The Future (or demise?) of Essay Writing

School systems, including LCPS, are having to tackle the issue of AI generated writing and how to handle the issue.


Graphic created by Cynthia Gonzalez

School systems across the country are beginning to discuss the use of AI programs.

AI generated writing programs, such as ChatGPT, are increasing in number, computer programs may be taking the place of traditional essay writing in the near future. After social media got a hold of the new technology, and people are being made aware of it, it has become more and more prevalent in schools across the country, and has arrived at Dominion.

ChatGPT is one of the more popular AI programs for writing, which allows you to plug in any prompt, and it will generate writing, whether it be in the form of an essay, song, poem or other format. “I found it on Tik Tok, I saw the potential it has, and then I used it to help revise my essay a bit,” said a sophomore, who we decided not to use his name. The student used ChatGPT on an essay which he turned in and received a 90% (-A) on.

AI-written essays have not only been appearing in high schools, but also in college classes. Stephen Marche’s piece in The Atlantic talks a bit about the issue of value in writing now that AI writing programs exist- why should students be motivated to write, or need to, if there is a program that can do it better?

“It is creeping into our lives more and more in a lot of different areas. This is just something that’s more advanced…It’s a little frightening. There’s been a lot of these disruptions in our world and throughout education, and I just say step one, don’t panic,” assistant principal Jon Signorelli said. 

According to Signorelli, the use of AI technology by students has not been an issue as of now, however, “We would treat it just like we would treat plagiarism, academic integrity violation under policy 5030, and we’d use the school based practices that we have in place already,” he said.

ChatGPT was blocked from LCPS devices not long after its launch for plagiarism, and other school systems such as New York City Public Schools have banned the site. That said, there is no way for schools to control whether students use the site on their personal devices.

AI programs are not new to writing, sites such as Grammarly and grammar check services on Google Docs and Microsoft Word have been used by students since they came out. Sites such as ChatGPT are the next step in the advancement of AI, and since they will be more and more prevalent in society as they advance, their use will be either prohibited from schools, or will be integrated the same way that other tools such as spell check and calculators have been.

“Before, it was copying, pasting from Google, now it’s entering a prompt to ChatGPT. We have to find a way as educators to make sure that our students are thinking and processing. The work might look different, but it’s an evolution of some things that we’ve already seen,” Signorelli said.

Due to the fact that it is so difficult to control the use of AI by students, classes may have to consider switching back to hand-written essays like the timed writes that AP Lang and AP Lit classes do. “I’ve heard that there may be some good uses for it down the road. I just don’t know what those are. I’m just concerned because, again, I think one of the most important parts of high school is learning to be a critical thinker, and you can’t do that if someone else is doing your thinking for you,” English teacher Nicole Korsen said.

She will also be incorporating more in-class writing in her classes in an effort to prevent cheating with the use of AI. “Students are cheating themselves by doing this, and that is really my biggest concern. It’s going to hit them harder in ways they don’t realize down the road if they choose to go that path,” Korsen added.

Although AI’s capabilities can be used as a tool to help students, as with many tools, students can find ways to use it to gain an unfair advantage. “This is something that I think is new to a lot of us,” Signorelli said.