe this isn't entirely new, but it seems to be an increasing problem in the last year and a half. 

Paraphrasing is also losing value as an educational tool. Here's two new tools that recently surpised me. Microsoft Copilot (through the Edge browser) offers "rewrite with copilot" for text pasted into a learning management system. Likewise, Google has a "help me write" option. Two screenshots are shown below. 

This will be a mixed bag. The feedback may be helpful. The downside though is that this may be the beginning of a deskilling of writing.