Re-thinking Writing

Reflecting on my over 19 years of teaching, I realized that over time I have relaxed my expectations on student writing assignments. The WAC sessions have actually helped re-enforce that. I now know and actually apply the separation of professional writing from informal thought and opinion blurbs. Weekly opinion pieces in 3 -4 sentences about current events and industry trends encourage critical thinking and allow for students to engage and discuss with each other in a safe space. It adds significance and relevance to my lectures, for sure.

Of course, I still require proper business writing for the bigger research assignments as it is an expectation in their future careers. It is, however, made easier with practice accorded by their weekly blurbs. I find that my students are more comfortable putting words on paper (or electronically, as is more the rule these days) with the regular exercises in class which, again, the WAC meetings supported.

My focus has shifted from correcting grammar, spelling and punctuation to nurturing the thought processes more important for students to develop. We are, after all, educating the next generation of leaders.

Making COMD 1127: Type and Media Writing-Intensive


Lyubava Kroll

Integrating Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) principles into COMD 1127: Type & Media has been a transformative experience, emphasizing the deep connections between writing and typography.

Type & Media presented a unique opportunity to teach students, for whom this is their first exposure to typography, that the study of letterforms goes hand-in-hand with writing and communication. Typography is not simply about arranging letters on a page, it’s about conveying meaning, tone, and information effectively. Writing, similarly, is about clear communication. Together, these skills are essential for effective design.

The Role of Writing in Design Education

Designers frequently interact with clients and collaborators who do not have a design background. Writing helps designers articulate their ideas clearly and persuasively. Designers must be able to explain their design choices and elaborate on complex visual concepts. When teaching Type & Media, I strive to ensure that freshmen students not only master the technical aspects of typography but also develop their ability to express ideas effectively through writing.

Writing-intensive courses enable students to research, organize, and synthesize information, which is highly integral to the design process. These courses also enhance critical thinking and creativity. Through various writing assignments, students gain experience in finding, evaluating, organizing, and communicating information, essential skills in both design and in broader professional contexts.

Course Modifications and Scaffolded Assignments

For the WAC Faculty Writing-Intensive Certification, I revised the syllabus of COMD 1127: Type & Media to include more scaffolded assignments. This approach ensures that students gradually build their skills and confidence and are well-prepared to advance to further design classes. The assignments are designed to lead into formal projects, altogether providing a foundation of knowledge and practice.

Informal Writing Exercises:

Design Critiques and Personal Reflections: Students engage in informal writing exercises where they react, critique, and analyze typefaces used in various media and reflect on their effectiveness. This helps students articulate their design choices and preferences, enhancing their critical thinking skills.

Process Work & Documentation: Students document their design process for each project, including workflow, challenges, and solutions. This reflective practice is essential for continuous learning and improvement. By the end of the semester, students compile a formal portfolio that includes process work and final projects, supported by a strong written narrative.

Formal Writing Assignments:

Research Essay: Students write a research paper on influential typographers and their work, analyzing the historical and contemporary impact of those design typefaces. These assignments deepen students’ understanding of typography and help them present their findings coherently.

Essay and Presentation: Analytical essay and presentation on important typographic principles and famous designers help students articulate their insights and analyses effectively.

Writing Integration

Incorporating writing-intensive elements into the Type & Media course leads to several key outcomes:

Articulation of Design Concepts: Students learn to articulate their design concepts and decisions using appropriate terminology. This skill is crucial for professional communication with clients, fellow designers, and other stakeholders.

Critical Analysis and Reflection: Writing assignments foster critical analysis of type designs and media applications. Reflective writing helps students evaluate their work and others’, deepening their understanding of typographic principles.

Professional Documentation: Producing detailed reports and documentation prepares students for real-world scenarios where clear communication of design processes and outcomes is essential.

Engagement in Reflective Practice: Design critiques and reflections encourage continuous learning and self-assessment. Students develop a habit of critically analyzing their own work, which is vital for professional growth.


The WAC Writing-Intensive process was immensely beneficial. Working with the WAC Fellow provided practical suggestions for improving writing assignments, especially for design students. The real-time workshops were a great way to connect with fellows as well as other participants.


Integrating WAC principles into COMD 1127: Type & Media has highlighted the intrinsic connection between typography and writing. By emphasizing writing-intensive components, students develop critical thinking, reflective practices, and effective communication skills. These competencies are essential for their success as professional communication designers. The experience has underscored the importance of writing in design education, preparing students for diverse professional opportunities where clear and effective communication is crucial.

With the development of AI, the design field is changing rapidly and, consequently, writing skills are especially important and applicable to adapting with the evolving profession. Writing should not be viewed as merely an additional skill for designers but rather as a fundamental component of the design process, one that enhances designers’ ability to communicate and succeed in their careers. This course revision has reinforced that understanding, benefiting both students and the broader field of design education.


Syllabus: 2024 Fall COMD 1127 – course outline

Informal and formal writing assignments: Informal and Formal Writing Assignments

Grading criteria: Grading Criteria for Type Hero



Reflection, WAC Training, Spring 2024


THE 2380 Storytelling and Script Analysis will be WI as the requirement for a minimum of 15 pages of writing in various forms is now being met. The requirement is distributed over several different kinds of assignments: in-class low stakes assignments, a creative “additional scene” assignment (that also demonstrates students’ understanding of genre, adaptation, character, motivation, scenic and play structure), and a scaffolded Final Paper and Presentation. This course uses many WI concepts (writing to learn, scaffolding, writing as a means to generate class discussion, peer-critique, and self-grading) as a means to develop General Education SLOs in Knowledge, Skills, and Values. At present, a non-WI section of this course has a total of 9-10 pages of writing, not the full 15. For the non-WI section, the final paper is 5 pages instead of 10.

I love the idea of scaffolding assignments. I start out with prompts in the in-class, low-stakes writing that will show up again in high-stakes assignments. For example, I give an in-class, low-stakes assignment to generate an idea for a new “Production Concept” for a play we have studied in class. This gets students over the fear-factor of feeling that they cannot engage with the idea of a “Production Concept” and to see that they can, very successfully, do this given an hour or so of in-class time. Students can be amazingly creative if given a defined structure! Later in the semester when they have to give a “Production Concept” on a new play (each student will choose one play from a list), and present it to the class, they have a good success to draw from and a basis with which to engage the assignment.

I really appreciated the module on grading student writing. I loved the simplicity and clarity of the rubrics shown, and I returned to Bean for even more inspiration. I look forward to showing the rubric to my students tomorrow as they are all beginning to write (5 page) papers for the non-WI section of this course. I know they will appreciate the clear guidance of what to focus on as they develop their work.

I appreciated the succinct 3-session WI accreditation and have learned an enormous amount from the sessions and also from working with my excellent fellow, Dohyun Shin!

–Dr. Sarah Ann Standing

All of this considered, what next?

It is fair to say that AI could re-negotiate the landscape of teaching writing as well as the act and the practice of writing for college-level students. For our specific purposes as WAC Fellows, we suggest that this is perhaps a time of self-reflection for WAC. Based on what we have written here, there are a few questions that concern us. Is it necessary for WAC to reformulate its basic tenets and principles? Is it necessary to have these conversations about the use (or the barring of use) of AI in the college classroom? Answers to these questions extend beyond the scope of the suggestions that WAC Fellows can provide here and rest in the hands of legislators as well as administrators and trustees not only at CUNY but also at other universities. However, the need for resources is apparent and crucial at a time when these overarching final decisions about the use and efficacy of generative AI are being circumvented by those with decision-making power. As such, it is a community effort at CUNY to have these difficult conversations as well as to support one another by providing resources like those provided here by Louise, Andréa, Weiheng, and Dohyun. 

Beyond this post, perhaps you might be interested in learning more about generative AI and teaching more generally. We suggest contacting your university’s Center for Teaching & Learning if it has one available. These Centers are working to provide resources like those that we are providing here, confronting topics such as talking to students about AI, our fears about AI, and the questionable relationship between AI and academic labor. Baruch College’s Center for Teaching and Learning, for example, is holding monthly AI conversations through a program entitled “Baruch in the Age of AI,” which you can learn more about here:

However, for the purposes of WAC, the Fellows at City Tech have determined that there are particular WAC principles that remain relevant in the age of generative AI, such as those related to active learning and writing as a process. In addition to maintaining that these principles remain relevant, the Fellows have above provided resources that faculty can use in their classrooms. We suggest that, if you do choose to implement these exercises in your class, that you talk with your students openly about using AI in the classroom. What are the affordances of AI in the writing process for your students? What are their fears of using AI for writing-based assignments? Asking your students these questions might bring you some surprising answers, which might complicate your understanding, your fears, and your insights about the use of generative AI. 

Thank you for reading and engaging with our blog post, and please be in touch with us if you would like to comment, provide feedback, or have questions about any of our posts. 

Generative AI and Writing as a Process: Part II

Revising a WAC Informal Assignment Using Generative AI

In the previous blog posts, we explored how WAC principles—in particular, active learning through writing and writing as a process—can facilitate students’ learning and deepen their engagement in class. In addition, WAC fellows also introduced competing perspectives on using generative AI for writing assignments, acknowledging its transformative aspect as an educational tool and, at the same time, suggesting its inherent limits and the need for redesign. In this section, we will explore specific exhibits suggesting possibilities of how professors can use generative AI as an educational tool to develop a WAC informal assignment. Here is one of the most common scaffolding assignments of Writing Intensive courses: 


Exhibit 1. A module of a WAC informal assignment

Suppose you are an emerging scholar applying for a conference. The call for proposals states that you should submit an abstract of 250 words.

In your abstract, you will walk the readers (in this case, the conference committee) through your 1) premise (essential information your readers should know about your object of study), 2) topic (what interests you from the object of study), 3) tentative thesis (your own argument which will be supported by your analysis and observations of the object of study), and 4) blueprint (a roadmap of your essay).  

In order to brainstorm and develop your abstract, follow the following steps:

  1. Freewrite what you want to write in your conference paper.
    • For ten minutes, write down what comes to your mind regarding your object of study. Do not worry about mistakes, grammar, or spelling errors. Do not reread your writing or edit it. If you are a multilingual speaker, feel free to write words in a language you find more comfortable if you cannot think of a word in English. The point of this exercise is to let your thinking flow so you can use this time to brainstorm your thoughts.
  2. Based on your freewritten draft, write your tentative thesis (one core sentence that can summarize the main argument of your paper) and abstract. 

Make sure your abstract includes 1) premise, 2) topic, 3) tentative thesis, and 4) blueprint. 


The case of Exhibit 1 is helpful when students are not familiar with writing an abstract. It specifically outlines what a professor expects from students’ abstracts: 1) premise, 2) topic, 3) tentative thesis, and 4) blueprint. Yet, it is designed as an assignment with top-down instructions, which can confuse students if they are not engaged in a thorough conversation regarding the definitions and significances of these elements. Therefore, professors often prepare an in-class session to explain what these elements are and why they are needed in this piece of writing. They might also give detailed handouts to students.

In this process, what makes both professors and students frustrated is that some students do not grasp the definitions and significances of these elements even after conversations in and out of class which, from the professors’ point of view, seemed thorough. However, this situation can happen since these elements are often entirely new concepts to students, even though they are familiar to professors who have already written multiple abstracts during their academic journey. Some students might understand the definitions but have not yet grasped the significances (i.e., why they should include these elements and write them in a particular order). In contrast, other students might understand both definitions and significances but struggle to apply the concepts in their own writings. 

Here, WAC fellows suggest a module of a WAC informal assignment that uses generative AI as an educational tool. This assignment is designed to supplement assignments like Exhibit 1. For instance, you can assign this assignment only to students needing help writing an abstract. Another option is to assign this module as an in-class activity that you will reflect on with students as a group. In either case, we recommend doing this module after finishing Exhibit 1 or its equivalent in that this is a module designed for students’ reflection on their writings. 


Exhibit 2. A module of a WAC informal assignment that uses generative AI

Instructions for students

  1. Ask Chat GPT 1) to generate an abstract based on your freewritten draft and 2) to summarize your freewritten draft in one sentence (which will be your tentative thesis). Make sure to provide specific details about your target audience. (e.g., “I will submit this abstract to a journal that focuses on modern American drama.”) 
  2. Compare and contrast two abstracts (an AI-generated abstract and your own).
  3. Write a one-paragraph reflection, considering the following questions:
    • Did two abstracts look similar? Did the AI-generated abstract include the main point of your tentative thesis? Did it miss any details you think are important and necessary in your abstract draft? 
    • If so, how can you make your abstract clearer—so your revised abstract can include your main theme and thesis as well as a blueprint of your paper? 
    • Did you take any advice from the AI-generated abstract? If so, what was it? What did your own abstract miss to include?
    • Are there any changes you want to make further based on this comparison?
  4. Revise your abstract according to your one-paragraph reflection.

Submit 1) an AI-generated abstract, 2) your revised abstract, and 3) your one-paragraph reflection.


Using generative AI as a tool, students can revise their own abstracts, comparing and contrasting them with an AI-generated abstract, a product of AI’s machine learning algorithm based on the numerous abstracts it collected. This act of self-revision is helpful in that students often find it hard to revise their own writings, and many of them end up editing their work instead of revising it. In this context, this exercise provides them with an accessible AI reader—who will not judge them or whom they will not feel bad asking to read their work—while students themselves can be critical readers of this model writing produced by AI. 

Possible concern 1: What if AI’s model writing is a bad example?

Some model writings of AI can be really bad. They might have overly decorative rhetoric and/or a structure not addressing scholarly conventions. Yet, this WAC module is designed to help students with WAC principles (active learning through writing and writing as a process). Writing a one-paragraph reflection, students will have a chance to independently think about whether the AI-generated abstract is well-written. In other words, it gives them a chance to think critically about 1) whether the AI-generated work is fully credible and 2) how they can make use of this technology as a writer. In doing so, they can identify points of confusion and develop their ideas regarding their abstract. Through this metacognitive process, students will have a chance to think about their target audience and their own thinking process both as a reader and a writer. 

Possible concern 2: More writing means more grading!

Some professors might share a concern that this new module burdens them with two extra assignments to be read and graded (an AI-generated abstract and students’ one-paragraph reflection). Considering professors’ heavy workload, here are three possible suggestions based on WAC principles:

  1. Minimal marking: Instead of changing sentence level errors or giving line edit comments, give a few comments highlighting strengths and encouraging students to identify their patterns of errors. 
  2. Exploratory writing: One-paragraph reflection is designed to be an exploratory writing assignment that guides students to discover, develop, and clarify ideas. In other words, reading this short paragraph will allow professors to follow students’ trajectories of thoughts. Therefore, this exploratory writing assignment can lessen professors’ time used to find (or sometimes guess) what students might have wanted to write in their assignments and, in doing so, assist professors in giving students more pinpointed feedback.
  3. Low-stake in-class activity: Instead of grading them, professors can consider making this an in-class freewriting activity, which will also improve class preparation and discussion. 

In this section, we explored a sample exhibit of the WAC informal writing assignment (Exhibit 1) and another exhibit that uses generative AI as an educational tool to supplement the WAC informal writing assignment (Exhibit 2). Acknowledging some inherent limits of generative AI, this section suggested some possible uses of generative AI based on WAC principles, focusing on how professors can encourage students to learn through reflective and metacognitive writing.

Generative AI and Writing as a Process: Part I

Writing as a process in an era when students are using generative AI to produce writing

“Writing as a process” is a WAC principle that notably acknowledges the interactive and iterative components of writing. Taking into consideration the different steps in the act of writing, it’s an aspect of academic writing that implies a view of knowledge as tentative and dialogic. Interactive activities situate writing as a process of inquiry and discovery. Activities promoting this kind of development involve productive talk about the writer’s emerging ideas and encourage multiple drafts and global revision. In WAC, an assignment’s interactive components provide students with the opportunity to brainstorm ideas before drafting, get feedback on drafts from peers, or visit a campus writing center.

One of the key methods of « writing as an iterative process » advocated by Bean is revision. The writing theorist Peter Elbow has argued, “meaning is not what you start out with but what you end up with… Think of writing then not as a way to transmit a message but as a way to grow and cook a message”. In that sense, revision offers the possibility to strengthen the process of meaning-making by acknowledging how a finished product evolves from a lengthy process of drafting and redrafting through an iterative process.

Not only does asking students to follow a step-by-step writing process prevent them from overusing AI since it usually only offers final products, but it also allows students to deepen their thoughts. In considering writing as an interactive process ’s WAC principle, students are given the opportunity to enhance their writing through continuous feedback, whether revision occurs as a result of a peer’s review, the instructor’s mid-term feedback, or their own reader’s perspective on their first drafts. In other words, this pedagogy emphasizes writing as an interactive exchange between writers and readers. Expert writers experiment with the recursive process of thinking itself whenever new ideas emerge during the drafting process. As a matter of fact, final products are often substantially different from the first drafts. An across-the-curriculum emphasis on multiple drafts encourages the dialogic process, whereby writers become engaged with a question and, once engaged, develop, complicate, or clarify their own ideas.

Bean’s Engaging Ideas offers suggestions for promoting revision by building interactive elements into an assignment, among which :

  • Assigning debate-driven models and problem-focused writing tasks. The author advises demonstrating the connection between writing and inquiry to encourage students to ask questions and investigate them. He believes that students are more willing to modify their essays when they are responding to genuine paradoxes or issues, whether presented by the teacher or posed by the student.
  • Encouraging students to engage in active learning activities that develop their question-posing skills. Students should be enthralled by questions and understand that the impulse to write stems from the writer’s wish to offer a fresh perspective on a problem, contradiction, or query. Students practice the thinking strategies that underpin revision through classroom activities that allow them to explore their own answers to questions.
  • Facilitating talk times and writing center conferences. Students ought to communicate their ideas with classmates, peers, or writing center advisors or tutors. An instructor can provide students with the opportunity to discuss their ideas during the initial stages of drafting by including a writing center’s visit into the writing process.
  • Promoting peer review of drafts, either in class or out of class.It can be a beneficial tactic to have students prepare a rough draft far in advance of the final due date and then swap drafts to serve as readers for one another.
  • Have writing conferences with students, particularly if they are struggling with the assignment.  According to the author, teachers in American institutions spend more time writing comments on finished products than holding conferences earlier in the writing process. This could be an opportunity to demonstrate and confirm that the assignment instructions are understood.
  • Providing edits or revision-focused remarks on nearly finished versions.  If students have the opportunity to revise an essay after the instructor’s comments, it can be an opportunity to improve their grade. There are various choices, such as self-assessment, peer reviews, portfolios that greatly ensure revised work, and alternating grading methods to encourage revision.
  • Giving students samples of the instructor’s ongoing projects will help them understand how a professional writer approaches the writing process. It would help students to realize that teachers have writing difficulties on occasion as well. According to Bean, students’ self-images can be improved to a greater extent if they are able to recognize the professor’s personal struggles as a writer. It may also be an opportunity to provide an example of a writing process.

These briefly selected suggestions could supplement an instructor’s agenda  by focusing on process-oriented tasks to assign to students. While developing different skills ranging from interactive components of revising to deepening critical thinking, methods promoting revision underline the importance of the process in the act of writing.

Bringing Consciousness to AI Use: Part II

Active learning through writing in an era when students are using generative AI to produce writing

“Active learning through writing” is a WAC principle that emphasizes the role of writing as not merely a mode of communication or assessment but also as a valuable tool for enhancing the learning process. Before delving into the details of this pedagogical principle, we first clarify the concept of active learning itself.

Active learning is an instructional approach that actively engages students in the learning process, typically through activities such as problem-solving, group discussions, or hands-on experiments. The main idea is to shift from a passive lecture mode where students are mere recipients of information to one where they play a participatory role in constructing knowledge.

WAC advocates use writing as a tool to actively engage students in their learning process. Writing requires students to put words and symbols down on a piece of paper, either digitally or physically. This process, even in the most informal form such as freewriting, asks for students to actively internalize information, reorganize and synthesize various pieces of information, and articulate their understanding. This act enhances comprehension. Additionally, putting words on paper (physically or digitally) also offers a chance to revisit, revise and reflect on them afterwards. Pausing, thinking, and reflecting on their understanding and making cross connections facilitate active learning and critical thinking.

There are various ways of promoting active learning through writing, such as informal writing activities (e.g., journaling, free-writing), formal writing assignments (e.g., essays, papers, abstracts), and collaborative writing (e.g., peer reviews, group writing projects).Formal writing assignments benefit from these smaller, informal writings, which act as scaffolding for these major assignments in their breakdown of work into smaller, more manageable pieces. 

With generative AI, instructors may be worried that students are using these tools to generate writing for the writing assignments. Students who heavily rely on generative AI to produce their assignment answers miss out on the cognitive benefits that come with the process of writing. If students use generative AI to do the bulk of their writing, they bypass the critical thinking, active learning and reflection that writing can foster. With the current technology, most students can easily access generative AI tools such as ChatGPT, and it is sometimes hard to accurately detect whether students are using these tools or not. Therefore, instructors may be reluctant to assign writing assignments to students.

Given the current circumstances, I argue that the WAC principle of using writing as a tool to actively engage students in their learning process is still valid and helpful to promote active learning and critical thinking, but to implement the principle well in our classrooms, we need to cultivate and learn AI literacy for ourselves and for our students and rethink our approaches to writing assignments. We need to understand the advantages and limitations of using these tools, have open conversations with students, and make students understand the goals and methods of the writing assignments so that they understand why they are doing the assignment (and less likely to have shortcuts by using the generative AI tools).

Assignment design ideas that encourage genuine engagement, making it difficult or unnecessary to lean on generative AI:

1. Have students keep a journal of their thoughts, questions, and reflections on a topic. Encourage them to write about their emotions, confusions, and epiphanies. Create writing assignments that relate to their personal experiences and feelings.

2. Conduct in-class peer reviews with specific guiding questions. The feedback process requires students’ active engagement.

3. In-class essays: In a monitored environment, students are less likely to write with the help of the AI tools.

4. Interactive group discussions and writings such as collaboratively working on a Google Doc, or assigning a text and asking students to co-create resources by platforms such as students can annotate a text collaboratively as a low-stake assignment. By doing so, they learn from each other and contribute to annotations together. The dynamic nature of such platforms would make it harder for AI to be seamlessly integrated.

5. Scaffolding formal assignments into smaller pieces (outlines, multiple drafts and revisions) and asking students to reflect on the process and comment on what decisions they make through multiple drafts.

6. Multimodal works: Students may present their work in a non-text way, such as delivering their essays through videos/oral presentations. The process of delivering the text in other modals makes it hard to use AI to complete the task, and it requires students’ active engagement.

Assignment design ideas that creatively integrate generative AI to facilitate active learning through writing (adapted from AI Assignment Flip – 10 Examples):

1. Students use a generative AI tool to draft a paper based on specific guidelines. Then analyze and detail the strengths and weaknesses, focusing on aspects like flow, structure, references, and overall argument. Conclude by reflecting on the evaluation/review process.

2. Present students with a problem and instruct them to use a generative AI for coming up with 2-3 potential solutions. They should then prioritize these solutions, explaining their reasons for each ranking. Furthermore, students should present their own solution, elucidating their choice after considering all the AI-generated options.

3. Students first write a paper and then use AI to review it, exploring feedback in areas such as flow, structure, grammar, clarity, argument, and the overall tone. Based on the AI feedback, students refine their work. Students need to submit their initial draft, AI’s recommendations, the revised paper, and a brief reflection on what advice they take or not and why.

4. In the AI Debate assignment, students choose a topic open to interpretation and use AI to formulate pros and cons. They then examine the soundness and depth of the AI-generated debates, determining which side appears more convincing. Then students challenge the AI’s arguments, pinpointing any logical fallacies, inconsistencies or uncited statements.

“Active learning through writing” emphasizes the instrumental role of writing in facilitating deeper understanding and engagement with the teaching materials. In the era of generative AI, writing can still be a transformative tool in the educational process, promoting critical thinking, reflection, and active participation in one’s learning, but it requires some shift in perspectives and redesigns. 

Bringing Consciousness to AI Use: Part I

Bringing Consciousness to AI Use

If you want to move beyond the moral panic and fear that students are “cheating” by using AI, here are two assignments that look critically at AI’s construction, use, and implications. These assignments give us an opportunity to interrogate how a natural language processor works and some important voices in the AI conversation that often go overlooked.

Assignment 1: What even is ChatGPT

Cool, so. ChatGPT, the enemy of English professors and probably all professors everywhere, right? 

I actually think the premise of ChatGPT is great and if it’s a useful tool for you to get started in the writing process, then I fully support it.

But, if you haven’t already realized, ChatGPT also has the potential to create a sophisticated word salad without much meaning underneath what it produces. I guess all of this is to say that if you are going to use it, make sure you can back up your claims with real research.

I found this video (Can Computers Really Talk? Or Are They Faking It? | Season 1 | Episode 3 | PBS) from 2021 that explains how ChatGPT works (in case you don’t already know) which is a great starting point for understanding the benefits and limitations of this technology.

TLDR: ChatGPT puts sentences together based on statistical analysis, not word comprehension.

For this week, please

1) Watch the video

2) Ask ChatGPT questions to intentionally trick it

3) Record your questions and ChatGPT’s answers 

4) Give a brief explanation of how the ChatGPT generated text goes in a different direction than what you were prompting it to say

Happy generating!

Assignment 2: Learn Their Names: Dr. Joy Buolamwini, Sasha Costanza Chock, Timnit Gebru, Dr. Ruha Benjamin, Erin Reddick

Behind the scenes of the AI explosion, there are researchers who are tirelessly sounding alarms of racial biases in AI and offering opportunities to create an inclusive and expansive experience for everyone. Since CUNY students represent the global majority, it is crucial that we hear from experts who understand and uplift that positionality. Over the next four weeks we’ll be moving away from whiteness and diving into the work of researchers who represent communities that are not historically centered and are crucial voices nonetheless.

Week 1: Pick one of these researchers and learn about their work either through a primary article, TEDTalk, video, website. Write a brief summary of who this researcher is in relation to other contemporary voices on AI, what you learned from this researcher’s work, and if what they presented has changed your view of the mainstream conversation around AI. 

Week 2: Pick a different researcher and learn about their work through the same method as last week. Write the same brief for this researcher.

Week 3: Pick one last researcher and learn about their work through the same methods as Week 1 and Week 2. Write the same brief for this researcher.

Week 4: Now with three different voices, write a piece that discusses the intersections of their work and what a better future of AI would look like for you and the people you love.

Dr. Joy Buolamwini: The Coded Gaze: Bias in Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Sasha Costanza Chock: Design Justice

Dr. Timnit Gebru: Data for Change

Dr. Ruha Benjamin: Race After Technology

Erin Reddick: ChatBlackGPT™️

Adapting to a changing game in the classroom

It has been just over a year since ChatGPT, the game-changing generative A.I. [artificial intelligence] tool – stormed onto the scene of the internet and into the lives of nearly everyone who interfaces with the internet in their life and work. From its release on November 30th 2022, it has overwhelmed and forced changes to work patterns and methods across fields and disciplines, and has brought to the fore particularly fraught questions about the tool – a large language-based model chatbot – and its use in the classroom for educators. 

Significantly and fascinatingly, the edicts of OER [open educational resources] and OA [open access] are in mission and terms deeply related to the concept – and, indeed, the kinds of resources created and shared – openly – are those which have been used to train and create this mighty tool. OpenAI describes itself as, “Creating safe AGI [artificial general intelligence] that benefits all of humanity.” Unesco describes OER as: “Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.” The philosophies of both of these share a commitment to openly and freely sharing resources – without withholding access to information and technology from the world through paywalls and seeking to escape the confines of publishing and technological access historically as well as contemporaneously. 

But how can we square the situations that many notable published authors have found themselves in, when learning that their works have been used to train and develop this software – that some see as eliminating the need for attention to writing itself? Thousands of authors’ pirated books have been used to train the tool – from which there is no going back. How can we square the rights of published – and, in particular, living – authors with the reality that accessible texts – be they legally or illegally findable and usable on the world wide web – are used to train tools that completely change how we must think about writing in the contemporary world? 

Prompted by the urgency of generative AI both within and outside of our classrooms, we WAC fellows at City Tech, will examine the tool and how we might use it in the classroom in a series of blog posts. We aim to provide a realistic and thoughtful engagement with the tool and to take into account how significant this is for those of us weeking to incorporate the methods of WAC [Writing Across the Curriculum] into our classrooms for the benefit of our students and to improve and bolster their learning outcomes through the incorporation of writing in diverse and disparate fields and disciplines. 

This forthcoming series will reflect upon the continuing relevance of WAC principles in the age of AI, and will provide some practical examples of how to incorporate the principles into our teaching methods, ranging from how to encourage active learning through writing and fostering writing as a process in the age of AI. 

Engaging Students Through Exploratory Writing

A central tenet of the Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) pedagogy is that the act of writing is in itself a process of learning. The clearest example of this to me is the exploratory writing assignment, where students are asked to write in a way that is relatively brief, informal, and low-stakes, to help develop and clarify their ideas rather than to present a formal written product. In this blog post, I explore the rationale for using exploratory writing to facilitate student learning, discuss strategies for designing effective writing assignments, and share some of my own experiences incorporating writing (imperfectly) into a 150-student, largely lecture-based undergraduate abnormal psychology course.

Writing to Change Thinking

Exploratory writing is meant to be a work in progress – freeform, sometimes stream of consciousness writing that is used to stimulate and refine ideas, rather than a completely polished report with a clearly delineated thesis and carefully deliberated evidence. Exploratory writing assignments are thus ideal for when students have not yet fully formed their thoughts on a topic, as it encourages them to translate their partially constructed ideas into words. This process, this struggle of putting ideas into coherent sentences pushes students to provide structure and narrative to their thoughts, since the words they write should still be coherent to a reader, even if imperfect in grammar or syntax. Translating thoughts to text can in turn inspire ideas, realizations, or even questions that then spark more ideas. When we ask students to engage in exploratory writing then, we are asking them to begin developing, organizing, and restructuring their thoughts, and to invite us into their minds as they play out this process on the page.

Although the notion that writing can be used to change ideas is not new, there is compelling evidence to support this phenomenon, particularly through clinical trials of writing as a form of therapy for people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition which can develop after someone experiences a traumatic event, and one core feature of PTSD is having negative thoughts about oneself (e.g. “I’m a failure,” “I’m to blame for what happened”), others (e.g. “people are untrustworthy,” “everyone wants to hurt me”), or the world at large (e.g. “the world is dangerous,” “the world is unfair”). Though there are several ways of treating PTSD, gold standard treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and cognitive processing therapy typically include strategies to change these negative thoughts, as they can contribute to the maintenance of other PTSD symptoms. In other words, a primary goal in the treatment of PTSD is to help people relearn the way that they think.

Expressive writing, or freewriting about thoughts and emotions related to the traumatic experience, has consistently been shown to improve PTSD symptoms. In his seminal study on expressive writing, psychologist James Pennebaker (1986) had two randomly assigned groups of participants complete 15-minute freewrites on 4 consecutive days. The expressive writing group was asked to describe their feelings about a personal traumatic experience, while a control group was asked to objectively describe a neutral topic (such as their living room or their clothing). Interestingly, after a 6-month follow-up, participants in the experimental writing condition were less likely to have sought medical care than people in the control condition, demonstrating that a brief writing exercise could lead to changes in health outcomes even months later. This finding sparked an interest in writing as a means of therapy, and over the next three decades, hundreds of studies have largely supported the finding that expressive writing can improve PTSD symptoms (and potentially other mental health conditions such as depression), albeit at a small to medium magnitude (Reinhold et al. 2017). Although the exact mechanism for how writing improves PTSD symptoms requires more study, evidence for the cognitive model of PTSD suggests that expressive writing allows people to make meaning of their traumatic experience, constructing narratives that make sense of the trauma in ways that change the negative cognitions they have about themselves, others, and the world (Sloan and Marx, 2004).

The literature on expressive writing and PTSD provides evidence of how exploratory writing can be an effective means of helping people change the way they think, by helping them make sense of their thoughts and ideas. In the context of undergraduate education, exploratory writing can similarly be used to foster critical thinking skills. By asking students to write about the ideas, theories, and information we present them with in class, we challenge them to grapple with and make sense of the topics we teach, possibly changing the way they understand the world as they consider a different way of thinking. Although it can seem daunting to include more writing into our courses, exploratory writing assignments can actually facilitate engagement with the coursework and help us achieve the learning objectives of our courses. As Bean and Melzer (2021) describe, instructor testimony has consistently reported that the “payoff of exploratory writing is students’ enhanced preparation for class, richer class discussions, and better product writing” (p. 117).

Maximizing Student Buy-in

Given all the benefits of exploratory writing, how do we actually incorporate it into our courses? A key component of developing effective exploratory writing assignments is to facilitate student buy-in. If the writing assignments begin to feel like busy work, students will be less inclined to put effort into the assignments, if they do them at all. So how might we maximize the likelihood that students are invested in the writing assignments? There are three strategies that I think can be particularly effective.

First, we should emphasize to students that these assignments are low-stakes, largely graded on completion (if graded at all) and are designed to help develop ideas. This means that students should write to get their ideas on the page, without paying inordinate attention to grammar, punctuation, or syntax. Hopefully, this lets students understand that the assignments are not meant to waste their time, but simply to help them better engage with the course material.

Second, exploratory writing assignments should be integrated into the course design, such that it builds upon other aspects of class. For instance, an in-class writing assignment at the beginning of class might be used to facilitate classroom discussions or groupwork, or a writing assignment might be used to brainstorm and develop ideas for a formal paper or an exam question. Ideally, students should be able to see how these assignments have a function within the larger structure of the course, rather than being standalone assignments that need to be completed for the sake of completion (i.e. busy work).

And lastly, writing assignments should feel relevant to the lives of our students in some way. Students are more likely to complain about an assignment when they do not see the purpose of it, and I think that an important factor in encouraging students to see that purpose is by designing our assignments to help students apply the information they are learning to their own lives (more on that later). Ultimately, we create these assignments because we want our students to be interested in the topics we teach, so the best way of fostering engagement is by using them to show our students why our topics of interest are so interesting in the first place!

Strategies for Exploratory Writing Assignments

Now, what might exploratory writing assignments actually look like? Exploratory writing can take many forms, including “journals, notebooks, thinking pieces, marginal notes in books, nonstop freewrites, reading logs, diaries, daybooks, letters to colleagues, electronic postings, notes dashed off on napkins, [and] early drafts of essays” (Bean and Melzer, 2021, p. 94), all of which can be incorporated into class time or assigned as homework. However, the format the writing assignment takes may be less important than how the prompts are structured. Since the purpose of the writing should be to encourage thinking, asking students to regurgitate information from a textbook (e.g. to define a term or explain a theory they read about in a chapter) may not be the best way of using exploratory writing. Rather, asking students to find and reiterate information encourages cursory reading, and similar to the control condition of Pennebaker’s experiment, likely has limited impact on the processing and reworking of information that is so crucial to critical thinking.

A more effective way of fostering engagement with readings may be to ask students how they could apply the information they are learning to other contexts. In my abnormal psychology course, I have often found that students are most engaged when they are able to see how the topics we cover are relevant to their own experience. For example, when we discuss specific phobia, I ask students to write about their own anxieties and fears, and then try to draft an exposure hierarchy for themselves (which they could use if they were doing exposure therapy for their fear). Applying the exposure hierarchy to their own lives can help students better understand how exposure therapy can reduce anxiety. This exploratory writing assignment also provides me with the opportunity to gauge students’ understanding of material, since I can quickly go through responses and provide individual feedback to students who are completing the hierarchy inaccurately.

Similarly, students can be asked to apply information from the course to current events or intellectual debates. Although current events may not be immediately relevant to every discipline, every discipline has unanswered questions that can be fruitful for classroom discussion. As an example, gender dysphoria is a disorder that is currently debated in the medical literature, as there are proponents and critics of keeping it as a medical diagnosis. In my lectures on gender dysphoria, I try to present students with arguments for both sides, and then give them an exploratory assignment where I ask them to choose a side and explain why. This type of assignment can help students clarify their thinking on the topic, and I believe also demonstrates to students how real-world problems don’t necessarily have a “right” answer, because professionals in the discipline also need to struggle with ambiguous and imperfect solutions.

Another way of asking students to apply information to other contexts is by asking them to assume a different role in their response. For instance, after lectures about historical perspectives on mental illness, I present students with a case study and ask them to write out a diagnosis and treatment plan for a patient, first as a discipline of Hippocrates in ancient Greece and then again as a modern cognitive-behavioral psychologist in private practice. Similarly, students can be asked to take on a “teacher” role by asking them to teach a topic to someone outside of the discipline (e.g. “Explain this theory to your grandmother”), or perhaps a role specific to the discipline (e.g. “Imagine you are on the hospital ethics committee and you were reviewing this case, what might your concerns be?”). Prompting students to take on a different role in their writing assignments encourages them to see a problem from another perspective, to use their imagination and try to understand why the information we present can be important in various contexts. Encouraging this use of perspective is not only applicable across disciplines, but can also be fun for students to write, and fun for us to read!

Exploratory writing assignments can also be used to help students explore the process of learning itself, by having students write about their experience engaging with course material. For example, an in-class writing assignment at the beginning of class might be to ask students to “describe the most confusing part of the readings for today,” which can then facilitate a class discussion on the difficulties of the assigned reading. In my own course, I offered students an extra credit opportunity to provide weekly feedback about the class, where students who completed at least 6 weekly feedback forms would receive a few points extra credit on their exam scores. The forms were identical every week, and primarily asked students to share what they liked most from the week, what they liked least, and what they were still unsure about or confused by. I found that these forms often helped me get a sense of which topics students were most confused about, and therefore which topics I may need to teach differently or emphasize less of on our exams. Another benefit was that in my end-of-course evaluations, many students have commented on how they appreciated being able to provide feedback about the course, and felt that their concerns were heard even within such a large class.

Another way to explore the process of learning can be to demonstrate to students how their own ideas have changed and developed. One way of doing so may be to use exploratory writing assignments as an iterative process. For instance, if students are required to submit a formal project, exploratory writing assignments could be used as a means of scaffolding, such as by having students brainstorm ideas, submit an initial draft, provide notes for their peers, and then revise and resubmit. An additional writing assignment might be to have students write about their own development, between their initial brainstorming to their final product. Although I haven’t been able to implement this type of scaffolding in my own course just yet, I have asked students to write about their opinions on a topic (e.g. substance use) and then to revisit their opinions after reading an article or watching an informational video. I have found that these assignments, asking students to write about how their own ideas have changed, are often the ones that students report to be the most memorable at the end of the semester.

Although I unfortunately have not had the opportunity to teach since learning about WAC pedagogy, I have found in my previous experience that exploratory writing assignments can be very effective in promoting student engagement with course content and enriching classroom discussions, even within a large, primarily lecture-based course. Engaging in WAC pedagogy has deepened my appreciation for the utility of writing to facilitate student learning across all disciplines, and I look forward to further integrating writing assignments into my courses for when I teach next.



Bean, J. C., & Melzer, D. (2021). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. John Wiley & Sons.

Pennebaker, J. W., & Beall, S. K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 274–281.

Reinhold, M., Bürkner, P. C., & Holling, H. (2018). Effects of expressive writing on depressive symptoms—A meta‐analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 25(1), e12224.

Sloan, D. M., & Marx, B. P. (2004). Taking pen to hand: evaluating theories underlying the written disclosure paradigm. Clinical psychology: Science and practice, 11(2), 121.