Artificial Intelligence: 7 Things College Students Need to Know Before Using AI

As an Instructor in the English Department at a large public university, I only want my classes to be successful. Nothing makes me happier than when my students engage with readings, participate in meaningful discussions, and then go on to produce timely, polished essays on compelling topics.

Last fall, as always, some of my students struggled with time management. Many wrestled with their workload, while others tackled grammar or critical thinking challenges. I made plans to tweak my classes for the next semester.

When spring term rolled around, I noticed fewer of these concerns. Most assignments were on time. Many more papers demonstrated nearly flawless grammar and sentence structure — perhaps a little too flawless.

What college students need to know about using AI. (Twenty20)

The papers my students handed in were grammatically better but less insightful

Yet simultaneously, the essays suddenly lacked the enthusiasm, insight, and originality I look forward to in student writing. My coworkers had noticed too, and the pattern was so consistent that we knew something was up. Students were using AI to generate their writing assignments.

Look, I get it. New technology is fun, novel, and exciting. Typing in nothing but a short prompt and watching a completed essay appear in seconds seems like magic. Most people can’t resist that temptation, especially overwhelmed composition students.

There’s a lot of pressure to excel; everyone wants to get the work done and have fun. AI Language Models are the miracle solution, right? Not exactly. While it’s true that AI can do some pretty cool things, it’s important that we approach the software in a responsible and well-informed way.

7 things students need to know before using AI to generate assignments

1. It’s still plagiarism

Using AI may not be the same as taking credit for someone else’s work, but it still counts as cheating. Students who cheat with AI are passing off work that they did not do on their own, and this has severe consequences in academia. While not getting in trouble should be a motivating factor, it isn’t the only reason students must be careful with this technology.

2. AI is not reliable

To put it simply, AI makes things up. If it can’t find an answer or is asked to complete a task that it doesn’t understand, it will bluff. It’s kind of like a giant game of Balderdash. Undergrads who have not mastered the topics they are learning cannot distinguish actual facts, sources, quotes, etc., about the real course material vs. those that are fabricated.

I received many research papers this year with lines from texts that do not exist but sound convincing. My students, naively trusting the technology, never thought to verify any AI-generated information, leading to many of them getting busted for plagiarism. Hence, my next point.

3. Robots aren’t smarter than people

AI is fast. It can scan, it can search, and it can produce content at incredible speeds. Trust me; I wish I could write an article in three seconds flat. I have been working on this one for several hours already. AI language models are also great at grammar and sentence structure. But that’s it.

There’s more to intelligence than speed and knowing how to string a sentence together. AI lacks consciousness. Therefore, it has zero understanding of any of the material it creates. It cannot evaluate, make connections, empathize, think critically, and all those other wonderful things that make us and our writing complex, engaging, and real. 

4. Professors aren’t looking for perfect grammar

When I ask my comp students what they think makes “good” writing, they inevitably say perfect grammar and vocabulary (which AI does pretty well), but that’s not what I’m looking for. Grammar and vocabulary only go so far, and I don’t mind a few mistakes as long as the errors aren’t getting in the way of my comprehension.

Instead, I tend to evaluate assignments on the content. I’m looking for unique angles, compelling topics, and new perspectives. AI cannot replicate those.

5. AI has no voice

AI writing is easily spotted because it all sounds the same. It’s sterile and, well, robotic. Every human being has their writing voice, which means we each have a distinct personality and style that comes through when we write. It helps us connect with our readers.

The essence of who we are shines through our words, which is good. We want that! We write to share ourselves: our perspectives, our opinions, and our experiences relevant to important subjects. Robot writing steals that from us, replacing it with generic content that conforms to a bland standard. 

6. Communicate with teachers

Most of the students who used AI in my classes explained that they did so because they were swamped with assignments from other classes, family obligations, and demanding jobs that wore them out and gave them very little writing time.

AI was a convenient shortcut taken in desperation, but if they had explained their situations, I would have been glad to work with them to find a solution. Most instructors are flexible and understanding as long as students communicate their needs.

7. AI can be used responsibly

I am excited and curious about this new technology and its possibilities. It shouldn’t create mass hysteria and won’t destroy higher education. While AI should never be used to complete entire assignments, it has a lot of other valid applications.

We can use it to create schedules and to-do lists, which can help us with grammar on a small scale (not a whole paper). AI can make templates for documents like resumes that users can fill in with their information.

The technology does an excellent job of suggesting possible essay topics to assist in the brainstorming phase of the writing process. I sometimes use it instead of a thesaurus, and I hear it even creates an excellent chocolate chip cookie recipe.

The emergence of AI is an exciting development, but we must remember that it’s just a tool. Its potential lies in the hands of its users and the technology must be used mindfully, ethically, and responsibly, especially in an academic setting. Most importantly, we should remember that while AI can do a few nifty tricks, it can never replicate the extraordinary complexity of the human voice or spirit. 

More Great Reading:

College Readiness: How to Know if Your Teen Is Prepared

About Victoria Fedden

Victoria Fedden is a writer and a mom from Florida. Her memoir This is Not My Beautiful Life was published June 2016 by Picador USA. She teaches writing, works at a yoga studio, and occasionally blogs on her website at Her essays and articles have appeared in Real Simple, O Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Huffington Post, Redbook, Elephant Journal, Scary Mommy, Babble and The South Florida Sun Sentinel, plus various other publications. Please visit her Facebook page for updates.

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