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How to deal with AI in language teaching?

An interview with Jane Mahoney on the use of AI in the Language Centre's English courses
11 December 2023

For a while now, it has been virtually impossible to imagine writing without AI. After all, is there anyone who still writes without using an automatic dictionary? And is there anyone who does not translate their sentences using an online translator? Now that AI has been rapidly evolving, it is only a matter of knowing how to make the best use of these new technologies. We asked Jane Mahoney, English teacher and programme coordinator at the Language Centre, about how they deal with AI in the English department when it comes to language teaching.

Since when are you consciously using AI as part of language teaching?

Since ChatGPT was officially introduced in November 2022, we (including Matthew Pattemore, Marrit Faber, Miryam Wijnhoven, and Junyao Zhang) started in December with researching, experimenting, and discussing what AI meant for academic writing. We also started receiving many questions from students about the policy and use of AI during that period, which motivated us even further to incorporate the subject into our courses. In January, we completely changed a writing course that was due to begin a couple of weeks later to include AI tools in the curriculum.

Since the second semester of the previous academic year, we have made AI a regular feature in some of our faculty courses. Currently, AI is a regular part of International Business, Economics and Business Economics, International and European Law, Academic Writing, and Honours College programmes. We will soon be using AI in our other programmes and our own courses too!

How do you use AI during the lessons?

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We have students use AI tools in planning, organizing, and supporting their writing but not to replace it. Knowing the language of writing and the process of writing enables them to recognize ineffective writing when they encounter it, as AI text generators are not known for coherence or a wide range of academic language. We constantly emphasize the importance of maintaining academic integrity and the awareness that AI is not perfect and should always be checked for validity.

One specific type of tool we use are outline generators (not just GPT tools but specific outline generators), such as Such outliners serve to help the students visualize the academic organization of a paper before they write it. An advantage of such outlines is that students can use them for presentations or discussions too. Currently, AI cannot directly assist with speaking skills (until we get a chip in our heads), but with the help of a good structure, AI can help students articulate their story better and write it down more easily.

Other tools include vocabulary profilers, online editors, notetaking tools, research tools that provide outlines with authoritative sources, reference generators, summarizing tools, and more. The constant development of new AI tools means that those who use them must be consistently aware of what's out there. The free tools, of course, are not always as good as the paid tools, but at this point in time, there are enough free tools for students and teachers to be able to experiment and familiarize themselves with AI.

How have students reacted so far?

Many of the students understand why we teach writing: in order to recognize unsuitable writing and because of the reality of not always having reliable AI tools at their fingertips. While some students treat AI as the means to ‘shortcut’ their writing, more students realize that the basic skills are the stepping stones to future writing - whether they use AI or not.

Do you have any tips for other teachers on how to use AI in their teaching?

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It’s important that teachers do not discount the presence of AI and most definitely do not set high expectations of it to the students. It can’t be emphasized enough that writing skills need to be taught despite AI because they are an integral part of working with or without AI: being able to organize and recognize effective speaking and writing is extremely important. Additionally, despite AI’s ability to give feedback, there are so many fine nuances to individuals’ writing that AI cannot detect well enough to give personal, human, and applicable feedback. Therefore, any teacher involved with language learning does not have to fear for their jobs.

I am a member of a UG-wide group that serves to inform teachers, staff, and students about AI and its advantages and disadvantages in education. Each faculty is beginning to develop their own active policies on the use of AI tools but is using this first year to decide what works and what doesn’t. As a member of this group, I have already given some workshops on using AI in language teaching. If your faculty or department is interested in such a workshop, you can always contact the Language Centre .

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Last modified:13 December 2023 4.41 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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