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ChatGPT Essay Detection

ChatGPT Detector

How can we English teachers detect ChatGPT-produced essays? We can bury our heads in the sand like snooty ostriches and claim that our superior literary backgrounds will detect artificial essays submitted by our students in the new year, but having spent some time researching this artificial intelligence (AI), I will say that it’s time we English teachers need to admit that “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

To produce an AI essay in ChatGPT, simply copy and paste a writing prompt into the textbox on this site: https://openai.com/. However, before you do so, I suggest reading the rest of the article to find answers to some of the questions you will have as you start to play with this tool.

I selected a commonly-used writing prompt used with The Outsiders and pasted the following in the ChatGPT textbox:

In S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, each of the Greasers could be considered a hero. Include your own definition of hero in an essay, and provide textual evidence to explain how Johnny, Ponyboy, and Dally matches your definition. Include MLA citations with page numbers.

The results? A coherent, well-written five paragraph essay. A bit formulaic and repetitive. But that’s not the point, is it? As a first draft, the essay is more than passably good. With revision, the essay could be AP quality. I’ll share one of the body paragraphs as an example:

Dally is a hero because of his determination. Despite his tough exterior and rebellious behavior, Dally is deeply loyal to his friends and willing to do whatever it takes to help them (Hinton 48). When Johnny and Ponyboy run away, Dally helps them by giving them money and a place to stay (Hinton 66). He also helps them come up with a plan to turn themselves in and clear Johnny’s name (Hinton 76). Dally’s determination to stand by his friends and do what is right, even when it is difficult, makes him a hero.

Works Cited Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders. Viking Press, 1967.

And, yes, I generated another essay from the same prompt. Results were equally good, if not better, because the AI learns from its experience. It predicts based upon previous writing samples and so improves. Additionally, the essay content was largely different than that of the first essay. Teachers also say that the AI will vary the vocabulary and syntax to reflect that reflective of specific grade levels.

Furthermore, the ChatGPT is quite capable of revising student first drafts. I found it alarmingly, surprisingly, encouragingly good at syntax revision, for example.

In the December 9, 2022 issue of The Atlantic, author Daniel Herman (a high school English teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area) shares this AI capability:

I passed it (a student’s first draft of an essay) along to OpenAI’s bots. “Can you fix this essay up and make it better?” Turns out, it could. It kept the student’s words intact but employed them more gracefully; it removed the clutter so the ideas were able to shine through. It was like magic.”

Possible Solutions to Chat GPT-Produced Essays

1. In the December 29, 2022 Washington Post article, “Handwritten Essays Defeat CHATGPT,” a link to an opinion piece, “Here’s how teachers can foil CHATGPT,” author, Markham Heid, suggests that in-class handwritten essays can solve the plagiarism problem of artificially-produced digital writing. Moreover, the author posits that handwriting produces valuable cognitive benefits. Heid states,

For one thing, neuroscience research has revealed that, to the human brain… stimulates greater activity in a broader group of brain regions when compared with typing. However, the author admits that “much of the research comparing the differing neurological effects of handwriting and typing has focused on children or younger students.”

2.  Fight fire with fire. Artificial intelligence can also be used to predict with remarkable accuracy the likelihood of “predicted probabilities” that an essay has been created via AI. I used the https://huggingface.co/openai-detector and found upwards of 99% probability that an essay had been generated by ChatGPT with numerous submissions. Of course this company does require payment after numerous submissions; however, it shows what may be possible to detect cheating that is currently beyond the scope of TurnItIn or Google. Additionally, the software builds on its expertise by experience and lists the number of “tokens” (I presume similar submissions) to provide teachers with some sense of reliability.

3. TEACHER SOLUTIONS?

I posed this question on several FB groups and received some brilliant responses. I will summarize for the sake of brevity and keep names private:

  • Give an on demand essay to serve as a baseline. Easy to compare with AI-generated essays and provides good backup for teachers who may be subject to student and/or parent pushback.
  • Focus on smaller segments of writing craft. Perhaps one paragraph in-class. Know your students’ writing and you won’t get fooled. For example, students who consistently make capitalization, comma, or subject-verb errors are easy to spot. However, teachers report that telling the program to include errors in spelling, grammar, etc. typical of specified grade levels and the AI integrates these into its product.
  • Use screen monitoring tools, such as GoGuardian provides, or Google draft histories. I hear Draftback is an easy-to-use app to monitor writing history in Google docs. However, these won’t help with students opening separate windows and manually writing or typing from the AI-generated sources.

Making Lemonade out of Lemons

Perhaps rather than looking at AI and ChatGPT solely as opportunities for devious students to plagiarize or avoid writing essays and trying to figure out ways to outsmart this new threat, we might do better if we embrace the tool and design our instruction accordingly. A few ideas…

  • The AI is quite good at lower level cognitive tasks, such as data collection. To use Jane Schaffer’s writing terminology, the ChatGPT excels at gathering concrete details and citations. Less time thumbing through a novel for quotations. Less time Googling “global warming warning signs” on dozens of sites (and ads). More time analyzing the data and composing original commentary on the concrete details. More time revising word choice and syntax to create essays will original style and voice. In other words, more time for teachers to teach the important stuff about writing.
  • As a reading specialist, I’m excited to see AI used to produce relevant background knowledge. Think of it as a filter (and teach students how to do so) to refine a directed task for ChatGPT. Via trial and error I got more and more out of the AI with more specific parameters in my directions. These refinements will lead to the AI learning how to produce a quality knowledge base. Having access to this background information is key to advanced reading comprehension.
  • Another idea is to use ChatGPT to provide drafts for revision. I find this solution enticing, as it’s the revision step of the writing process that improves students’ writing sophistication and provides us the opportunity to share our writing teacher set of tools that we can share with our developing writers.

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The easy-to-use e-Comments app.

Better Writing Feedback

One such set of revision tools that will teach students the art and science of writing revision for both student-produced and ChatGPT-produced essays is my e-Comments Chrome ExtensionThis easy-to-use app allows you to insert hundreds of canned comments from each of four different comment levels (including AP) into Google docs and slides with just one click from the pop-up e-Comments menu. Each instructional comment identifies, explains, and shows your writers how to revise a specific writing issue in stories, essays, and reports. These comprehensive comments don’t simply flag errors, they help your writers learn and improve. Plus, you can add your own comments! Works in all LMS and online Word 365. Add links, audio and video comments, and record the screen. Check out the free 10-day trial on the Chrome Web Store.

“An incomparable time saver for annotating student essays. Custom comments are easily added and modified, and each generation of this extension has improved significantly upon the last. Truly excellent.” K Mason Schecter

“This is an amazing extension. It not only allows you to grade quickly using ACTIONABLE feedback, but it also allows you to leave video and audio feedback all in one place! AWESOME!” Dr. Desiree Alexander

“Open an assignment in Google Classroom and it’s ready to go! Furthermore, create custom sets aside from the existing (overwhelmingly thorough and comprehensive) sets. While the pre-loaded sets deal with writing and conventions, the customizable sets could easily be utilized by teachers from other content areas who wish to expedite the grading of short/long answers and essays with comprehensive feedback. This extension isn’t just for English teachers – it’s for teachers.” Adam Huttenga

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Google Classroom 2020 Comment Bank v. e-Comments

In this article I’l demonstrate how to use the newest version of the Google Classroom Comment Bank to insert writing feedback into your students’ Google docs and slides. I’ll also save you some frustration by giving you a “heads up” about some of the problems you’ll encounter when setting up and using the Comment Bank. Lastly, I’ll attempt to prove why using my e-Comments Chrome Extension may be a much better option for most teachers working in Google Classroom.

Add your free 10-day trial of the e-Comments Chrome Extension after you discover how using e-Comments in Google Classroom is faster, easier, and far more functional than using the Google Comment Bank.

Creating the Google Comment Bank

After opening a student assignment in Google Classroom, click the Comment Bank icon in the upper right corner. The Google Comment Bank is empty, so teachers will need to type in their own comments or copy and paste a list of comments. Unfortunately, Google Classroom only provides one Comment Bank, so think about which comments you plan to use for all of your assignments and classes before you fill up the bank.

If you’re thinking of inserting a number of comments, take the time to organize and group the comments before you copy and paste, because the Comment Bank display won’t sort or order those comments for you. And don’t waste any of your time formatting your list. They paste as unformatted into the Google Comment Bank and Google permits only minimal formatting once the comments are entered.

Inserting Comments from the Google Comment Bank

So once you’ve got some comments stored in the Google Comment Bank, you’re ready to annotate your student’s essay. When you find a writing issue to address, double click or highlight the word or section and search up and down the comment bank for the comment you wish to insert. Click on the comment; click on “Copy to Clipboard,” click on the comment box, type Control-v to paste the comment; click outside the box; and click the comment button. Voila! The selected comment appears in the Google comment box in the right margin. If you were counting, it took eight separate clicks to insert one comment. Not great, but probably faster than red-inking the same comment on a student’s paper.

You’ll notice that scrolling up and down to find the comment you want to insert can be time-consuming and frustrating if you have more than a few comments in the bank. Google tries to solve this problem by providing an alternative method for selecting comments: a key word search in the comment box.

Here’s how you use this method: Type in a hashtag followed by a key word from the comment you are looking for, a list of comment options pops up. Of course, before you use this method, you’ve got to know which comment you want to use and what it says in order to type in the key word. Often, you’ll wind up trying a few key words to narrow down the comment choices before you find the right one, especially because your writing comments tend to use many of the same words. Playing the search for the right comment game does get old very quickly, but it works better than scrolling up and down the Comments Bank display. Unfortunately, it still takes seven clicks to insert a comment with this method.

Using e-Comments in Google Classroom

In contrast to the Google Comments Bank, the e-Comments Chrome Extension was designed by an ELA teacher for teachers and their students. It shows!

The e-Comments menu provides hundreds of customizable canned comments, written in four comment sets: Grades 3–6, 6–9, 9–12, and College/Workplace. These Common Core-aligned comments don’t just identify writing errors; they help your students learn. For example, if students are overusing “to-be” verbs in their writing, simply commenting, “Too many ‘to be’ verbs,” doesn’t help students if they don’t know what the “to-be” verbs are or the revision strategies to eliminate them. The e-Comments identify and explain the writing issues and show students how to revise.

Revise Too Many “to be” Verbs: Limit using so many “to be” verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. To replace “to be” verbs: 1. Substitute a more active verb. 2. Convert one of the words in the sentence to a verb form. 3. Change the beginning of the sentence. 4. Combine the sentence which has the “to be” verb with the sentence before or after to use another stronger and specific verb.

Substitute Example: The child was sad.

Revision: The child felt sad.

Convert Example: Charles Schulz was the creator of the Peanuts cartoon strip.

Revision: Charles Schulz created the Peanuts cartoon strip.

Change Example: The run-away car will be stopped by the tire spikes.

Revision: The tire spikes will stop the run-away car.

Combine Example: The sensitive child is terrified. She is feeling that way because of the news story.

Revision: The news story terrified the sensitive child.

So why re-invent the wheel by writing your own comments?

Unlike the hard-to-search and unorganized Google Comments Bank, the e-Comments menu lets you see all of your comment options at a glance, neatly categorized into writing comment categories. Of course you won’t use all of these comments, but they’re there if you need them. And the e-Comments menu is completely customizable. Move it wherever you want or hide it if you wish. Add, delete, substitute, or rearrange any writing comment categories and comments.

It’s easy to differentiate instruction by switching among the four comment levels to insert remedial or advanced comments. Plus, add your own custom comment sets for different assignments and classes. Wahoo!

While inserting a comment from the Google Comment Bank takes seven or eight clicks, only two clicks are needed with e-Comments. That makes a huge difference when your grading a whole batch of assignments. Simply click once or highlight where you want to comment, and then click the abbreviated comment button to automatically insert the comment. Faster, easier, and much less physical wear and tear.

Also, it does no good to add writing feedback if your students won’t read it. You can personalize  your comments and make them stand out with e-Comments. The program permits full formatting options for any comments you choose to add and save. Plus, e-Comments allows teachers to insert speech-to-text, audio, and video comments and save to separate folders to keep your Google Drive uncluttered.

The fact that the e-Comments Chrome Extension works in and out of Google Classroom is the best reason to add and use this program. Here’s why: Good writing teachers know that while summative writing feedback, along with rubric scores, and a final grade can be instructive, it’s the formative writing feedback on rough drafts that has the most impact on teaching students how to improve their writing. And, of course, students are much more motivated to learn from your comments when doing so will improve their assignment grades.

Unfortunately, Google Classroom does not permit students to see any of your comments in their views of Google Classroom until after you enter the grades and return their assignments. This means that when students open their graded assignments, they can’t revise their work according to your suggestions. However, the e-Comments program lets you comment on rough drafts and students can see these comments and revise their work before turning it in for a grade.

Here’s how to grade student rough drafts. It only takes two extra clicks. With the student’s assignment opened in Google Classroom, click on icon in the upper right corner following the student’s name that says, “Open in new window”. You’ll get the same student assignment without the Google Classroom grading tools. Click the e-Comments icon to activate the extension and insert your comments. Students are able to view the comments as you enter them. You may wish to click “Share” when you finish commenting to alert the student.

Students read your comments and revise their writing accordingly. They can also use the “Reply” button to ask you questions about your comments and you can reply back. To hold students accountable for reading and responding specifically to your comments, I require students to make all revisions in red font and keep (not resolve) my comments. I give additional points for showing me these revisions. Of course, if you are a superstar teacher, you could add additional comments to help students polish their final drafts.

After the student turns in the assignment, you can open Google Classroom once again to grade, score the rubric, and add summative comments. One final suggestion: I would avoid typing comments in the “Private Comment” box. There’s no way to edit or delete once you post this comment.

Clearly, the Google Comment Bank will help teachers save time compared to red-inking a stack of papers. However, I think you’ll agree that e-Comments is quicker, easier to use, and much more functional. Add your free 10-day trial of the e-Comments Chrome Extension today! Simply click “Add to Chrome” and the e-Comments icon will be added to your Chrome Extension Toolbar. Make sure to take a look at the one-page Quick Start User Guide and the training video to see all the program features. Once you’re sure you want it for keeps, click the “Purchase/Activate License” page and pay the one-time fee. It’s only the cost of a few cups of coffee!

Want to see this article as a video? Check it out: The Video

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