Researchers to introduce AI-powered writing labs in Victorian schools

Researchers to introduce AI-powered writing labs in Victorian schools

Researchers at Deakin University have announced plans to introduce a series of writing labs in Victorian secondary schools that aim to incorporate the power of online text generators, such as ChatGPT, into the teaching of written English.

The goal of the project is to help educators and students explore how artificial intelligence and other digital tools can be used in the classroom to enhance writing skills, as part of a wider study into the teaching of digital writing in secondary school English funded by a $423,652 Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) grant from the Australian Research Council.

Lucinda McKnight, the project lead and a researcher at Deakin's Centre for Research for Educational Impact (REDI), stressed that the labs will comply with all school and state government policies on AI text generators, but argued that blocking access to more sophisticated online AI text generators indefinitely would “keep modern writing in the dark ages.”

“Schools that do not ultimately incorporate these tools into their written English programs are going to disadvantage their students when they move on to tertiary education or the workplace,” McKnight said.

“We need to develop our students as real writers and real writers in today's world – whether they be sport reporters, copywriters, or playwrights – are already using AI. This technology has been around for years and it’s time we stopped ignoring it.”

Classroom activities in the labs could include teaching students to craft effective prompts to guide text generators in creating higher quality and more relevant text, developing narrative concepts by creating chatbot versions of story characters, and fact-checking and evaluating AI writing. Students could also learn how to synthesize human and AI writing to create a new hybrid style of writing that combines the strengths of both.

PhD student Leon Furze added that work with teachers and students to develop effective AI learning activities, with classes that tackle the ethics of using AI and educating students on academic integrity.

“As a key component of digital literacy, students will be asked to engage critically with AI writers, consider how they are trained, what potential biases or knowledge gaps they may have, and how to identify and counteract these,” Furze said.

“Schools should be educating students to be well-rounded and digitally fluent citizens capable of operating in an increasingly sophisticated technology-driven world, and we argue empowering them to effectively use AI is an important part of that.”

Victorian public and private schools will be invited to participate in the project later this year, with the tools to be used in the labs exempt from the state government's current ban on ChatGPT. The study's findings will later be shared at a National Digital Writing Forum, and the labs will serve as a potential model for similar writing labs in all Australian schools.