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The role of education in developing AI literacy

Hear from Turnitin's Chief Product Officer, Annie Chechitelli, as she shares her thoughts on the key role that educators and educational institutions play in AI writing.

Annie Chechitelli
Annie Chechitelli
Chief Product Officer, Turnitin

Earlier this month, I participated in the “Ethics and AI in Academics” panel at the world-renowned technology convention, CES, in Las Vegas (USA).

Reflecting on the panel discussion, I’d like to share additional thoughts with the broader community as many of our educational partners begin their new school year or start up their spring semester.

As Turnitin’s Chief Product Officer, I often consider which skills I look for in job candidates including emotional intelligence, critical thinking skills, ability to work under pressure, and creativity. Now, following the public launch of ChatGPT, I'll also be asking candidates how they are using AI writing tools, not so much to test them, but to learn new ones and evaluate candidates’ curiosity.

AI writing tools have a lot of potential to make our lives easier, including enhancing and tailoring content, bridging language barriers, increasing productivity, and assisting with brainstorming. However, before someone can reap the benefits of these tools, they need to understand how to use them responsibly and ethically.

That’s where educators and educational institutions come in.

The role educators play in AI writing

We know students are using AI writing tools, like ChatGPT. According to Tyton’s Time for Class 2023 report* Generative AI in Higher Ed, nearly half of students surveyed said they are regular users of generative AI, and 75% of those students noted they will continue to use the technology even if faculty or institutions ban it.

Furthermore, 75% of the faculty surveyed in the same report who said they regularly use AI writing tools, also said they believe graduates need to know how to use the technology to succeed effectively in a professional setting.

The classroom can be part of the solution. It is a safe space for students to learn, practice, take chances, and grow with the technology. The classroom can serve as a great training ground for students to understand its ethical boundaries, safely experiment, learn to discern between facts and inaccurate information, and strengthen critical thinking skills. In this environment, students can learn the strengths and weaknesses of generative AI. Under the guidance of an educator, students can use this technology to learn a new way to brainstorm, identify valid data, and research.

The classroom is an opportunity to prepare students for future job interviews where they may be asked, “Describe a time you used an AI writing tool to execute a project successfully.”

To help educators and institutions navigate the new reality, they need trusted partners, like Turnitin, who understand their needs and those of their students. In fact, two years prior to the public launch of ChatGPT, Turnitin began working on how to provide educators with a tool that gives them transparency into the use of AI writing so they can guide students to use AI responsibly and support academic integrity.

AI literacy will not replace writing skills

As I’ve mentioned before, AI writing is not going away. However, I want to be clear: generative AI writing is a tool of inquiry, not definitive thinking, and learning to write well is the bedrock on which every other skill is developed.

A passage from my earlier LinkedIn blog series summarizes this perfectly:

“We know that ChatGPT can write. It can churn out words that sound nice and make sense, but people who know how to write can make ChatGPT sing and dance.

Give a competent writer access to generative writing tools and they can move the conveyance of information past basic to terrific. Furthermore, given the propensity for Large Language Models to make things up, competent writers have also learned to be competent thinkers and they recognize falsity. Or, at least they know enough to verify the information.”

So, in response to this new technology, educators and institutions should consider using their classrooms as a space to not only build students’ writing skills - which will always be valued by employers - but also as a safe place for them to experiment with AI writing to bring extra magic and sparkle to their future writing in the workplace.

*Turnitin was a partner in providing compensation to conduct Tyton’s Time for Class 2023 and GenAI in Higher Education reports.