When AI is smart enough to write an essay, then what happens?
GPT3 is back in the news, because, as expected, it’s getting better and better. Using a simple chat interface, you can easily ask it a wide range of questions (write a 1,000 word essay about Clara Barton) that certainly feels like a diligent high school student wrote it.
Of course, this changes things, just as the camera, the typewriter and the internet changed things.
It means that creating huge amounts of mediocre material is easier than ever before. You can write a bad Seinfeld script in about six minutes.
It means that assigning rudimentary essays in school or average copywriting at work is now a waste of time.
But mostly it reminds us that attention and trust don’t scale.
If your work isn’t more useful or insightful or urgent than GPT can create in 12 seconds, don’t interrupt people with it.
Technology begins by making old work easier, but then it requires that new work be better.
I think it’s always important to consider the work we ask students to do in our schools. As my teacher cohort works through implementing the 4 Shifts protocol, we ask questions around deeper learning and authentic work like:
Is student work deeply rooted in discipline-specific and -relevant knowledge, skills, and dispositions?
Do learning activities and assessments allow students to engage in deep critical thinking and analysis?
Do students have the opportunity to design, create, make, or otherwise add value that is unique to them?
Is student work authentic and reflective of that done by experts outside of school?
Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific practices and processes?
Are students creating real-world products or performances for authentic audiences?
Of course, not every lesson or activity can be (nor should it be) an exercise in critical thinking and authentic, real-world application. But if our biggest concern about AI is whether or not students will use it to cheat, perhaps we have work to do on our classroom plans.
No, it is not converging upon human-like intelligence or for that matter AGI. Still, the broader lesson is you can build a very practical kind of intelligence with fairly simple statistical models and lots of training data. And there is more to come from this direction very soon.
The question remains is this original thought? The probing questions are mine, the responses are from the AI… Did I create something new by asking unique questions?
– Micah Shippee, Ph. D.
There will be more discussions about AI and tools like ChatGPT and how they affect education.
The most important thing we can do as educators is not to ignore these tools. They’re not going away. Students will find ways to use them. Educators should find ways to use them. But if we choose to ignore them and move on as if they will not affect what we do in schools worldwide, we’re failing our students.
Don’t get caught in the aftermath of significant change. We do too much of that in education already.
I contend that we do this in education when dealing with technology. We go through our days doing simple rather than easy things.
It’s simple to pass out papers to a class of students and collect them later. Teachers have done this for decades. But it’s easier to have students complete work in a digital format. Especially when dealing with large numbers of students.
But this task isn’t simple. Teachers have to create what they want the students to complete. Teachers have to create this assignment, whether it’s a quiz, a document, a spreadsheet, a presentation, etc.
Even if that means posting the assignment in a learning management system, the task is not as simple as passing out papers. This task might be impossible for teachers who have been in the classroom since before there were any computers in the classroom, and no one had a school email address.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not easy. It’s not simple.
Simple is comfortable. Simple gets the job done without question.
But easy? Easy might involved work upfront. Easy might involved setting something up or learning a new tool.
And that’s when the issues begin.
Teachers are, in case you didn’t know, stressed out. They always have been. Amid a global pandemic, their stress levels haven’t lowered. They’ve raised.
And expectations are higher than ever. So when teachers face change after change after change and deal with things they’ve never dealt with before (hello, temperature checks & social distancing), why would they not choose to go with simple?
This is the challenge for us in the educational technology world. We have to find ways to encourage easy over simple. We have to be there to support.
We have to understand what teachers are going through. We have to be patient. And we have to accept when some say “no.”
We have to make our own choice of simple or easy. It’s simple to create some videos or documents to support teachers and then walk away.
But it’s easy to support and empower a small group of teachers who will run with their version of “easy” and help you spread the work to others.
What will you choose? Simple or easy?
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59 years ago today, shots rang out across Dealey Plaza as President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade passed by thousands of onlookers.
I’m sure many of you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing that day.
While questions still surround the circumstances of JFK’s assassination, there can be no doubt about his legacy. The President was scheduled to deliver remarks later that day in Dallas.
Much of the speech is no longer timely, but the main ideas and philosophies are certainly as important today as they were 59 years ago.
So, heavily redacted, here are verbatim excerpts from the speech JFK never gave.
Leadership and learning
“It is fitting that these two symbols of Dallas progress are united in the sponsorship of this meeting. For they represent the best qualities, I am told, of leadership and learning in this city — and leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. The advancement of learning depends on community leadership for financial political support, and the products of that learning, in turn, are essential to the leadership’s hopes for continued progress and prosperity. It is not a coincidence that those communities possessing the best in research and graduate facilities — from MIT to Cal Tech — tend to attract new and growing industries. I congratulate those of you here in Dallas who have recognized these basic facts through the creation of the unique and forward-looking Graduate Research Center.”
“This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs.”
“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason — or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”
“…fewer people will listen to nonsense.”
“There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternative, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable. But today other voices are heard in the land — voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness.”
“We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will “talk sense to the American people.” But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this Nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.”
Words alone are not enough.
“Above all, words alone are not enough. The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely to convey conviction, not belligerence. If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help.”
“Freedom can be lost … by ballots as well as bullets.”
“I have spoken of strength largely in terms of the deterrence and resistance of aggression and attack. But in today’s world, freedom can be lost without a shot being fired, by ballots as well as bullets. The success of our leadership is dependent upon respect for our mission in the world as well as our missiles – on a clearer recognition of the virtues of freedom as well as the evils of tyranny.”
“An America which has fully educated its citizens…”
“Finally, it should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home. Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future. Only an America which has fully educated its citizens is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden dangers of the world in which we live. And only an America which is growing and prospering economically can sustain the worldwide defenses of freedom, while demonstrating to all concerned the opportunities of our system and society.”
“It is clear, therefore, that we are strengthening our security as well as our economy by our recent record increases in national income and output…”
“My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. The strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions — it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations — it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.”
“We, in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than by choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength.”
I’ve long been a fan of Hyperdocs; a lesson-building format that focused on providing students with the resources they need to work at their own pace throughout a lesson or unit.
Hyperdocs also gives teachers the chance to support students in a lesson exactly when they need it most. The format works well in either virtual or blended learning environments, giving students control over the pace of the lesson.
With a bit of a different twist, there’s now the HyperRubric.
Think of it as a traditional rubric super-powered with examples and supports that will give students the resources they need to complete a task.
HyperRubrics can give help students answer the “why” behind what they are doing in a lesson rather than just the what. We’ve all had great lessons that students loved, but at the end of the lesson, students can’t really express what they were supposed to be learning during the lesson, only remembering the cool stuff they did.
Using HyperRubrics can provide a focus for students and help teachers think critically about what support students will need to achieve outcomes.
Since the dawn of time, students have been looking for ways to get out of writing papers. How do I know this? Because I was a student who tried to get out of writing papers.
I was terrible at it since I’d mostly just end up not writing the paper (Have I told you how horrible I was as a student in middle school & high school? Or maybe I wasn’t horrible, I just didn’t want to do things that were busy work and it all seemed like busy work…) and placing all my hopes for decent grades on awesome test-taking abilities.
Regardless of the wonderful technologies our students can use today, at some point, they are going to write a paper. Until we convince every teacher in the world that there are other ways to demonstrate learning mastery, there’s a paper in every student’s future. And there are times when a paper is the best form of assessment or communication.
With advances in artificial intelligence, we may need to rethink writing assignments for students.
Rethinking Writing with AI in Mind
As we think about creating deeper learning experiences for students and moving past work that doesn’t have applications outside the classroom and only asks for evidence of low-level learning, we educators need to know what’s possible with AI writing programs.
If you’re asking students to give an answer that looks something like a “listicle” you might find on a website, an AI writer can craft an incredibly decent response.
Without AI, innovate_rye says the homework they consider “busywork” would take them two hours. Now homework assignments like this take them 20 minutes.
And some budding entrepreneurs learn quickly that if they know how to use AI writing software, they can make a quick buck from classmates.
I quickly searched for “ai writing apps” and retrieved around 82 million matches. The first page of the search results is littered with articles like “21 Best AI Writing Software Tools of October 2022 (Top 3 Picks)” and “21 Best AI Writing Tools of 2022,” amongst many others.
My point is this: students will find a way to game the system. They will put more effort into getting out of work than they will in doing the work if the work they are asked to do seems pointless.
Can we honestly say we don’t want to do the same? If we could have an AI attend the average staff meeting in our stead, wouldn’t we?
Technology is a tool that we can leverage to complete mundane tasks. The part of that statement that is difficult to define is the mundane part. Who decides what tasks are mundane and which ones aren’t?
A Plea for More Authentic Tasks
I’m not saying that papers can’t be authentic; I’m saying that we have to think carefully about what we ask students to write about. As with all the work we ask of students, a move toward more authentic, student-centered learning is essential in our modern world.
Planning frameworks like the 4 Shifts protocol can help us think about the tasks we ask of students and how we can modify those tasks for more authentic work.
And maybe worry a little less about software writing student responses.
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I’m just going to talk about this for a minute and then move on because I’m pretty sure everyone who cares is aware of this issue by now.
I’m also sure that everyone who doesn’t care about it and/or doesn’t believe it isn’t going to listen to anything I say, regardless of the data backing up my statements.
According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, teachers make about 76.5 cents on the dollar compared to their peers in other comparable professions.
On average, teachers make about 23.5% less than their peers. Unless you’re a teacher in Colorado. Then the gap increases to 35.9%.
Also disturbing, teachers’ inflation-adjusted weekly wages since 1996 have been flat. Flat.
Considering what teachers have been through the past 2.5 years, you’d think something would have changed.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t. I wonder if it ever will.
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As I’ve mentioned previously, this site in one form or another has existed since 2006. Through multiple platform changes and changes in focus, I’ve shared thoughts and insights here for the past decade and a half.
As we all know, change is the only constant. With my job responsibilities and beginning my doctoral work, I knew I needed to find a better way to share my thoughts and things I find of interest that you might enjoy.
So, here’s my plan:
On Mondays and Fridays, I will share posts with links to things I’ve found that you may also find useful.
Tuesday – Thursday, I’ll be sharing links with my own commentary and hopefully making some connections with other sources. I may even have multiple posts these days.
I’m doing my best to build an online database of connected topics and thoughts that, I hope, will help me better formulate my own thinking around different subjects I’m passionate about.
Sometimes it will be education, sometimes technology, sometimes life. Whatever I find interesting is game for this blog.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll build something you’ll enjoy.