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### Exploring Artificial Options and Challenges in Writing and Rhetoric at University

OXFORD, Miss. – When generative artificial intelligence first emerged, three faculty members in the…

Stephen Monroe, the chair and associate professor of writing and rhetoric, along with Marc Watkins, UM Academic Innovation Fellow and Lecturer in Composition and Rhetoric, have been actively engaged in developing strategies to support colleagues and students in addressing challenges and opportunities associated with the utilization of tools like ChatGPT in educational settings and beyond. The Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the university has taken the lead in addressing the implications of artificial intelligence in education.

In Oxford, Mississippi, three professors from the University of Mississippi’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric were captivated, fascinated, and concerned when the concept of artificial intelligence emerged.

Robert Cummings, an associate professor of writing and rhetoric, shared his initial encounter with this technology in April 2022 during a presentation by Stanford University researchers exploring the potential of word processors capable of generating conceptual AI content. This revelation was further emphasized when Cummings stumbled upon a book entirely authored by artificial intelligence, published on Amazon within six days, serving as a stark realization of the impact of this technology.

Recognizing the profound implications of artificial intelligence, Cummings, along with Marc Watkins, an Academic Innovation Fellow and professor in composition and rhetoric, and Stephen Monroe, a chair and associate professor of writing, collaborated on devising strategies to empower colleagues and students to navigate this evolving landscape of writing with confidence.

The advent of generative AI, notably ChatGPT, in late 2022 revolutionized content creation across various platforms, sparking discussions and debates on its unprecedented ability to swiftly generate text based on prompts.

Educators are grappling with the rapid integration of tools like ChatGPT in educational settings, striving to adapt to the dynamic nature of these systems.

Challenges such as plagiarism, ethical considerations, and data privacy loom large in the realm of conceptual AI. Higher education institutions are particularly concerned about issues like academic dishonesty and the potential impact on critical thinking skills.

Watkins expressed apprehension about the ethical dilemmas posed by the unchecked proliferation of these tools by software companies, emphasizing the need for a cautious approach.

The faculty members of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric began experimenting with AI-powered assistants in their writing courses in August 2022, expanding their pedagogical horizons and supporting student learning.

Monroe coined the department’s AI philosophy, “Explore, don’t panic,” underscoring the commitment to embracing innovation while prioritizing the well-being of individuals within the academic community.

Cummings introduced the “DEER” approach to guide student projects involving AI, emphasizing the importance of clear project stages, analysis of AI systems, student exploration, and reflective practice.

The department’s initiatives yielded valuable insights from undergraduate reflections, showcasing students’ responsible engagement with AI tools and the diverse choices made regarding their utilization.

The scholarly contributions of Cummings, Monroe, and Watkins have garnered attention in prominent publications and events, highlighting their expertise in navigating the intersection of AI and education.

Teachers nationwide are increasingly recognizing the significance of integrating relational AI tools like ChatGPT in their instructional practices, albeit with concerns about maintaining academic integrity and fostering critical thinking skills.

Cummings’ leadership in the university’s Artificial Intelligence task force underscores the institution’s commitment to advancing AI initiatives and fostering collaboration within the academic community.

Monroe, Watkins, and Cummings acknowledge the rapid evolution of AI technologies, emphasizing the need for ongoing adaptation and critical reflection in educational contexts.

The forward-thinking approach of instructors like Guy Krueger, Angela Green, Chad Russell, Andrew Davis, Emily Donahoe, Colleen Thorndike, and Brian Young at UM underscores the commitment to leveraging AI for enhanced learning opportunities.

Looking ahead, the Department of Writing and Rhetoric remains dedicated to exploring the potential of relational AI tools and devising innovative applications to enhance the writing process in academia.

As the landscape of education continues to evolve, Cummings emphasizes the transformative impact of AI on literacy and communication, underscoring the imperative of preparing students for an AI-driven future.

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Last modified: February 27, 2024
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