GenAI In-Depth: Specific Implications for Writing and Other Disciplines

Though writing is just one of the many areas that will be transformed by GenAI—and it would be impossible to cover all possible subjects of interest that will be transformed by GenAI—we consider the impact of GenAI on writing and approaches to writing as a template. It is clear that implications for other areas will have some similarities and many differences in comparison to writing.

Writing is central to U-M’s mission to create and publish new contributions to knowledge. Writing is a mode of learning and disciplinary thinking. GenAI technology is developing more rapidly than research can track, and the various instruments present strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to all aspects of our educational and research mission.

How we respond to GenAI should be consistent with our core values of fairness, diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, research veracity, truthfulness, and ethical integrity. Time and resources are needed to develop evidence-based knowledge, policies, and best practices about GenAI, and to analyze the impact of various GenAI instruments on writing practices and multimodal composition.

To prepare GenAI-aware writing assignments, instructors should reflect on some foundational tenets:

  • GenAI will transform traditional academic writing, multimodal/multimedia composition, and creative expression in every U-M school and college. We need to commit to learning about it, experimenting with it for writing tasks, and teaching students to use it responsibly and ethically, with knowledge of its strengths and weaknesses, and with realistic expectations about what it can and cannot do.
  • It is imperative that instructors continue to teach writing as well as multimedia/multimodal composition. Our knowledge is only as good as our ability to communicate it to relevant audiences.
  • GenAI presents opportunities and potential benefits. It can be used at any point in the
    writing process to complement and expand students’ thinking, project planning, brainstorming, research, outlining, drafting, and revision processes. There are risks involved in using GenAI in these ways: use of GenAI may impair original thinking and problem-solving; students’ privacy is not protected; the output may contain fabrications, falsifications, biases, or errors. Students are nonetheless responsible for the work they turn in, including the truthfulness, academic integrity, and biases of content.
  • GenAI weaknesses threaten academic veracity, the accurate transmission of existing knowledge, and the verifiable, reproducible creation of new knowledge. Use of GenAI should therefore be paired with critical evaluation of text output, fact-checking, and verification of acknowledged sources.
  • GenAI tools can be used as a cheating machine, so threats to academic integrity should be anticipated and mitigated in U-M’s academic misconduct policies and in syllabus statements.
  • Some instructors will consider eliminating writing assignments from their courses with the intention of guarding against students’ use of GenAI to complete tasks. This strategy could compromise students’ academic development, understanding of disciplinary thinking, and problem-solving skills. It is in any event impossible to detect use of GenAI at numerous stages in the writing process. Instead of eliminating writing assignments, instructors should consider how they might adapt their goals for writing assignments to new GenAI environments.
  • It is important that instructors not respond to GenAI by restricting writing assignments to what can be completed or handwritten in class. If in-class writing is necessary and appropriate, it should be assigned in a manner that does not create inequities for students with disabilities and for students learning English as another language.
  • When instructors assign tasks that require use of GenAI, they should ensure that all students have equitable access to the necessary tools, with appropriate protections for privacy.

Given the complexity of adjusting writing pedagogy to GenAI environments, centralized teaching resources need to be widely available in advance of fall term to support instructors adapting their courses and writing assignments to GenAI environments. U-M writing centers and writing programs are already tasked with supporting and guiding transformative change for instructors and students. All such units should engage the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the rapidly changing technology in writing and multimedia composition pedagogy.

This work will involve revising existing teaching resources and inventing new resources to support writing instruction and student learning in new technological environments. U-M writing centers, programs, instructors, and researchers should research GenAI in the context of writing pedagogy, multimodal composition, and creative expression, in order to develop ethical, responsible, and effective strategies for using GenAI to advance students’ disciplinary learning and ability to communicate.