Teaching College Students to Write Using Assistive AI: Tips for Effective Use of ChatGPT

Since its launch in November, ChatGPT has been a topic of discussion among academics who are grappling with the implications of assistive AI. While some have been skeptical or have misused it, others recognize its potential to assist neurodiverse students and faculty. Instead of removing ChatGPT from the classroom, Pamela Bourjaily, an associate professor of business communication at the University of Iowa, has incorporated the AI tool into her syllabus to help students improve their writing skills.

ChatGPT’s limitations became evident early on, as users realized that the chatbot can only produce outputs based on the guidance it receives. Bourjaily noticed that students were not getting optimal results when using ChatGPT for their assignments. She found that successful use of the tool requires several steps and interactions, contrary to students’ expectations of getting instant results with just a click or two.

To challenge students in their use of ChatGPT, Bourjaily designed an assignment where they had to identify weaknesses in a generic prompt output. They were then required to edit the output either by rewriting it in their own words or by providing a more specific prompt to ChatGPT. The goal was to encourage critical thinking about the output and refine it accordingly.

Based on the assignments, Bourjaily developed a formula for achieving better results with ChatGPT. This formula includes providing the role, task, requirements, context or constraints, goal, and format of the desired output. By clearly communicating these elements to ChatGPT, students can improve the quality of the output they receive.

Bourjaily acknowledges that she is not an expert in using assistive AI but believes in its potential as a classroom tool. In future classes, she plans to assign business problems to students that they can solve using ChatGPT. Students will then share their approaches and prompts, allowing for skill refinement and identification of potential biases in the output.

Using assistive AI effectively in the classroom requires thoughtful instruction and guidance. By incorporating ChatGPT into assignments and encouraging critical thinking about its outputs, professors can help students harness the potential of this AI tool for their writing tasks.