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AI Essays: No the Sky is Not Falling

The funniest thing I've heard this morning is teachers talking about using AI to detect AI essays. This, of course, based on the old maxim "Set a 'bot to catch a 'bot." But it is deeply, deeply ironic to use the technology we would forbid our students to use.

People are running around screaming, "Augh! The sky is falling!" But, you know what? People have been saying this about technology forever. I remember when people had an outsized reaction to search engines. "OMG! What if students can just look up the answers to all my questions?" Faculty in my department seriously suggested disabling network connectivity in classrooms to prevent students from having access to the Internet.

Burying your head in the sand is not a solution. I used to say, "If you're asking students questions they can answer using Google, you're asking the wrong questions." And, more recently, I've said, "If you're asking students questions that don't *require* them to start with Google, you're asking the wrong questions."

The thing to focus on is what the technology *can't* do. The AI can come up with human language that's statistically associated with the words you're using, but it doesn't *understand* what the words mean.

Years ago, Randy Phillis and I worked together developing problems for students to solve in class. Using a classroom communication system, you can poll students and then project results, to see whether the students predominantly choose one option or are divided among other options. Some people call these "clicker questions" and think they are asking them to see if students are getting the "right" answers. We realized we could ask students model-based problems and see whether students could reason effectively with the models. This is *not* a skill that the AIs can solve. Yet.

You what else AIs can't do? Anything else. So if you ask students to do a project, the AI can't do that. They can't dig a hole and look for earthworms, for example. Or interpret a set of data. Or build a device.

Students have been able to buy essays for a long time. This is not really all that different.