Whose essay is it anyway?

Image credit: Mohamed Hassan, Pixabay, CC0

In this post Tracey Madden, discusses the marketing side of education technology and explains what resistance to ChatGPT means from a  student point of view. She is a learning technology advisor and an MSc Digital Education student at The University of Edinburgh. This post belong to the Hot Topic series: Moving forward with ChatGPT. 

There are several products to support writing, available either as independent apps or integrated into familiar software like MS Office, but none have caused as much furore as ChatGPT, an AI language model which generates text in response to a writing prompt [Cotton et al, 2023].

Some highlight the possible opportunities such software could offer staff, for instance in writing lesson plans or policy documents. However, when it comes to students, the conversation is dominated by fears that it will be used to ‘cheat’ on assignments, leading some to take extreme measures. It could be argued that we have been depending on software for writing for some considerable time, starting with the spell checker, and have simply forgotten that few of us write unaided now. After accepting help with grammar, tone, and paraphrasing, it’s possibly a short step to accepting the unrequested offer of a document summary from Office365; is ChatGPT simply the next step on that path?

Pop-up in Office 365

In all of this, the student point of view appears to be missing. So, as a student writing a dissertation currently, here are the key points brought to mind by the online opinion pieces but also by the barrage of ads and the subtle offers of support, that are ever-present when I write.

What is the value of writing?

Writing is being positioned as (a) a chore to avoid; (b) a mechanism with text as the output; who does this serve? Edtech didn’t invent this sentiment, but they have run with it.

Word Tune [https://www.wordtune.com/faq]
If the product of writing is seen to be more valuable than the process, is it any wonder that we are being offered (and accepting) edtech that emphasises efficiency?

Grammarly [https://www.grammarly.com/edu]
What are the ethics?

There is a lot of focus on the ethics of students using ChatGPT, but if you wrote my assessment question with AI, why can’t my AI write the answer (and why don’t we get another AI to mark it)? If we want to talk about ethics, perhaps we need to focus on the humans behind this.

It’s different for your students

If you are a confident writer and generate text on a topic in which you are an expert, you have what you need to critique this. This is not equivalent to students generating text on a topic in which they are not expert. And if we are not writing in our first language, the confidence to reject suggestions from a writing app goes down. Where is the impartial advice?

It is our creature

Have we considered to what extent are we training this technology from interacting with it? Is it ‘free’ because we are providing the labour? What are we creating?

Education has been accused by private investors as being “…grossly underdigitized…” [HolonIQ, 2021]. Apps like these could be seen as an attempt to increase edtech use by marketing directly to students, avoiding the oversight there would be for edtech provided by the institution. Recognising that education is being increasingly privatised, this is a way that students could be used as the means to further this. Is this what we want? Resistance is not futile.


Cotton, Debby & Cotton, Peter & Shipway, Reuben. (2023). Chatting and Cheating. Ensuring academic integrity in the era of ChatGPT. Available online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/367030297_Chatting_and_Cheating_Ensuring_academic_integrity_in_the_era_of_ChatGPT [accessed 15/03/2023]

HolonIQ (2021) Global EdTech Venture Capital Report – Full Year 2021. Available online: https://www.holoniq.com/notes/global-edtech-venture-capital-report-full-year-2021/ [accessed 15/03/2023]

Tracey Madden

By day, a Learning Technology Advisor with interests in learning design, accessibility and assessment; by night, a student on the MSc Digital Education programme, currently researching the funding of edtech. Whilst accepting her cyborg nature from the constant interaction with technology and data-intensive systems, she isn’t using AI to generate text for her dissertation (or it would have been finished by now.)

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