Power of AI to be harnessed in Victorian secondary schools
Secondary school students will be encouraged to harness the power of online text generators similar to ChatGPT in a ground-breaking series of writing labs planned by Deakin University academics.
The labs will help educators and students develop ways artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital tools can be used in classroom settings to enhance the teaching of written English.
Victorian public and private schools will be invited to participate in the project later this year, with tools exempt from the state government’s current ban on ChatGPT used for the study.
Project lead Dr Lucinda McKnight, a researcher within Deakin’s Centre for Research for Educational Impact (REDI), said it was important to note the labs will comply with all school and state government policies on AI text generators. This included using tools that are not age restricted and that are not banned.
But she flagged any attempt to block access indefinitely to more sophisticated online AI text generators would keep modern writing in the dark ages. Instead of blocking access, she said students should learn appropriate uses for AI in the classroom or potentially face being on the backfoot in their education and their future careers.
“Schools that do not ultimately incorporate these tools into their written English programs are going to disadvantage their students when they move on to tertiary education or the workplace,” Dr McKnight said.
“We need to develop our students as real writers and real writers in today’s world – whether they be sport reporters, copywriters, or playwrights – are already using AI. This technology has been around for years and it’s time we stopped ignoring it.”
Classroom activities could include teaching students to craft the most effective prompts to guide text generators to create higher quality and more relevant text.
Other lessons would centre around developing narrative concepts, such as by creating chatbot versions of story characters that students might converse with to generate plot ideas, or fact-checking and evaluating AI writing, and learning to synthesise human and AI writing.
Dr McKnight said the future of literacy was learning to collaborate with AI to develop a new hybrid style of writing that merged human capabilities with computer-generated text.
“Students could be asked to generate multiple AI texts in response to certain commands, assess which ones they feel are the most useful and blend them together with their own writing to form one single written piece,” Dr McKnight said.
“They might then be asked to justify their reasons for choosing those texts, how they identified what to keep and what to edit out, and appropriately reference or credit the work. Ultimately, I foresee students using this technology to write news articles, business prospectuses, influencer blog copy, poetry and plays – the options are endless.”
PhD student Leon Furze said the labs would work with teachers and students to tap into their knowledge and skillset to develop the most effective AI learning activities. Classes would also touch on the ethics of using AI, the potential implications of inputting personal data into the tools and educate students on academic integrity.
“As a key component of digital literacy, students will be asked to engage critically with AI writers, consider how they are trained, what potential biases or knowledge gaps they may have, and how to identify and counteract these,” Mr Furze said.
“Schools should be educating students to be well-rounded and digitally fluent citizens capable of operating in an increasingly sophisticated technology-driven world, and we argue empowering them to effectively use AI is an important part of that.”
The AI writing labs will be undertaken as part of a wider study into the teaching of digital writing in secondary school English funded by a $423,652 Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) grant from the Australian Research Council.
The study findings will be shared at a National Digital Writing Forum and the labs will form a potential model for similar writing labs in all Australian schools.
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