Reflections on Reader Engagement with the Working Paper

In the two months since the Joint Task Force on AI and Writing’s first public working paper was released, many readers have provided feedback and comments on the page. Commenters have expressed gratitude for the task force’s willingness to take on these issues and formulate guidelines and recommendations, however provisional. Professor Ted Underwood writes that the document we delivered “avoids panic and makes a number of wise suggestions,” which is as much as we could hope for in terms of a review hewing to our objectives.

There have also been productive critiques of the working paper shared, and we appreciate and have carefully read the dialogue that the first working paper has generated. The goals of hosting a feedback option on the Working Paper 1 page have been achieved in the sense that we have learned from readers about what issues, and questions they are facing as teachers and scholars. This feedback will inform our ongoing work to develop professional guidance for teachers and scholars on AI and writing.

The working paper itself is very much a snapshot of a moment. For example, much of what continues to change and evolve is the technology itself—notably the integration of AI options into writing environments like Google Workspace and Office 360. Meanwhile, the pace of adoption shows no signs of slowing, and decision-makers across higher education are pondering uses for AI tools (sometimes in problematic ways). For example, an initial rationale for the dissolution of the language programs at WVU included references to instruction delivered by an “online app.”

We also hear and validate the concerns expressed by commenters, for example, the reader who wrote, “I will do this work [of adapting to the technology]—I have no choice—but it’s unreasonable to expect me to be happy about it.” This comment illustrates one of the challenges of predicting the impacts of a new technology, namely the fact that these impacts are inevitably uneven, although likely to affect those already in a position of precarity in institutions of higher education.

We are optimistic that our most important message—that of avoiding a turn towards purely restrictive and punitive measures, such as an embrace of detection software—seems to have resonated. For all of the concern on the part of our readers about how AI will impact their classrooms (and quite possibly their livelihoods), very few seem to desire to police and surveil their students. The clear majority are looking instead for creative and effective ways of working with and through the reality of the technologies, desiring in varying degrees to educate students to become critical and responsible users while also seeking to preserve what is unique about university writing instruction (as well as literary and language instruction).

Those goals are very much in accord with the concerns of the task force and its sponsor organizations as we engage in ongoing work during the 2023-2024 academic year. We plan on developing additional working papers and publications, as well as future webinars and other forms of outreach which have already proven successful. We thank all of our readers again for their generous engagement.