What is gained and lost from the writing process when using AI tools?

Peter Puxon, Ayanna Prevatt-Goldstein and Jessica Brooks in conversation with their three ChangeMakers Co-Creator students Anenyah Venkatesan, Zsofia Varga and Yishan Li. They reflect on what is gained and lost from the process of writing and reading after engaging with AI tools to work on an assignment.

This project was from UCL’s Academic Communications Centre.

Slides presented at the ChangeMakers Lunch & Learn event here: SLIDES AI Co-Creator – ACC P Puxon J Brook + A Prevatt-Goldstein

How and why we’re co-creating the response to the use of AI at UCL

When we, the ChangeMakers team, were told there was some funding available for us to structure an approach for staff and students to work together on our response to AI, I knew we’d say yes. I knew next to nothing about AI and was vaguely aware of some of the more panicky and attention-grabbing headlines about the end of higher education and how ‘lazy’ students are getting AI to write their assignments and graduate from uni. In fact, the opportunity to provide an antidote to these enormously unhelpful statements through this funding was the real driver for me. This polarising of staff and students into an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ dynamic is absolutely antithetical to the values of student-staff partnership and damaging to building a strong community and sense of belonging that we know are so vital in a thriving university culture. No one can feel like they belong to a community where members of that community are suspicious they could be cheating.

Co-Creation was always going to be at the heart of our approach. As noted by a member of staff partner running a ChangeMakers project last year:

Our co-creation approach established a strong sense of community and trust between students and staff within [the department] which allowed us to have open dialogue about the challenges which students face.”

These ideas of trust, community and open dialogue, at a time when panic around AI could potentially drive a wedge between staff and students, are essential to these projects. Yes, of course, it is important that they expand our knowledge and understanding of AI, but more important is the idea of learning and responding together as a whole community. So we developed AI Co-Creator projects.

Why Co-Create with students?

  • It is an inclusive approach, especially if we are intentional about whom we co-create with.
  • It is an expansive approach, drawing on the needs, perspectives, knowledge and experiences of both staff and students.
  • Students are empowered to take more responsibility for their learning.
  • You will learn more about who your students are and they gain a deeper understanding of how a university works and how decisions are made.
  • Creates a community approach to problem-solving key educational challenges.

It was important to strike a balance between providing some structure and ideas so these projects could get up and running quickly, but also with enough flexibility to allow individuals to shape the projects to their needs. Ideally, we also wanted to ensure students would be able to shape the projects once they were recruited, in the true spirit of co-creation. In an ideal world, students would have been involved in designing projects with staff from the outset but, unfortunately, time constraints limited us there. But for anyone with time on their side, the value of co-creation throughout the whole project process is definitely something we would recommend.

We developed four themes in areas that were of current interest to students and staff: assessment, feedback, learning support and exploring AI. Within those themes, we also offered a ‘menu’ of ideas for staff to pick up and adapt. This meant that those who wanted to do some learning with students but didn’t know where to start had a place to begin but didn’t limit those who had a clear idea. This seemed to work well. We received 67 applications from staff and have ended up funding 63 of them. We also had a huge amount of interest from students. Staff who recruited their own students reported higher-than-expected interest in their projects and we had around 125 expressions of interest from students who were really keen to get involved. I think the fair payment of a £600 stipend for around 40 hours worked probably helped but that just proves that if students are properly rewarded for their contributions, they are ready and willing to work with us. And their applications were thoughtful about AI and hummed with excitement to get stuck into helping us respond as an institution. To me, these projects are a sign that student-staff partnerships are flourishing at UCL and they offer us a mechanism to be more resilient to change in a way that involves everyone in finding solutions.