Western offers new course on the intersection of artificial intelligence and writing

Contact: Meghan Behymer

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—As the world of technology continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace, Western Michigan University is at the forefront of innovation bringing together artificial intelligence (AI) and the art of writing. 

Dr. Brian Gogan standing at front of classroom teaching

In Fall 2023, Department of English professor Dr. Brian Gogan is set to lead a new course titled "AI Writing: Prompt and Response."

In fall 2023, Department of English professor Dr. Brian Gogan is set to lead a new course titled "AI Writing: Prompt and Response." This innovative offering, developed in collaboration with WMUx, provides students the chance to delve into the intersection between human intelligence and AI-generated text.

“One of the key aspects of AI is the interaction between human intelligence and the platform—humans assign writing tasks to the technology and the technology generates text. This course is really a new take, with evolving technology, on a very old interaction: speakers and listeners, writers and readers,” says Gogan. 

The course, rooted in principles of "engagement and exploration," encourages students to actively investigate the connections between AI and writing. Through the utilization of advanced technologies such as GPT, Bard and Copilot, students will engage in targeted learning activities, experiment with different strategies and design AI-focused projects.

“Throughout the course, we encourage reflection at key moments, empowering students to anticipate how their exploration of AI writing tools will shape their future professional endeavors. Armed with this foresight, they are challenged to develop a plan to address the anticipated impacts, whether positive or negative, ultimately enhancing their competitive edge in the ever-evolving landscape of writing and technology."

Recognizing the challenges of teaching a subject with rapidly expanding knowledge, Gogan acknowledges that “from an instructional standpoint, the course needs to be designed to be flexible.” The course embraces this philosophy by incorporating diverse exercises, learning activities and adaptable assignments that can cater to different scenarios as AI evolves. One notable element is a mapping activity where students visually outline the process, including the prompt, thoughts, GPT's response and their assessment.

“We should view technology as another tool, like a pencil, typewriter or computer, and explore how it can enhance our students' writing competencies and written communication,” says Gogan.

Fully embracing technological progress, "AI Writing: Prompt and Response" also represents the first time Gogan and the Department of English is offering a HyFlex course, allowing students the option to attend either virtually or in person.

AI at Western

While Gogan brings his expertise and unique perspective to the field of AI, the creation of this class is a team effort. The teaching and learning team within WMUx has played a crucial role by offering extensive resources and support in navigating AI at Western and in higher education generally. Working in collaboration, they seek to establish guidelines that prioritize ethical and effective methods to enhance student learning in AI topics.

Dr. Gwen Tarbox

“We don’t know how AI will evolve or what it will look like in the future. What we do know is that Western has a crucial role to play in preparing students for the advancements in this technology and equipping faculty, instructors and staff with the necessary tools to guide them,” says Dr. Gwen Tarbox, director of the Office of Faculty Development in WMUx.

With the introduction of AI-focused courses across various disciplines at Western, including Gogan’s course and planned classes in the Haworth College of Business and Department of Philosophy, the University takes a proactive approach, promoting a balanced perspective. Rather than idolizing or condemning the technology, students and faculty are encouraged to approach AI critically, thoughtfully and with an open mind. 

In line with this approach, WMUx has launched AI @ WMU, a knowledge hub, which is complemented by a series of events and workshops focusing on essential AI topics. Additionally, two dedicated working groups have been formed to explore crucial aspects of AI, one addressing ethics and bias, and the other focusing on AI in teaching.

“AI prompts us to closely examine the types of writing assignments we give students and, ultimately, this scrutiny will benefit students,” says Gogan. “We should ask ourselves why we assign a particular piece of writing and how it encourages students to apply their human intelligence, rather than making it susceptible to artificial intelligence providing sufficient answers. Engaging with our students as humans becomes a primary focus.”

To learn more about “ENGL 5970—AI Writing: Prompt and Response” and the registration process for undergraduate, graduate and non-degree seeking students, please visit the course webpage for detailed information.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.