Writing Center consultants at forefront of AI tools to assist their peers

As artificial intelligence writing tools like ChatGPT gain in popularity, a group of student workers has been trained to guide their peers who want to use these chatbots in writing assignments.

Consultants at the Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors were trained in AI writing tools before the start of the fall semester, said center director Patrick Johnson.

"When ChatGPT was introduced last winter, there was an immediate reaction and uncertainty then, and while that uncertainty remains, our job is to be prepared to help students as always," Johnson said. 

The writing center has 61 consultants to guide students through a myriad of assignments, such as research papers, essays, resumes and cover letters, and more. Johnson said students coming to the center for assistance have some trepidation about using AI tools, although he added the tools can be helpful to brainstorm topics or create business communications.

Alisha Karabinus, assistant professor of writing and interdisciplinary studies, points to AI-generated language on a projected screen in her classroom
Alisha Karabinus, assistant professor of writing and interdisciplinary studies, points to AI-generated language during her class.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Alisha Karabinus, assistant professor of writing and interdisciplinary studies, uses AI tools in all of her classes and agreed with Johnson: students in her business communication class have noted the immediate benefits of using AI, at least in one assignment.

"For one assignment, we use a content generator called Rytr to write three drafts of an email," Karabinus said. "Then we go over these together. It can't mimic the human nuances within an email, and it helps students see what not to do."

Karabinus said faculty within the Writing Department have continual discussions but have not set a departmental policy about using AI in assignments. Johnson said the writing center created a policy that puts faculty preference first on use of AI tools. The center's policy included creating a citation guide for AI tools, which fell to lead consultant Hannah Applebee.

finger pointing to AI tools on projection screen
Alisha Karabinus incorporates AI writing tools in all of her classes. Karabinus said her students have noted pros and cons after one assignment centered on three drafts of an email.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills
students look toward front of room with laptops open in front of them
Lam Phung listens to Alisha Karabinus, assistant professor of writing and interdisciplinary studies, during class on October 4.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Applebee is a writing major with a digital studies minor; this is her second year of working in the writing center. The citation guide she created includes MLA, APA and Chicago styles, she said.

"Everything is so new with this, but our main goal is to help students," Applebee said, adding she and other consultants document use of AI tools in their session notes, which can be shared with faculty members.

In her own social work class, Applebee said there was an assignment to use ChatGPT to create a case study. She also pulled examples of AI-generated graphics to incorporate within a website. At the end of October, she and other consultants will attend the Michigan Writing Centers Association conference hosted by Grand Valley, where some presentations will touch on AI tools.

Johnson was a panelist at a Quest Series event discussing ChatGPT in February and participated in a Pew FTLC learning community on the subject. He expects more of those types of events to occur as AI technology continues to evolve.

"This is the first fall ChatGPT and others have been in existence. There are some faculty who are early adopters and others who are more cautious," Johnson said. "At the writing center, our job is to learn about policies and be intentional about how we guide students in their use of it, if allowed by faculty."


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