This past January, preparing lessons and crafting syllabi for the upcoming spring semester came with a new concern: how to handle ChatGPT? OpenAI’s chatbot debuted on November 30, 2022, and it seems to be able to do it all: it can compose music, create stories, and write essays. This semester is the first time where it will be available to students. But how to handle it?
For my English classes, writing is central. But ChatGPT – along with its sibling, InstructGPT – allows students to produce essays with minimal effort. And while TurnItIn and SafeAssign are upgrading their programs to detect AI writing – catching up to GPTZero – instructors still need to determine how they will tackle the subject during the spring semester. Is it best to be upfront and incorporate ChatGPT into the classroom? (Would that encourage students to use it more?) Address it in connection with the Academic Integrity Policy? Never speak of it, and hope for the best? As I thought about it, I realized that I could talk about this new technology without risking increased use… by simply incorporating principles of growth mindset into my assignments.
At this point, the term “growth mindset” is quite a few years old, and it may be starting to feel a bit stale. But, when applied practically, growth mindset can create engagement, improve retention… and make it a little bit harder for students to simply use ChatGPT. Here are five tips that I will be using this upcoming semester:
1. Embrace In-Class Pre-Writing
With so much to cover, sometimes it feels difficult to justify using class time for writing. (I suspect this is especially true in non-writing courses!) But in-class writing doesn’t have to take up a lot of time; in fact, sometimes a shorter, pre-writing assignment is more effective. For example, I often ask students to write and submit a tentative thesis or, if there’s a bit more time, develop a rough outline. Not only does this give me a sense of their essay plans, but it also gives students an opportunity to solidify their own ideas before starting the final draft. Perhaps more importantly, this is a chance for students to receive feedback, which can help them improve before the final paper is due.
2. Incorporate Personal Experience
While this might not work for every kind of writing assignment, asking students to incorporate personal experience is another way to avoid issues with ChatGPT while also encouraging a growth mindset. Doing so validates students’ lived experiences, and it also encourages them to connect with the subject (which boosts engagement and aids retention). In my ENG 110 and ENG 100 courses, the final research paper is based on social justice; however, instead of limited topics, I ask students to start with their own lives. What do they care about? What issues do they want to solve? From there, each student develops their own topic and gets the opportunity to research something that interests them.
3. Encourage Revision
Being receptive to and growing from feedback is a part of having a growth mindset; one way to encourage this – and to make sure that feedback is being utilized – is to incorporate rewrites. Not every assignment needs to be revised but doing so (and perhaps combining it with a reflection) can encourage students to develop their ideas and writing. In my courses, I offer both mandatory and optional rewrites, giving students multiple chances to improve their work. In these rewrites, new material must be in a different font color. Doing so not only makes it a little easier for me to grade, but it also gives students a good sense of how much they have changed (I tell them to aim for 50%).
4. Contemplate Reflection
In my classes, students often engage in reflective activities: they are asked to respond to readings, to their assignments, and to how the class is going. Asking students to consider their work metacognitively – How did the process go? What did you learn? – allows them to track their progress. Building detailed reflective exercises into assignments helps develop a growth mindset while also allowing instructors to make sure students, rather than chatbots, are doing the work.
5. Try an Alternative Assignment
Writing is important; as instructors, we know that. But an alternative assignment, one that encourages speaking skills, can promote many of the same proficiencies as writing. Furthermore, a presentation or a podcast may play to the skills of some students, allowing them a chance to excel. Over the past few years, I’ve replaced one essay with a podcast and reflection. While students initially hesitate, by the end of the unit they all tend to find it a useful experience. It’s an opportunity to use their voice – something a chatbot can’t replicate.
Chatbots like ChatGPT are here to stay and, as they develop, they’ll only get better. This semester, I’m hoping to talk to my students about this kind of technology: the good, the bad, and the academically gray. But one way to avoid the bad (and the academically gray) is to craft assignments that encourage students to develop a growth mindset. By highlighting the importance of their experiences and their voice, we won’t have to worry about robots… just yet.
Amina H. Tajbhai began as a Lecturer in January 2022. She received her Ph.D. in English literature from Fordham University in 2019. Her research considers the intersection between early modern literature and memory studies, gestures of violence on stage, and transgressive women.