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Akin to the calculator in the 70s or the internet in the 90s, generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) is changing how we teach and learn. Not unlike the past, this change comes with fear—fear that students will rely too heavily on GenAI tools and fear that they’ll bypass critical thinking skills.
History proves that fear and change are closely connected. In 1966, math teachers protested against calculator use in schools claiming that students wouldn’t learn important math concepts if they used them too early. In a 1995 Newsweek article, astronomer and teacher Clifford Stoll scoffed at the idea that computers in schools would make schoolwork easy and fun. He boldly stated:
“Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher, and no computer network will change the way government works.”Clifford Stoll
One way to do this is by teaching critical editing. When educators shift their focus toward using AI tools responsibly, students can harness the capabilities of GenAI without sacrificing essential life skills.
GenAI Will Never Be Human
Like any tool, GenAI has limitations. Tools are meant to aid us in our work, not to replace human thought. Some limitations of GenAI include:
🚫 Factual Inaccuracies and Bias: GenAI can produce errors such as hallucinations (fabricated names, dates, sources, and scenarios) and biases.
🥱 Lack of Originality: AI-generated content may lack the creativity and originality that students can infuse into their work. It can also produce formulaic responses, with overused words and poor sentence structure.
🔀 Misalignment with Prompt/Purpose: AI may sometimes miss the mark in fully adhering to the specific requirements and purpose of an assignment.
GenAI will change how we teach—math teachers in the 60s surely had to adjust their methods when the calculator entered classrooms—but students will still need to engage with course material, experiment with prompts, and critically edit their AI-generated responses.
What is Critical Editing?
Critical editing humanizes AI-generated content by keeping it authentic to the writer and aligned with the writer’s initial purpose. Critical editing encompasses a range of tasks, like:
🔎 Referencing: Ensuring that the content is sourced by reputable research and that sources are consistently referenced.
📝 Monitoring for consistency: Ensuring that the content adheres to language and style guidelines and that names, formats, spellings, and abbreviations remain consistent.
♻️ Assessing flow and structure: Assessing whether the content flows well and deciding whether there are ways to restructure the content to be more effective.
❓ Fact-Checking: Verifying the accuracy of the information presented in the content.
Use this fact-checking process to develop students’ AI literacy skills:
Highlight: As students read through AI outputs, have them highlight statements that are presented as facts and any other verifiable information such as:
- All proper nouns
- Statistics, ages, and dates
- Linked and unlinked sources
- References to time, date, distance, or location
- Descriptions of physical objects and locations
- Claims with superlatives like “only, top, first, or most”
Verify: Once students have marked up their AI outputs, they can use authoritative sources to verify each piece of information.
- Use Google to find the information on the web.
- Look for at least two reliable sources (.edu, .org, or .gov domains).
- Question the source’s purpose and context before proceeding.
🌍 Analyzing bias: Removing any content with explicit or implied bias and making the language more inclusive.
📊 Noting AI Patterns: Correcting repetitive AI patterns that limit the originality of the content, such as repetitive sentence structures, overused jargon, lack of voice and tone, and any deviations from the prompt or topic.
Critical editing serves as a bridge between the content AI generates and a polished final draft. It also requires editorial skills like attention to detail, in-depth analysis, and creativity.
How to Teach Critical Editing to Students When Using GenAI
Critical editing is a crucial piece of using GenAI responsibly while preserving authenticity. When you make editing of AI-generated content a required step in the writing process, students will be required to carefully consider and analyze their final products before submission.
To teach critical editing to students, focus on these key elements:
1. Prompt Creation
Before students dive into using GenAI, teach them how to craft effective prompts. An effective prompt is clear, specific, and tailored to the assignment’s objectives. It guides the AI in generating content that aligns with the student’s intent.
Guide your students using this AI prompt formula:
AI Prompt = [Assignment specifics] + [Voice] + [Objective] + [Ideal format]
Poor Prompt Example: Write a one-page paper on photosynthesis.
Good Prompt Example: Write a 500 word paper describing the process of photosynthesis for an Introduction to Biology college course. Use MLA format and break the process down into steps. Use an informative and friendly tone.
2. Evaluating AI Responses
After receiving an AI-generated response, encourage students to evaluate it. They can ask themselves the following questions:
Alignment with Prompt/Overall Purpose:
- Does the response align with the prompt and assignment?
- Are there ways to tailor the response using additional prompts?
- Example Follow-Up Prompt 1: Rewrite this paper and make it easier to understand for a layperson.
- Example Follow-Up Prompt 2: Rewrite the paper and make it more concise. Use shorter sentences and fewer adverbs.
- How might you change the piece to better meet your purpose?
Factual Accuracy and Bias Prevention:
- Is the content factually correct?
- Are there any biased statements that need correction?
- Biases to Look Out For: ChatGPT has been shown to produce content with gender bias, racial/ethnic bias, and sociopolitical bias because of the biased data it was trained on.
- Biased Statement Example: Research found that when asked to provide job performance feedback, ChatGPT used “she/her” pronouns when referring to kindergarten teachers and receptionists, while using “he/him” pronouns when referring to mechanics and construction workers.
- Can you make the language more inclusive?
- Is the content concise and easy to read?
- Does the content include repetitive words or jargon phrases?
- Can you remove unnecessary filler words or adverbs?
Originality and Creativity:
- Are you the owner of the ideas presented in the content?
- Does the presentation of ideas feel aligned with your voice?
- Can you infuse creativity to make the content more original?
- Does the content tell a story through anecdotes or real-life scenarios?
- Can you include similes/metaphors to make the content more relatable?
- Is there enough descriptive language to paint a picture for the reader?
- Can you add quotes from reputable sources to support your argument?
Share this checklist with students as a printed or digital copy. Encourage them to work through the list as they evaluate their AI-generated content.
Download the critical editing checklist for your syllabus.
3. Iteration and Improvement
The goal of critical editing is not only to analyze AI-generated content but to improve it. After students use the checklist above, remind them to make changes and enhancements before submitting their final draft. You can also use an in-class peer review activity to get more human eyes on each student’s work.
See GenAI as an Aide, Not an Adversary
GenAI is new and unfamiliar, but it isn’t something to fear. GenAI won’t replace the need for humans in the writing process, and it won’t make critical thinking obsolete. What it will do is aid students in getting inspired to think critically and build confidence for students with unique learning needs.
Critical editing is a necessary skill when using GenAI because it teaches students to question and improve their writing. When students develop this critical eye, the work they submit remains aligned with the assignment, responsibly researched, and true to their original ideas.
About the Author
Morgan Westling is an Associate Content Specialist at Course Hero. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Portland and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from The University of the South. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and has been writing for over 7 years. Find more of her work at www.morganwestling.com.