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Radical Eyes for Equity: ChatGPT and a New Battle in the Citation Gauntlet for Students and Teachers

The responses to AI writing in the form of ChatGPT have run the gamut from thoughtful to frantic (see both in my own consideration), but the International Baccalaureate response has added a new battle in the citation gauntlet for students and teachers:

Schoolchildren are allowed to quote from content created by ChatGPT in their essays, the International Baccalaureate has said.

The IB, which offers an alternative qualification to A-levels and Highers, said students could use the chatbot but must be clear when they were quoting its responses.

ChatGPT has become a sensation since its public release in November, with its ability to produce plausible responses to text prompts, including requests to write essays.

While the prospect of ChatGPT-based cheating has alarmed teachers and the academic profession, Matt Glanville, the IB’s head of assessment principles and practice, said the chatbot should be embraced as “an extraordinary opportunity”.

ChatGPT allowed in International Baccalaureate essays

This hamfisted move by IB has prompted another layer to the debate:

IB’s “exactly wrong” response to ChatGPT and McCormick’s criticism come on the heels of my first-year writing students submitting their second essay of the semester, an assignment that introduces them to academic citation at the college level through using hyperlinks to support their claims and discussions.

This assignment is grounded in two concerns.

First, students often come to college having learned “to do MLA” and “to write research papers,” which inculcates in them writing like students instead of writing in authentic ways or as scholars/academics.

Second, first-year students are often buried under the weight of formatting citation and less engaged with why and how citation works in authentic texts.

Therefore, hyperlinking as citation and incorporating online sources into original writing allow students to navigate that why and how of citation and using sources while primarily focusing on original ideas and claims in the context of finding and using credible sources to establish their authority as writers.

The next essay assignment requires students to do scholarly citation using APA; therefore, essay 2 is a type of scaffolding to address student misconceptions learned before college.

My teaching style is grounded in workshop structures—students doing holistic behaviors and producing authentic artifacts of learning—as well as providing less upfront direct instruction, models of products being created by students, and then individualized instruction grounded in the artifacts students submit. Of course, much of the learning comes from, in writing-intensive courses, conferencing and revising.

One student, for example, who seems sincerely engaged in the course submitted their essay 2 with the first hyperlink being to Wikipedia.

I had given the class the standard Wikipedia talk I offer: Academia frowns on Wikipedia so you should never cite it, but Wikipedia may be a good place to start thinking and brainstorming, although it certainly isn’t a solid source to end your research.

I reminded them of that in my comment, and once again, reminded the class of this aspect of finding and using credible sources in academic writing.

Essay 2 is once again proving to be a valuable instructional tool about seeking out sources to understand topics and claims better, incorporating citation into writing to support claims and give writing (and the writer) authority, and the seemingly arbitrary standards for citation that vary among different fields (journalism has a much different standards for citation than academia, for example).

Now that IB has christened ChatGPT as citable, students and teachers have yet another layer of problems in the tensions between plagiarism and citation.

Despite IB’s stance, as McCormick rightfully notes, ChatGPT is not citable, not a credible source.

Part of the reason reminds me of the SAT writing debacle that also included computers—machine grading of the writing portion of the test.

As Thomas Newkirk mused in 2005, machine graded writing on the SAT allowed students to “invent evidence” because the computer rubric rewarded the appearance of evidence, not the credibility or even accuracy of evidence; simply putting words in quote marks and ascribing that to someone could fulfill the rubric for proof.

This, as some have noted, is what ChatGPT will do, along with other forms of fabrication.

Citation and incorporating sources in original writing are about the conversation of deep and critical thinking as well as about the ethics of attribution of ideas; in academia, we often call that standing on the shoulders of giants.

It doesn’t have to be that grand, but scholarship and thoughtful thinking and writing should acknowledge that knowing and knowledge are communal, not the product of the solitary mind.

I have come to recognize citation as an unnecessary gauntlet for students, something like academic hazing.

As I tell students, I hope someday we all simply hyperlink as citation to eradicate the mindless formatting nonsense from an otherwise noble behavior: Simply acknowledging that I am not alone in this thinking and many smart and careful people have wrestled with this also in diverse and engaging ways.

Until then, sigh, we teachers and our students are now confronted with another battle tossed in the heap of traps for the emerging students-as-writers.

Added to our lessons on choosing sources, warnings about Wikipedia, and fervent fist-waving about plagiarism, the Brave New World of ChatGPT—and the likelihood that students will arrive in higher ed not only trapped in “doing MLA” and “writing research papers,” but citing AI because their IB program told them it is ok.

See my many posts on citation.

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P.L. Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He...