Tuesday, August 8, 2023

AI Use by Students is an Issue of Equity

As we consider how to integrate AI in higher education, it's essential to examine who stands to benefit and why it matters. The historical context of language paints a complex picture, where written language has been a marker of class and education. The ability to write elegantly and follow grammatical rules distinguished the educated elite from the masses. Even today, mastery of written language serves not just as a tool for communication but as a status symbol, a differentiation between "us" and "them."

This outsized prominence of literacy and grammar has no intrinsic value; dialects are not inferior, and misspelled words can still convey meaning. The significance of literacy often aligns with social class markers and the dominant culture, rather than enhancing the clarity of ideas.

The fear of losing another marker of social status continues to drive anxiety around language and writing in our society. However, those concerned with social justice should recognize AI-assisted writing, reading, speaking, research, and problem-solving as potential equalizers. For individuals grappling with dyslexia, aphasia, ADHD, and other learning disorders, writing is a daunting task. AI has the potential to level the playing field, offering a means to overcome these hurdles.

Moreover, for the vast population trying to master English or any second, dominant language, AI's smart algorithms can simplify and streamline the learning process. This benefit extends to students from underprivileged backgrounds who may struggle with writing due to a lack of quality secondary schooling. AI offers a chance to level the playing field for these marginalized groups of students.

The transformative potential of AI promises liberation for those constrained by conventional written language. With technology capturing thoughts and expressing them competently, the value of ideas rises, while the value of grammar falls. It is a liberating thing, not a sign of cultural impoverishment.

However, the rise of AI also highlights an enduring concern: inequality. Technological revolutions, while empowering, can exacerbate socio-economic disparities. Those with education and technological proficiency might find themselves better equipped to reap the AI revolution's benefits, leaving others struggling to keep up.

The answer to the question "who benefits?" is contingent on university faculty and administrators. We hold an ethical obligation to empower disadvantaged students with the advanced skills of writing with AI, giving them an equal opportunity to harness this powerful technology.

The potential "AI gap" could become our reality if we do not take proactive measures. We must avoid criminalizing the use of AI, such as GPT, especially as it may disproportionately penalize the most vulnerable students, including students of color. If we equate the use of AI with cheating, the most brilliant, original thinkers will be punished, while the most compliant will be rewarded. Do I want our students to use AI in their real careers, to write better CVs and cover letters, to use it in their jobs? – you bet, I do, and I hope so do you.

AI use by students is not just an issue of technological advancement; it is an issue of equity, inclusivity, and human potential. We must avoid letting others fall behind in the race.

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