Can Artificial Intelligence (AI) be legitimately utilized in the process of writing academic assignments?
This is a question that my institution is actively addressing through a task force aimed at determining what constitutes legitimate and illegitimate use. While the final verdict is still pending, here’s my initial take, which is subject to further refinement: Employing AI for early-stage research is acceptable, but relying on AI to generate written content is ethically problematic.
My reasoning behind this stance is rooted in the purpose of education, which is to equip students with the necessary intellectual and practical skills relevant to their respective fields. In the context of Christian education, this purpose extends to shaping individuals who can understand and engage with God’s creation and His teachings (Proverbs 1:1–7).
Therefore, the key question I encourage my students to ask themselves is directly tied to this purpose: Does my use of AI contribute to or hinder my personal growth as a thinker and practitioner in God’s world?
Writing as a Formative Endeavor
While the nature of thinking and performance may vary across disciplines, education aims to expand personal capacities for these endeavors. It seeks to bring about internal transformation within students.
Two distinct yet interconnected processes are integral to this transformation: research and writing. Research involves gathering and organizing information and engaging in reflective thinking until knowledge and understanding are acquired. Writing refines and articulates this understanding for others to receive and evaluate. By laboring through the process of expressing ideas with precision, we come to truly grasp those ideas.
It may be tempting to leverage AI to streamline this process. However, it’s important to recognize the limitations of technology. AI can assist in information gathering and, to some extent, organizing it. Nevertheless, it cannot foster the internal change we refer to as understanding.
When we rely on AI to produce written content that merely mimics understanding, we undermine the fundamental purpose of education—to shape critical thinkers and active participants. Outsourcing the craft of words is tantamount to outsourcing the craft of thought. Like any human capability, the ability to comprehend and effectively express that comprehension is cultivated through diligent effort. Genuine knowledge requires personal engagement and toil. This holds true on both neurological and spiritual levels.
Input vs. Output Tasks
AI tools are suitable for input tasks—gathering and, to some extent, organizing information. However, they are ill-suited for output tasks, such as producing evidence of a student’s understanding. AI can extract ideas from various sources, familiarizing a student with existing conversations on a topic and even suggesting an organizational framework for processing the gathered information. Nonetheless, it should not be employed to produce evidence that a student actively engages in those conversations.
Outsourcing the craft of words is tantamount to outsourcing the craft of thought.
Even for input tasks, it’s crucial to acknowledge the limitations of our tools. AI, like any human creation, is neither objective nor all-knowing. The data it generates is as biased as the sources it draws from, and the connections it establishes are constrained by the algorithms it operates on. AI cannot attain understanding in and of itself, let alone create individuals in the image of God, who possess embodied souls.
Perhaps we can view AI as we do other information tools, such as Boolean search operators or card catalogs. As long as users are aware of the limitations of the tool and understand its specific functions and limitations, they can make informed judgments regarding its application.
So, when a student considers the aforementioned question, a suitable response might be: “I consult AI as an initial step in my research process, but I do not rely on it to produce any content that I claim as my own. Moreover, I do not depend on it to draw conclusions that I consider as my personal understanding.”