When I entered the world of content creation, I was writing materials for language learners and leading a team of content creators. The focus was on the target audience, fonts for learners with dyslexia, textbook design, and tasks. Step by step, new elements became a part of our project. We started using words like digital content, platform, UX team, and A/B testing. The longer I worked with content, the more and more acronyms and abbreviations became a part of my everyday vocabulary. Soon, I found myself learning about things like SEO, CMS, LCMS, SERP, PPC, RoI, and Monthly SV. The latest burning topic in content creation areas has been AI writing tools. At first glance, it seems like the shift has been made from authors and audiences to search engines and technologies.
The way in which copywriters, students, educators, marketers, and many others work is changing rapidly. We are at a point of no return, and we should (continue) critically think about the role of AI tools in all areas of our lives.
Content Creation and Critical Thinking in Education
Most children begin creating language content once they start school and learn to write - from words to sentences, short texts, poems, dialogues, and essays. Some are focused on getting good (or just passing) grades, while others might develop a love for content creation, take their skills to the next level, and enter the world of digital content and marketing.
So, what happens when a learner hears that there is this open AI ChatGTP thing that can write an essay instead of them? And what happens when a teacher has to grade this essay?
Forbid or Embrace?
When I worked as an EFL teacher in Croatia, many of my colleagues would get crazy at the mention of Google Translate. And it was completely understandable - children would write an essay in Croatian, translate and submit it without even reading or thinking about the text. So Google Translate has caused much trouble for many EFL teachers. Now, with the rise of more sophisticated AI tools learners can use (and abuse), the issues are even bigger.
The solution many of my fellow teachers see as the only one acceptable - let's forbid the use of Google Translate, ChatGPT, Grammarly, etc. Learners who use them will have to redo their assignments, get bad grades, or be punished in some other way. This will teach them that cheating and submitting direct translations are not acceptable.
As an educator and EFL teacher, parent, and content creator, I wonder - why not teach them HOW to use these tools and help them develop critical thinking skills along the way? After all, these are two types of skills children need to develop in the 21st century.
Honestly, Google Translate has saved me numerous times since we moved to Germany. So, why should we teach learners that finding different solutions to problems (writing an essay or a poem, going shopping or seeing a doctor in a foreign country, etc.) is wrong? What we could consider wrong in this case is submitting something without stopping and thinking about the content and the language. But this goes for professional content creators as well - bloggers, content and social media marketers, writers, editors, and many others should think about the content before publishing.
So, let's see how to embrace different language tools and teach learners to think critically.
Think, Create, Think Again
You might have read this article on critical thinking. If not, here's a brief explanation and a few definitions. Critical thinking is:
- the art of thinking about thinking (2)
- a mode of thinking about any subject, content or problem in which the thinker improves the quality of their thinking by skillfully analysing, assessing and reconstructing it (3)
- purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as an explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based (4).
I believe that one of the main reasons why many teachers forbid the use of language and AI tools for content creation in schools is the amount (or lack) of thinking about the content, tools, and processes students invest in their writing. The problem is not the tool they use.
So, the need to think critically about the tools and the process is a must in education as well as in digital content creation.
Before writing, professional content creators do their research. They ask questions like:
- Who's my audience?
- Where can I find my audience?
- What are the marketing goals?
- What stage of the buyer's journey is this for?
- How easy is it for my audience to consume this content?
Another focus in this pre-writing phase is SEO research. Here, you search the volume of a specific keyword phrase and whether it's worth creating a piece of content around it.
Similarly, educators should encourage learners to think about the content they will create. Some elements might be pre-determined (e.g. topic, title, style, type of essay or poem, length), but there are still many to think about. Students should outline their poems, essay, short text, etc., decide on the style guide they will use, and collect resources for evidence before writing.
What if learners use AI and language tools in this phase?
Show them how to think critically about the solutions the tool offers. Encourage them to ask questions and brainstorm.
- Does this content match the criteria?
- What other ideas can I come up with?
- If I were my teacher, admission counsellor, or peers (the audience), would I like to read this?
- Is the tone right? Would my audience like to read something more enthusiastic, cautious, or confident?
Many AI text generators can be a great help in this stage. One interesting study (5) with 200+ content marketers and writers showed that the bloggers who used AI reported it took them 2.81 hours to write a 2.000 words blog post, compared with 4.02 hours for bloggers who did not. This means that bloggers who use AI spend 30% less time writing.
What if learners use AI and language tools in this phase?
During writing, teachers can encourage learners to think critically about the tools they can use.
- Is it enough to type the text in your mother tongue and let Google Translate do the rest?
- Can this tool (any AI or language tool) express the emotions I feel about this topic?
- How would I write this specific sentence without the help of the tool?
- Should I use this tool (any AI or language tool) as a source of ideas or just copy/paste the poem, essay, or short text it created?
- Can this tool (any AI or language tool) match the voice of my audience?
- How can I measure your progress if I use only this tool (any AI or language tool) and don't write anything myself?
Finally, it's time to think about the final content. As a content creator, you can revise as you go or wait a few days and revisit the work with fresh eyes. You can ask a colleague, manager, or editor to review your work. Also, you can ask Grammarly or Hemingway Editor to do this for you before clicking the final "Publish".
What if learners use AI or language tools in this phase?
Encourage your learners to go through the text before submitting their final work. They can:
- See if some (pre-given) expressions from the previous lesson are included in their content. Maybe the tool created content without keywords, grammatical structures, or tenses that were a part of the task.
- Write down mistakes Grammarly or Hemingway Editor recognise. Is there a pattern? Do I keep making the same mistakes? How can I use the tool to improve my writing?
- Research words or expressions that sound strange or don't make sense (Google Translate often shows direct translations). Mark these words or expressions to discuss alternatives with the teacher.
- Think about the pros and cons of using an AI or language tool. If all my classmates are using it, does it mean it's the best way to do my writing assignment?
School is a perfect place to start teaching children about the process of content creation and critical thinking. It is also the time children get exposed to different AI and language tools that can help them successfully carry out their writing assignments. It is our job as educators and parents to teach them how to use the potential and avoid the downsides of these tools. Similarly, digital content creators can create content that is SEO-friendly and still has the voice of the creator and considers the users' needs.
Suggested reading on the topic:
(1) Shadiev, R., & Wang, X. (2022). A Review of Research on Technology-Supported Language Learning and 21st Century Skills. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 897689. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.897689.
(2) Ruggiero, V. R. (2012). The art of thinking: A guide to critical and creative thought (10th ed.). New York, NY: Longman.
(3) Elder, P.R., & Elder, L. (2008). The thinker's guide for conscientious citizens on how to detect media bias & propaganda in national and world news. Dillon Beach: CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.
(4) Facione, P. A. (2013). Critical thinking: What it is and why it counts. Millbrae, CA: Measured Reason and the California Academic Press.