Skip to content

AI and the Take-Home Essay

According to Aristotle (and Aquinas and others), the human person is essentially rational and social; man thinks, and he thinks best in the context of friendship. As such, at the very heart of man’s education ought to be learning to write effectively, for good writing is thought clarified and beautified which can be shared with others. Recent developments in Artificial Intelligence, however, seem to pose a formidable challenge to teachers who wish to help their students grow in this most human of crafts. 

To help us think through how we as teachers should approach this challenge, this week on HeightsCast we welcome Dr. Matthew Mehan, Associate Dean and Assistant Professor of Government for Hillsdale’s Steve and Amy Van Andel Graduate School of Government on Capitol Hill.

Despite the risks and challenges associated with it, Dr. Mehan argues that teachers should not abandon the at-home long essay. Indeed, as he points out, the creativity and thoughtfulness required by teachers who still wish to utilize the at-home essay, while mitigating the risks of cheating, may even make them better at their own art. As it becomes increasingly easier for a student to cheat his way through simplistic prompts and an outcome-focused approach to writing, teachers must now think more deeply about the kinds of written assignments they give their students and the process they use to guide them along the way.

All this extra effort is well worth it. As Dr. Mehan reminds us: “If you cannot order your thoughts beautifully and rationally, cogently and powerfully, in writing, you cannot clarify your own thinking, nevermind then share that thinking in the most brilliant and candid way.”


  • 0:55 Introduction
  • 4:00 Artificial intelligence and teaching the craft of writing
  • 7:20 Are at-home assignments worth the risk of cheating?
  • 14:00 The real good of teaching writing
  • 15:45 Strategies for mitigating cheating
  • 19:30 The importance of writing to thinking and socializing
  • 20:55 Imitation and the art of writing
  • 21:50 More strategies
  • 25:40 Summary of strategies for mitigating risk
    • Pre-conversations 
    • Discussion of thesis statement 
    • Pre-writing process 
    • Refining your prompts 
    • Imitation and style 
  • 27:00 A new era in education?
  • 30:25 Will AI alter language more fundamentally?
  • 31:50 Some ideas for essay prompts
  • 37:12 Love, fear, and the stealing of ideas: the ethics of AI
  • 44:05 Can AI really know anything?
  • 46:15 How AI can make us better teachers
  • 48:00 Cite your sources: the limitation of ChatGPT as a research tool
  • 52:22 In-class vs. at-home essays 

Also on the Forum 

Writing from the Sentence Up by Joe Breslin

5 Don’ts and Dos When Teaching Writing by Joe Breslin 

On Writing: A Personal Reflection by Michael Ortiz 

Splashing in Puddles: Finding the Creative Writing Flow by Joe Bissex

Why Our Politics Needs Poetry with Dr. Matthew Mehan

About the Guest

Matt Mehan

Associate Dean & Assistant Professor of Government, Graduate School of Government, Hillsdale College
Dr. Matthew Mehan is the Associate Dean and Assistant Professor of Government for the Steve and Amy Van Andel Graduate School of Government on Capitol Hill. He has been teaching and designing humanities curricula for twenty years. Dr. Mehan is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the valedictorian of his class. He received a B.A. in politics, ...
Learn More

Subscribe to The Heights Forum Newsletter

I'm interested in content for...
Select if you'd like to receive a monthly newsletter specifically for any of these educator roles.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.