The End of Writing

“Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade… It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.” – Malcolm Gladwell

The release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT continues to cause significant debate, much of it in the field of education. In an essay entitled “The End of High School English”, Daniel Herman offered the sobering suggestion that AI, “may signal the end of writing assignments altogether.” There is no question as to whether developments in AI are inevitably going to have a significant impact on society. In education, some will find resonance in Smiley’s view that: “ChatGPT and other AI inventions are a quantum leap in what students can accomplish toward the upper bound of that spectrum. Educators should give students challenging, relevant projects to conquer, where these tools empower their knowledge work.” Smiley suspects a different reaction, however: “Unfortunately, I fear most schools will lash out … leaning even harder into proctored exams and essays. This will make traditional schools feel even less relevant to learners and, therefore, require an even bigger stick to motivate their behaviour.” From calculators to smartphones, informed educators should intuitively know that control is not a reflex that is congruent with modern learning. But despite what Herman and others warn, the sky is not going to fall.

The fact is that most of us have been using machine learning algorithms to assist us in our work and lives for decades. The sentient threat of AI, to date, remains nothing more than media hype. The reality is that teachers will inevitably and increasingly find informed value in new developments in AI and so will students. This inclination should not be regarded as some diminution in personal integrity. While advances in tech often raise legitimate concerns about freedom and surveillance, education should not, unwittingly, replicate those very concerns through control and a lack of trust. One of the most insightful articles on the impact of AI simply reminds us of the essence of learning as a process, rather than simply a means to an end. In the Farnam Street essay, “Why Write?” we are reminded that: “Writing is the process by which you realise that you do not understand what you are talking about. Importantly, writing is also the process by which you figure it out… Writing is not just a vehicle to share ideas with others but also a way to understand them better yourself.” This is the essence of writing.

Advancements in AI further highlight the need to engage with learners on the algorithms and politics that are competing for their worldview and endeavouring to influence the decisions they make. It is for this very reason that schools that impose strict controls on technology are missing an opportunity to help students become critical thinkers and resourceful learners. On this journey, we will all need to become AI-literate. Moreover, in many realms of education, there remains a need to overcome an endemic, anachronistic fear of technology and the disruption that it represents. Change may not mean that the sky is going to fall, but it does mean that we are obliged to prepare students to adapt to a dynamically changing world. Ironically, the advent of AI and other assistive technologies will enhance the true value of literacy and expand what that concept actually means. As the likely impact on the integrity of information and traditional jobs evolves, the value of things like student-centred learning, truth, critical thinking, personal voice and the creative arts will expand. 

Postscript: Teachers can use the artificial intelligence tool to effectively automate some routine tasks. 6 Ways to Use ChatGPT to Save Time

Gladwell, Malcolm. What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures. Little, Brown and Company; October 20, 2009.
Herman, Daniel. “The End of High-School English.” The Atlantic. December 9, 2022.
Smiley, Garrett. “Every Student is Cheating with ChatGPT, and That’s a Good Thing.” EdTech Digest. December 20, 2022…
Parrish, Shane. “Why Write?” Farnam Street. March, 2023.

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash.