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5 easy tips for safeguarding good writing practices and navigating AI misuse
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5 easy tips for safeguarding good writing practices and navigating AI misuse

Karen Smith
Karen Smith
Senior Teaching and Learning Specialist






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AI misuse is top of mind for educators around the world right now. As a former secondary educator in the U.S., my thoughts are with my teacher friends who are returning to their classrooms to prepare for the upcoming school year. But regardless of geography and timetables, educators everywhere are facing the impact of AI writing tools in the classroom.

There’s good and bad news here. Let’s face it, the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) writing tools readily available in the classroom is still relatively new so it’s going to be both scary and exciting. No matter whether your reaction is one of fear or excitement, your reaction is important. Not just because of the potential for AI misuse, but also because there’s a brand new group of students who are going to try using one of these tools at some point—with or without their teacher’s guidance. It’s important for educators to take the lead because ignoring AI is potentially dangerous to students’ growth.

If we’re being honest, though, there’s a lot to do within a course, whether it’s a new semester, school year, or not. Completing all the tasks and prioritizing those that are important is daunting on a very basic level. In an ideal world, a teacher begins to prepare for a course with everything already in place in terms of institutional policies regarding AI, and all that’s needed is to make some adjustments to assignments that reflect the usage and/or misuse of AI writing tools. (Is that all?!) Thinking of the sheer number of assignments that exist within a course, this statement is—at the very least—formidable. Happily, this blog focuses on (relatively) easy fixes.

The bottom line is this: Good writing pedagogy in the age of AI looks remarkably similar to good writing practice prior to AI writing tools.

And this blog is not only going to offer sound examples of writing practices, it will also explore the impact of AI misuse on student learning, including tips on how to teach students to use AI tools appropriately and effectively.

Let’s dive in.

What is the impact of misuse of AI writing tools on learning?

This is a great question and one that requires a bit of thought. First, there is not a single easy answer. AI misuse may look different from assignment to assignment, from course to course, from one teacher’s requirements to another teacher’s requirements, but right now, as a starting point, this is the question that must be asked before making any decision. More specifically, what is the impact of AI misuse on learning for this assignment, in this classroom, and for this teacher?

This isn’t exactly a new question, but the way that AI works definitely impacts the answer. Educators have grappled with academic dishonesty in many different forms for years, and misuse of AI writing tools is the latest iteration. This feels different, but in many ways it is not. AI misuse impacts the integrity of learning, and this is the antithesis of what teachers are charged with doing.

For students to do their best, original thinking in an assignment, the work must qualify as their own. This does not mean that the use of AI to help complete an assignment is “wrong” or “bad,” merely that there are ways to use it that don’t negatively impact their learning by following certain practices.

What are good writing practices in the classroom?

I’m going to repeat my original statement: Good writing routines in the age of AI look remarkably similar to good writing practice prior to AI writing tools. Establishing good writing practices in classrooms with a critical eye towards how AI usage can blur into AI misuse is a first step towards establishing a culture of academic integrity within the classroom.

In the classroom, we recommend that:

1. Students write a paper (ideally in person) at the start of the term to establish a baseline of their writing style. Chances are that this is a regular practice in many classrooms already. Students, no matter how young, have a definite style. The way they use words and punctuation to tell a story or to defend a claim is unique. Should any question of AI misuse arise, this sample provides an objective comparison piece.

Not only does this practice establish writing as a priority early in the course, a writing sample is always there to practice certain skills throughout the course, e.g. writing strong introductions/conclusions, or revising, or supporting claims. Use this introductory assignment multiple times to teach skills that they will need to complete the other assignments, the ones that “count.”

2. Students save different drafts. This second tip dovetails nicely with the first tip and will help transition students into the next. The value in saving different drafts is immeasurable. While potentially an unwieldy folder by the end of the course, it also serves to create a record of the student’s process, which may prove useful to both the instructor and the student in case questions about AI misuse arise. Saving multiple drafts of their work as a practice from the first writing assignment is essential. Routine practice is required for this to work. If this is always a part of the writing process, then being asked to show multiple drafts isn’t cause for anxiety when conferencing with students.

3. Students track revisions. As a young student, I believed in my heart that there was a “sloppy copy” and the “neat/final copy” and I did this faithfully to show my teacher that I was following the process. My teachers didn’t fall for it, and neither did I! Tracking revisions serves to create a record of the progress students make as they brainstorm, draft, and revise. These writing artifacts can stand up to review in case of suspected AI misuse, but also allow both student and teacher to determine how and why each revision helps the student meet the purpose of the assignment. And if the revision does not improve the writing, another conversation should follow with supplemental guidance or further clarification, which is also a learning experience.

4. Teachers add conferencing along the way. Conferencing requires a lot from both the student and teacher in terms of time and commitment. As the teacher, it is important to take opportunities to review drafts with students regularly to provide feedback formatively, when it is still possible to impact the student writer’s work. This can be an opportunity for a redirect or to teach a mini-lesson before students finish and consider the work complete. And the value of positive feedback cannot be stressed enough. In addition, reviewing drafts in progress so that when it comes time to grade the final submission means that the teacher has read at least one previous draft and can consider overall growth in addition to the final product. Familiarity with the final submission due to reading previous drafts can potentially save time grading as well.

For students, the opportunity to receive formative feedback is invaluable. Additionally, that built-in time for feedback and revision provides an opportunity to make the evolution of the work visible should misuse become a concern. The empowerment that comes from “fixing it” and/or acknowledging change and growth in their writing is key to not taking a shortcut which could lead to AI misuse.

5. Teachers look for inconsistencies in style. This statement may appear to be a bit of an outlier with the rest of the list, but there’s a reason for its inclusion. For many teachers, this sense that something isn’t quite right with the writing is the first step to helping the student avoid something which may be AI misuse. For example, the use of vocabulary (or some other perhaps more sophisticated construction) that wasn’t in line with previous submissions from the student or in conversations is often the first indication of something not being quite right. It isn’t clear proof of plagiarism, but it highlights the need to read more closely or take the time to return to that diagnostic writing sample and compare. It could be an indication of an attempt to plagiarize, but it may simply be the moment that you understand that this student doesn’t know how to cite someone’s work.

Clarity may come after having a conversation with the student. Having this be a part of the regular writing conference helps immensely when faced with having what may or may not be a difficult conversation concerning potential AI misuse.

What is the value of good writing practices amidst AI misuse in the classroom?

At this point, an experienced educator might say, Hmmm … this is really nothing new. Using strong pedagogy to combat threats to academic integrity is not, in fact, particularly innovative. A former supervisor of mine used to start a lot of our professional learning sessions around writing by saying that assigning writing is not the same as writing instruction, and this holds true, even nowadays when navigating the threat of AI misuse. Student writers deserve to be taught how to write well, not simply be required to do so. Writing teachers know this to be true, and it’ s not revolutionary to suggest that all teachers are writing teachers.

Good writing practices always take time. A measure of how important something is can be noted by how much time is allowed for it in the classroom, yet there is always too much to do in a limited amount of time. Teachers simply don’t have the time or resources to “AI-proof” each and every assignment so focusing on good writing practices gives students the tools to be successful without turning to the “quick fix” that often makes AI writing tools so appealing.

How do you teach students to use AI writing tools in the classroom?

While the insertion of AI writing tools in school settings is essentially new, some of the ways to use them may not be. The previous suggestions are fairly simple to incorporate, if they are not part of classroom routines already. Teaching students how to write well is certainly among the best defenses against misuse of AI writing tools.

But it is also true that educators cannot afford to ignore that– in spite of best intentions and instruction–at some point a student is going to cross that line into AI misuse. Teaching students how to use AI writing tools with integrity is well within the framework of effective writing pedagogy. Certainly caution is needed because AI writing tools are not a substitute for creativity, critical thinking, or original writing, BUT they do have some practical uses that teachers can explore as long as they are aware of the limitiations. In order for teachers to help students use these tools effectively and avoid straying into misuse, they must first know its capabilities. Teachers are expected to be experts in all things, and, in part, this is due to knowing how to research and make the findings their own. Consider using a resource that has done some of that planning for you already.

Only then can good decisions be made about when best to use AI writing tools to achieve goals. Whether it’s for a relatively simple exercise in idea generation or more sophisticated uses such as revision exercises or conferencing that does not require a human partner, the focus needs to remain on ethical use and the unique qualities that human writers bring to the page.

Conclusion: Good writing routines in the age of AI look remarkably similar to good writing practice prior to AI writing tools.

I have woven this statement throughout the blog to emphasize its importance. Instead of looking for a single “fix,” try thinking about AI writing tools as a puzzle with many moving pieces.

Incorporating the 5 tips is only one piece that can have a positive and direct impact on student writing. In case you missed it, we recommend that:

  • Students write a paper at the start of the term to establish a baseline of their writing style.
  • Students save different drafts.
  • Teachers track revisions.
  • Teachers add conferencing along the way.
  • Teachers look for inconsistencies in style.

Another piece of the puzzle is the AI writing detection offered by Turnitin. Communicating with students about what AI writing detection can and cannot do and connecting it to students’ journeys to becoming stronger writers deepens the connection to good practices. Regularly including the Al writing indicator and report into writing conferences, and using this information to help students review and revise their drafts takes away the “gotcha” factor. Finally, continue learning about this tool and using available resources to improve knowledge and skills, both for you and your students.

One final thought then about fitting the pieces together: Challenging? Definitely! Impossible? Definitely not.