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Disclaimer: This article was written by a living, breathing writing coach.
Now that ChatGPT is here, does this mean our kids do not need to learn writing anymore?
The short answer is ‘No’.
Let’s explore in this article why our children will still need to learn how to write. In order to do that let’s first find out what ChatGPT is.
ChatGPT is a language model developed by OpenAI that is based on the GPT (Generative Pretrained Transformer) architecture. It is trained on a large corpus of text data and can generate human-like text in response to prompts given by users. The model can be used for a variety of applications, including question-answering, text completion, text generation, and chatbot development. With its advanced language generation capabilities, ChatGPT can understand context, generate coherent and contextually relevant responses, and mimic human conversation style to a great extent. This makes it an important tool in the field of artificial intelligence and natural language processing.
Let me share a secret - the entire description you see above was generated by ChatGPT. It is quite impressive, isn’t it? In essence, what it does is creates content for you based on a question or prompt that you asked. When you open ChatGPT, start a new chat and type in a prompt and watch the platform generate the text for it.
So, now comes the pertinent question - do our kids need to learn writing given that all this wonderful text can be generated by an AI (Artificial Intelligence)? This question sounds so familiar and something that math and history educators have faced before. Just because we have calculators doesn’t mean that we don’t need math teachers anymore. Or now that students have access to Google and Wikipedia, do they need history lessons?
The advent of new technologies means that the way we learn is going to change. We will still very much need educators who will teach us how to form opinions, how to develop ideas and how to structure our experiences.
Here’s why students will still need to learn how to write in the era of ChatGPT and other AI powered writing platforms.
You probably have heard about Grammarly, a typing software that corrects your spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity and delivery mistakes in your writing. It has existed since 2009 and students have been using it for many years now to assist them in their writing. ChatGPT is the logical next step.
But writing is not just about verb grammar agreement or about producing text that has all the transitions, and structure like introduction, body and conclusion. Writing is about invoking curiosity or any other emotion in the readers’ mind. ChatGPT does produce an article that is filled with sophisticated word choice but if you read it, you will feel the absence of connection.
Think about an example, there are five people who take a trip to Italy. When they write about their experiences, each essay will have unique stories. ChatGPT can produce an essay about traveling to Italy and I bet it will be very well-versed but it will not have the diversity, humanity or the emotion of the other essays.
There is no doubt that ChatGPT can expertly produce an essay that is technically proficient but it cannot write about the distinctive observations that each one of us bring to the table. When we read different books or articles, the diversity of thinking, the raw truth and the imperfect experience is what hooks us. This is also the quality that admission panels look for in the essays that students submit. So this AI powered writing tool is neither the death of essay-writing nor the end of high school English.
Writing lends a window into the writer’s mind, which again is not homogenous across the board. Every writer offers a different point of view about the same topic. This difference in perspectives is what makes the essays written by different writers interesting. ChatGPT can’t produce (at least not yet) complex and deeply engaging literary work.
In our everyday life we need to write at multiple occasions, it’s not just creative writing. We must be able to respond critically to events happening around us or generate responses to live conversations (think emails). These skills are developed from learning how to write.
What does the future look like
In the definition above generated by ChatGPT, it says ‘generate human-like text in response to prompts given by users’. The key thing to note here is that an AI powered tool like this will still need humans to provide it with the prompts, and human minds that can engage in opinions and ideas. If the students are able to receive higher grades and greater accolades just by using ChatGPT and not thinking critically, then the writing instruction they have been receiving is that the most important qualities of writing are correct grammar and technical proficiency. That’s a bigger problem.
Tools that assist education have existed in our learning environment for a very long time. Some examples, as mentioned above are, Grammarly, calculators etc. What these tools do is force us to adapt to their usage and develop a new way of teaching. We should be embracing these tools, and allow for a greater and deeper discussion of how we approach learning alongside them because these technologies are here to stay.
Tressie McMillan Cottom describes perfectly, ‘A.I. writes prose the way horror movies play with dolls.’ Great writing is not about the correctness of the words used or even the structure, it is about the nuances of the writer’s opinion, and stories that share about the murky and wonderful ways that we exist in the world. Great writing reminds us of our humanity.
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