They took 'er jobs! (Not quite.)
#AcademicTwitter is abuzz with worry over the arrival of ChatGPT.
But remember, math teachers said the same thing about calculators.
Disruptive technologies can open Pandora's Box. But for every custom and norm that is changed, a new possibility opens up. This week, let's look at how GPT can (and cannot) help us.
💬 In this issue:
- Words, words, words. Isn't there more to writing than mere words?
- Not a Personal Statement. One girl's journey to gain admission to her dream school (while managing tiger parenting and the Filipino concept of utang na loob).
- Grammatical Metaphor. One of the greatest features of the English language is a dangerous weapon. Use it with caution.
😌 I, For One, Welcome Our New AI Overlords
ChatGPT is to English class what the calculator was to math class. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay.
Professors are panicking about the advent of OpenAI's new chat bot ChatGPT, but there’s really no need to worry. Instead, we should harness the potential and avert the risks of ChatGPT. Here’s how:
- Don’t worry about catching plagiarism. With writing assistants like ChatGPT and grammar checkers like Grammarly, we can orient our writing classes away from grammar and more towards logic, argumentation, and editing for style.
- Invite students into the conversation. Do they realistically think that they would submit an essay written by a mindless language generator? If not, how would they use it as a tool?
- Don’t panic; experiment. The calculator freed up a lot of cognitive load in math class, allowing teachers to focus more on basic understandings and intuitions. What possibilities does a writing assistant enable in your class?
- Have a clear syllabus. Talk with students about instructions, rules, and expectations so they understand the rules (and know how to break them properly).
Lastly, professors can showcase the failings of AI. Demonstrate for students the ways in which text produced by ChatGPT fails to meet academic writing standards. (You can start by showing them this video→)
The Guardian newspaper published an essay that was written by AI. I used the TOEFL iBT rubric for the Independent Writing Task to grade it.
Language algorithms output language, not ideas—there’s an important difference.
A few key points:
- Language Use. This portion of the rubric rates the quality of the language forms used to realize the writer’s message. One thing I’ve noticed about GPT-3 is that, like many intermediate English language learners, it writes primarily in equal clauses. (I.e., simple sentences or compound sentences). It doesn’t use many complex sentences because the decision of whether to use an independent or dependent clause all comes down to the judgement of the writer. We naturally put important ideas in independent clauses and supporting ideas in dependent ones, but GPT3 can’t tell the difference.
- Organization. Students often ask me how long a paragraph should be, but that’s really the wrong question. I refer them to Eric Hayot’s definition of a paragraph:
The paragraph is the unit of a single idea… How long should paragraphs be? As long as a single idea. Paragraphs can’t really be too long or too short; in general if the idea is contained within the framework of the paragraph unit, then the length is just fine.
Again, GPT3 isn’t a thinking thing, so the paragraph breaks are often arbitrary.
- Development. This is where GPT totally fails. Development is all about the quality of ideas. Have you answered the question? Are you making claims, and supporting them with relevant evidence and valid reasoning? This is something that GPT3 cannot do, and I don’t understand how it ever could.
For the full edit, check out the video→
👨💻 Latest Writing Tips
- This Is Not a Personal Statement. Perla Perez was a high school student determined to attend her dream college. Her struggles to gain admission, alongside Filipino tiger parents and "utang na loob" (a debt of gratitude), the young adult novel follows Perla's journey of self-discovery and maturity.
- Bad Thing. What's the difference between written and spoken English? David Owen examines the history of certain sentence structures that appear in writing but never in speaking (which he calls "bad things"), including their origins and recent rise in popularity.
- Robotic Writing. Nature reports that ChatGPT can now write such convincing fake research-paper abstracts that scientists are often unable to spot them.
- Reading is vital to critical thinking. A recent study demonstrates that listening promotes intuitive thinking, and reading activates more analytical processing.
- Koreans Know How to Read; They Just Don't Want To. South Korea ranks among both the highest literacy rates and the lowest pleasure reading rates in the OECD. Only 11% of students preparing to be elementary school teachers were pleasure readers in English; 84% say it is because they are tested on what they read in class, according to a 2022 study from Busan National University.
🧑🏫Grammatical Metaphor in Academic Writing
One of the great innovations of the English language is grammatical metaphor–the ability to use various language patterns to represent a certain kind of meaning.
Instead of affirming an idea (clause), you effect its affirmation;
rather than postponing an appointment, you implement a postponement.
It's a dangerous tool. There are some good use cases, but one needs to be careful when trying to use a clause as a noun.
In this week's writing tutorial, an ELL student writes about the role of mitochondria in cell death.
An interesting pattern emerges in the writing: the student wants to use a clause as a noun. For example:
|The topic of this newsletter is how to use a clause as a noun.|
This is construction is awkward because, with a linking verb ('is'), the items on either side (the subject and the subject-complement) need to be identical–i.e., they should both be nouns.
Check out the exclusive video tutorial→
The reader is the home of your ideas. Writing is a performance that happens in the intersection between your work and the reader’s experience of it. The ethos of good writing begins with that recognition.
But if you think about what’s going on when you read, you’re processing information at an incredible rate. One measure of how good the writing is is how little effort it requires for the reader to track what’s going on.
❓Question for You
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