Prior to the pandemic, our school began to make a shift toward digitizing assignments. We became “BYOD” (“Bring Your Own Device”). I followed suit by turning almost everything into something from Google Workplace: Docs, Forms, etc. When the pandemic sent us all home, I was ready for the transition to Meets (eventually Zoom) and Classroom. But once we returned to “in person” learning, it was clear something was wrong. The psychological and social impact of the pandemic, combined with what I perceive to be the ongoing influence of zero-attention span social media (e.g. TikTok), made it clear to me that basic skills like close reading, note taking, and writing needed to be retaught. So, this year I removed computers from my class, for the most part. My students receive a guided outline for each lesson. They can take notes on it. Each of my assignments is open note, in order to reword note-takers. And I don’t have my students read articles from their computers anymore, realizing I was going to lose the battles against all of the alluring tabs attracting them to some other part of the Internet. Now, they receive printed versions. It’s almost as if the Internet was never created. Almost.
I’ve continued to do assessments through Google Classroom. My students have to write somewhere between six to ten sentence “Exit Ticket” responses. For some lessons, I had them do something like a quiz that I called a “Multiple Choice Review” that was, again, open note and not really a quiz as much as a chance to have them stop and revisit key concepts, rewarding those who took notes so they could use them. The aforementioned Exit Tickets were completed through a Google Form when I wanted a very brief (six sentence) response and through a Google Doc when I wanted a slightly longer (ten sentence) response with a more formal rubric to follow.
Because of this approach, my students have been using their computers for these assessments. Also, if they miss class, they can turn these writing assignments into homework to do outside of class through Google Classroom. As you may have guessed by now, and as I should have known as a teacher in my seventh year, the temptation to plagiarize has been too strong. Now, I don’t want to make it sound like an epidemic. I’ve graded hundreds of assignments this semester but only had six or seven cases of plagiarism. That being said, several cases of plagiarism is alarming.
The alarm is going to be screaming even louder now. For those who haven’t been paying attention to education and technology news, a OpenAI, ChatGPT, has been made available to the public that’s a game-changer. It can take a prompt and write a response that’s better than most of my student’s writing. Usually, this is how I catch plagiarism. Suddenly, a fourteen year old with a perfectly fine vocabulary for their age writes something that I know they wouldn’t say. If I’m using a plagiarism checker, it’s caught, but even just copying-and-pasting into Google is sufficient most of the time. ChatGPT changes this. You can know that it’s unlikely that your students wrote what they submitted but plagiarism checkers and Google searches won’t suffice because the AI is writing fresh content.
To see why this is freaking out educators, I recommend an article and a podcast:
- Stephen Marche, The Atlantic, “The College Essay is Dead”
- Plastic Pills – Philosophy & Critical Theory Podcast: “AI & the New Crisis of Humanities Education”
As an educator, I don’t like saying what I’m about to say because I know it increases my workload as part of a profession known for being notoriously overworked and underpaid, but also I’m an ideologue when it comes to the value of a liberal education and skills that may not be valued by the Cult of STEM, like the reading, note-taking, and writing I discussed above, which I find indispensable to a healthy society and a functioning democracy. My plan is to fight the Internet’s self-deconstruction with a further return to pre-Internet pedagogy. My Exit Tickets will be hand written in class (unless an accommodation is needed) during class time with the only materials available being the physical papers notes and articles that students have been given.
The perk of doing this in the Internet age is that I can have my students submit both the physical paper itself but also take a picture of it that can be submitted as an attachment in Google Classroom as a form of safeguarding against the old annoyance of losing a student’s work or having a student falsely claim to have submitted something they didn’t submit without the benefit of having Google Classroom to check that claim.
I’m aware that grading handwritten assignments will be difficult. I’m including in the rubric the necessity for the writing to be legible and I’m keeping the length requirement short enough to prevent too much hand-writing fatigue. In a sense, I feel like I’m doubling down on the necessity of reading and writing skills in a digital age that is trying to marginalize those skills as secondary or irrelevant (say compared to coding). But I believe—and I recognize my biases here—that if the Cult of STEM dominated education, we’re in for a world of pain in the not-so-distant future.