Writing centres and ChatGPT: And then all at once

Vol. 4., No. 1 (Spring 2023)
Brian Hotson, Editor, CWCR/RCCR

A couple months ago, I asked OpenAI‘s ChatGPT to write blog post on writing centres and academic integrity. This week, I asked the new version of ChatGPT to write this piece again. For the old version of GPT, I used this prompt:

Write a five-paragraph blog post about the state of writing centres in Canada, with citations and references. The first paragraph is an overview of Canadian writing centres for 2022. The second paragraph is an overview academic integrity issues in Canada in 2022. The third paragraph is an overview of how academic integrity affects Canadian writing centres. The four paragraph provides a preview of possible academic integrity issues in Canada in 2023. The fifth paragraph is a summation of the first four paragraphs.

For new GPT, ChatGPT4, I modified the prompt:

Using the source material at the end of the description, write a 3000-word blog post about the state of writing centres in Canada in five parts. The first part is an overview of Canadian writing centres for 2022, with citations and references. The second part is an overview of academic integrity issues in Canada in 2022, with citations and references. The third part is an overview of how academic integrity affects Canadian writing centres, with citations and references. The fourth part provides an overview of academic integrity issues in Canada in 2023, with citations and references. The fifth part is a summation of the first four paragraphs, with citations and references.

The results were not that great. GPT likes to make up its own sources: in both versions, GPT just made up on its own citations and references. None of them exist. It wasn’t a great experience in writing. But, what it did show is that this tools is powerful, efficient, and convincing. I had to check all the references to see if they were real because they looked certainly looked like they were.

What is it?
GPT is a tool that has been trained to respond to questions or prompts and

is designed to generate human-like responses to a wide range of natural language inputs, including questions, statements, and conversations. ChatGPT has been trained on a massive corpus of text data, which allows it to generate responses that are often informative, coherent, and contextually appropriate. (ChatGPT)

The original version, released in 2020, used 1.5 billion parameters, where the current version uses 6 billion parameters.

In machine learning, a parameter refers to a variable in a model that is learned or adjusted during the training process. These parameters represent the weights or coefficients that the model uses to make predictions or generate outputs. (ChatGPT)

Essentially, the tools predicts responses to the prompts it receives. The design of a prompt is key to the response. For example, I asked GPT,

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence that involves the use of algorithms and statistical models to enable machines to learn from data without being explicitly programmed. The basic idea behind machine learning is to develop algorithms that can automatically identify.

Then I asked,

What is machine learning? Provide an answer that a grade school student can understand.

Machine learning is like teaching a computer to learn on its own. Just like you learn new things by practicing and making mistakes, computers can learn by looking at examples and making predictions. For example, a computer can learn to recognize pictures of dogs by looking at lots of pictures of dogs and then trying to guess which ones are dogs and which ones aren’t. The more pictures it looks at, the better it gets at recognizing dogs. Machine learning is used in many things like helping computers to talk to us, recognizing faces and objects, and even playing games like chess and Go.

Next, I asked,

What is machine learning? Provide technical details for an advanced user.

Machine learning is a subfield of artificial intelligence that focuses on the development of algorithms and models that can automatically learn patterns and relationships in data without being explicitly programmed. The primary goal of machine learning is to enable machines to learn from data and improve their performance on a specific task over time.

At the core of machine learning are mathematical and statistical models that are used to identify patterns and relationships in data. These models are typically designed to learn from a large dataset of input data and corresponding output labels, known as supervised learning, or to identify patterns and relationships in the data without explicit labels, known as unsupervised learning.

In supervised learning, the model is trained on a labeled dataset, which consists of input data and corresponding output labels or targets. The model learns to identify patterns in the data by adjusting its internal parameters, which are used to make predictions based on the input data. The goal of the training process is to minimize the difference between the predicted outputs and the actual outputs in the training data.

In unsupervised learning, the model is trained on an unlabeled dataset, which consists of input data without any corresponding output labels or targets. The model learns to identify patterns and relationships in the data by clustering similar data points or identifying common features or structures in the data.

There are many different types of machine learning algorithms and models, including neural networks, decision trees, support vector machines, and random forests. The choice of algorithm and model depends on the specific task and the nature of the data being analyzed.

Overall, machine learning is a powerful tool for analyzing and understanding complex data and has a wide range of applications in fields such as computer vision, natural language processing, robotics, and healthcare.

I understood the grade school answer best.

What I have used it for saved a significant amount of time in my writing in areas where I don’t like to write. I asked GPT take a nine-page reference list, format it using APA style, alphabetize the list, and add links to each reference. While it the links didn’t always work, they at least took me to the site; it saved me hours of searching and formatting. It also useful for doctors to write letters to insurance companies, writing computer code for students, and novel writing.

GPT turn
The significance of GPT’s on all aspects of society is hard to overstate. Microsoft (Bing), Google (Bard), Baidu (Ernie) and many other platforms are now using GPT-like bots, with varying degrees of success. This is a moment like the launch of the iPhone (where Steve Jobs famously states that it will “change everything”) or the beginning of the internet, before and after GPT. It will change the way we use technology, and the way technology uses us. For writing centres, and for education generally, three questions arise:

  1. What is GPT?: What do we need to know about GPT? What training is required to make it useful?
  2. Pedagogy and rhetoric: How do these affect how we tutor and teach? How will it affect how students react to how we tutor and teach?
  3. Opportunities: How can we integrate this tool into our centres and in our tutoring and teaching? (McMurtrie, Barre, Mills, & Weber, 2023).

As we know, higher education institutions move thoughtfully, deliberately, and politically through decision-making processes, especially those that affect teaching and learning at fundamental levels as GPT does. This can be frustrating, as the slow adoption of new technology creates issues for those that want to use new technology, technology that, in many cases, has already impacted teaching and learning. Unfortunately, students are often left outside of these decision-making processes and are then unsure of how to proceed. Consider the use of laptops or phones in the higher ed prior to March 2020 and COVID pandemic. Many faculty and administrators were still deciding whether these had a place in the higher education (Hotson, 2021; Reed, 2018; Wexler, 2019, December), while students had already integrated these tools into the learning processes. (Ataş & Çelik, 2019; Bell & Hotson, 2020; Gonzales, Calarco, & Lynch, 2018; Taylor& Silver, 2019). This caused uncertainty and anxiety for students and how they used their technologies for writing.

In 2019, 39% of faculty in the U.S. reported not using online “learning tools” and of those who had received no training with these tools, “63% banned these devices” in their classrooms (Galanek & Gierdowski, 2019, p.  3). And it seems that the usual rhetoric about age and use of technology isn’t necessarily a factor. It’s not older faculty who are necessarily against using new technology: faculty who were “Baby Boomers and Gen Xers” in 2019 were “twice as likely as Millennial instructors to prefer teaching fully online” (p. 8). If it’s not necessarily about resistance to adoption, what factors force decisions and change? After March 2020, the weight and ferocity of the pandemic simply forced everyone into teaching and tutoring with technology.

The weigh and ferocity of GPT on education and academic research and writing is already here. There are conversations among writing centre professionals regarding GPT, such as here with our Canadian colleagues, and here, as well as this statement from Association for Writing Across the Curriculum. From WAC Clearinghouse, there is AI Text Generators and Teaching Writing: Starting Points for Inquiry (2023). These are a start, but more is needed. Like the pandemic, there is no turning back. As the Sisyphean cycle of technology panics (Fig 1) gets shorter, and the quicker institutions move to consider and take up new tech, like GPT, the better it is for our students and our centres.

Figure 1. Sisyphean cycle of technology panics

(Orben, 2020)



Ataş, A. H., & Çelik, B. (2019). Smartphone Use of University Students: Patterns, Purposes, and Situations. Malaysian Online Journal of Educational Technology, 7(2), 54–70. https://doi.org/10.17220/mojet.2019.02.004

Bell, S., & Hotson, B. (2020). Tooling up the multi: Paying attention to digital writing projects at the writing centre. Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing/Rédactologie, 30. Retrieved from https://journals.sfu.ca/cjsdw/index.php/cjsdw/article/view/785/721

Galanek, J. D., & Gierdowski, D. C. (2019). ECAR Study of Faculty and Information Technology, 2019.

Gonzales, A. L., Calarco, J. M., & Lynch, T. K. (2018). Technology Problems and Student Achievement Gaps: A Validation and Extension of the Technology Maintenance Construct. Communication Research, (August), 1–38. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650218796366

Hotson, B. (2021). Free-falling into the digital divide: Reading on smartphone in writing centres. CWCR/RCCR, 2(6). Retrieved from https://cwcaaccr.com/2021/03/22/free-falling-into-the-digital-divide-reading-on-smartphone-in-writing-centres/

McMurtrie, B., Barre, B., Mills, A., & Weber, S. (2023). ChatGPT and Other Cutting-Edge Learning Tech. Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Orben, A. (2020). The Sisyphean Cycle of Technology Panics Enhanced Reader. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(5), 1143–1157. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691620919372

Reed, M. (2018). Writing Papers on Phones: Is a smartphone a necessity for college students today? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 14, 2020: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/writing-papers-phones

Taylor, B. Y. K., & Silver, L. (2019). Smartphone Ownership Is Growing Rapidly Around the World, but Not Always Equally. Retrieved from http://www.pewglobal.org/2019/02/05/smartphone-ownership-is-growing-rapidly-around-the-world-but-not-always-equally/

Wexler, N. (2019, December). How classroom technology is holding students back. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/12/19/131155/classroom-technology-holding-students-back-edtech-kids-education/





Principles of Inclusive & Antiracist Writing

Vol. 3 No. 8 (Summer 2022)

This post is from the 2022 CWCA/ACCR annual conference virtual poster session. – Stevie Bell and Brian Hotson, 2022 CWCA/ACCR conference co-chairs

By Julia Lane, Simon Fraser University

If you want to write in an inclusive and antiracist way, you have to pay attention to the perspectives, peoples, and groups that might be excluded and even harmed through your writing, even if unintentionally.

  1. Question Assumptions. Part of the power of inclusive and antiracist writing is that it prompts us to shine a light on our assumptions–even ones we’ve never noticed before.
  2. Choose words thoughtfully & carefully. As you question assumptions, you bring new attention to the words you use. Words have power and no two words mean precisely the same thing!
  3. Revise critically. Like all writing, inclusive and antiracist writing benefits from revisions! Seek feedback from those whose experiences differ from yours.
  4. Learn from feedback. When you get critical feedback treat it as a chance to learn and grow. Mistakes are not an excuse to give up or back away from the work.

Continue reading “Principles of Inclusive & Antiracist Writing”

ProTips for Essay Writers: From OWL Handouts to Videos

Image of Stevie Bell, a white woman with cropped hair, and Brian Hotson, a white man with a grey beard, smiling with the text: Pro Tips for Essay Writers

Vol. 3 No. 9 (Summer 2022)

This post is from the 2022 CWCA/ACCR annual conference virtual poster session. – Stevie Bell and Brian Hotson, 2022 CWCA/ACCR conference co-chairs

By Stevie Bell, York University Writing Department & Brian Hotson, Independent Scholar

The digital turn in education, part of the COVID turn, initiated by the pandemic reenergized, recentred, and reoriented asynchronous writing instruction where students engage with writing resources and connect with writing tutors on their schedule. At York University’s writing centre, where Stevie is located, renewed attention is being paid to developing a repertoire of online resources to engage students differently than traditional PDF instructional handouts or webtext pages. Stevie was given a .5 teaching credit in an experimental initiative to develop instructional videos for the Writing Centre and learn about student preferences, engagement, production processes, etc. Of course Stevie invited Brian Hotson, her writing partner, on the adventure. Together, they produced ProTips for Essay Writers. In this piece, we reflect on lessons learned and share some of the behind-the-scenes production workflow, how-tos, and video analytics. Continue reading “ProTips for Essay Writers: From OWL Handouts to Videos”

Writing a conference proposal: A guide

an auditorium filled with people with two presenters

Vol. 3 No. 3 (Winter 2022)

Brian Hotson, CWCA/ACCR 2022 Conference Co-Chair
Stevie Bell, CWCA/ACCR 2022 Conference Co-Chair

If you’ve not written a conference proposal, it’s hard to know where to start and what to write, all while following the conference CFP format. This guide (links below) will provide you with some help as you get your proposal started, into shape, and then submitted. This is a step-by-step guide, leading you through each part of the CFP:

  • Title
  • Detailed abstract
  • Proposal description
  • Type of session
  • References

Provided are instructions on how to structure each section using examples, leading to a final Proposal Description sample. Use it for your own proposal and share it with your colleagues and tutors.

Writing a conference proposal: A guide

2022 CWCA/ACCR Conference CFP – Reckoning with Space & Safety in the COVID Turn

If you need support, please contact the conference co-chairs,
Stevie Bell, stepbell@yorku.ca
Brian Hotson, brw.hotson@gmail.com

“I don’t know, let’s play”: Multimodal design support in the writing centre

the word "Play" in green against a brown backdrop

Vol. 3 No. 2 (Winter 2022)

Editor’s note: This is a Session Reflection. If you have a unique tutoring experience to share, submit your Session Reflection to Brian Hotson cwcr.rccr@gmail.com

Stevie Bell is an associate professor in the Writing Department at York University and CWCR/RCCR co-founder

A sticker with the word "essay" that looks like its meltingWriting centre tutors may be seeing an increase in multimodal writing projects (DWPs) now that students are primarily producing and submitting their work online―at least this is the case for me. Today’s students have the opportunity to use colour, sound, gifs, and video elements to enhance even traditional essays, and these elements are becoming not just common, but often expected. Students are also being assigned creative projects that require them to focus on becoming design-savvy producers of multimodal texts, using design elements and theory that isn’t always in their writing toolbox

Where on campus can students seek help with multimodal projects? In my opinion, writing centres are well positioned to extend the work they do supporting students as they use writing as a tool of thinking and communicating to include multimodal processes that do not prioritize alphabetic/linguistic modes. Writing centre tutors already know the structure of argumentation, the rhetoric of academic writing, and styles and formats required for writing at university or college levels. They also know how to think along with students, as well as to think in and through the tasks, challenges, and blocks that students come to the centre to work through.

Continue reading ““I don’t know, let’s play”: Multimodal design support in the writing centre”

If you could say anything to faculty about academic integrity…

Vol. 3, No. 2 (Fall 2021)

Stephanie Bell, Associate Professor, York University Writing Centre; co-founder, CWCR/RCCR

A clear-cut strategy for undermining the writing centre’s relationship with student writers is to become reporters, adjudicators, or punishers of plagiarism and cheating (Bell, 2018).

In its heavy-handed discourse around academic dishonesty, the institution draws a divide between itself and students. Students arrive on campuses to find themselves positioned as likely criminals, and their work is policed by AI that scans it for infractions. Ironically, the institution’s academic dishonesty rhetoric can so undermine the institution-student relationship that it fosters academically dishonest student behaviour (see Strayhorn, 2012). To fulfill their missions, writing centres must carefully navigate the issue of academic dishonesty and the institution-student divide it constructs. Continue reading “If you could say anything to faculty about academic integrity…”

Pandemic Graduate Student Writing and Transition Support: Reflections and Predictions (Part 1)

Vol. 2, No. 5 (Spring 2021)
Liv Marken, Contributing Editor, CWCR/RCCR

This three-part series looks at how the pandemic affected both graduate student writers and graduate student writing support.We speak to Jill McMillan, a Learning Specialist at the University of Saskatchewan, and Nadine Fladd, a Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialist at the University of Waterloo.

Part I: In the Thick of It

Here, in part one, we learn about Jill’s and Nadine’s roles and work, and how the pandemic has supported intercampus collaboration and better use of resources to benefit the overall student experience.

Liv: Thank you, Nadine and Jill, for speaking with me about your experiences this year.

Could you tell me a bit about who you are and what you do at your institutions?

Nadine: Sure. I am one of several Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialists at the Writing and Communication Centre at UWaterloo. My role, in particular, focuses on supporting graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty, so a lot of the work that I do focuses on developing programs for graduate students, such as Dissertation Boot Camp, a program called Rock Your Thesis that is designed to help students start their dissertation or thesis writing process on the right foot, and orchestrating and coordinating writing groups and writing communities. In between these activities, I also do a handful of appointments with grad students, postdocs, and faculty each week.

Nadine Fladd, Writing and Multimodal Communication Specialist, University of Waterloo

Jill: I’m a Learning Specialist, and I work with Student Learning Services. And yes, there’s a lot of overlap in terms of Nadine’s and my dossiers; there is a focus on programming—facilitating workshops, designing new workshops, trying to think of new initiatives that are going to have value for our graduate student population. I’ve also been hosting virtual writing groups and offer one-to-one appointments, though the majority of the one-to-one support comes from our amazing writing help centre. I also offer a course for international grad students. But otherwise, the focus is on designing new programs, creating new initiatives, trying to connect to other campus partners, and thinking of how we can pool resources, which I think is especially important these days as we just try and figure out how we can offer support without replicating services.

Liv: Have either of you have you found that moving online has helped to reduce that duplication and increase communication between communication units?

Nadine: Maybe, but I feel like every university does have that compartmentalizing of units.

Liv: Has that lessened during the pandemic, stayed the same, or intensified?

Nadine: I think that the Writing and Communication Centre had pretty strong collaborative relationships with campus partners before the pandemic, and that has been a blessing. What I’ve seen is more communication between those campus partners and each other than I’ve seen in the past. So, for example, our Student Success Office has traditionally hosted an orientation for graduate students and during the pandemic the Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs office helped design and took the lead on building an infrastructure for an online orientation program and has since handed that program over to the Student Success Office. So there’s collaboration there that didn’t exist before that I think has been really useful.

Liv: That’s positive. Jill, what have you noticed?

Jill: It’s certainly helped me as someone who is relatively new to campus to make some of those connections a bit more easily. Of course, you still encounter some of these instances where there is duplication popping up, but then you reach out and make that connection. And so, it’s possible that that duplication will eventually turn into a collaboration at a future point. So, I think that in some ways I do recognize that there have been some strange benefits to how everything has happened over the last year in terms of the shift to remote teaching and learning. I think it really has forced people to think, “oh, how do we make use of the limited resources that are currently available to maximize the student experience?”

Jill McMillan, Learning Specialist, University of Saskatchewan

Nadine: We have an incentive system. So, students have a digital coffee card that they can fill out every time they attend a writing session. And when you’ve attended 12 writing sessions, you earn a mug that has a #WaterlooWrites logo on it. We see a lot of repeat members in our writing community, and people get to know each other and talk to each other during the breaks and help each other. We see a lot of regulars in those communities for sure.

Liv: Interesting. Now, in terms of your own work, how have you kept up professionally or what’s really helped to you in your job?

Nadine: I’m lucky because unlike a lot of writing centres, I have a team I work with of full-time permanent staff who do the same work I do. I’ve learnt a lot from other members on the team as we navigated this together. A lot of my professional development this past year has been technological. One of my colleagues, Elise Vist, our digital guru on the team, has taught me how to do things like build online asynchronous workshops through Rise 360, and so now we can build these really slick looking modules full of videos and interactive elements. And that’s not something that I ever would have even considered trying to attempt a year and a half ago. It wasn’t on my radar.

So, in some ways, the pandemic has been a push to expand my range of teaching tools. And in a lot of ways, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were focused on trying to recreate what exists in our in-person programming in an online format. And I think that worked for a while. But what students have needed after a year in isolation and after a year of video calls has changed. I think my approach to teaching has really gotten back to the very basics of starting with what is the goal, what is the objective and building from there rather than trying to transfer an in-person equivalent to an online environment.

Jill: We have an academic integrity tutorial now and we’re currently just beginning to work on some new writing modules. So, you know, it’s been good to learn all about Panopto, WebEx and other online platforms.

In part two, posted next week, Jill and Nadine share their thoughts on accessibility, especially around international student writing support.

Supporting students for interview assignments

Vol 2., No. 1 (Spring 2021)
Brian Hotson, Co-Editor, CWCR/RCCR.

Google slides for presenting this material as a workshop.


Interviewing gives students greater intimacy with an event or subject in a way not otherwise possible with secondary research. In interview assignments, students connect first-hand to an individual’s accounts of, for instance, their participation in a protest event or reflections on their career in ways that support their understanding of course content. Interviewing is a process that is very much like writing; it involves stages of researching, outlining, writing, rewriting, and editing. For this reason, writing specialists and tutors situated within locations of writing support have much to offer students as they prepare for and write about interviews. Continue reading “Supporting students for interview assignments”