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Tech Becomes the Teacher

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A woman stares at a monitor pondering what she sees
We engage with tech, tech engages us

Welcome to this week's reflection! If you're like me, diving headfirst into the ever-changing world of educational technology, then you know this journey comes with equal measures of 'aha!' moments and hurdles. This week was no exception.


One of my assignments this week began with this quote by Georges Filippousis, a Teacher and Research Fellow at the University of Crete:


“In a world that is constantly changing, education, teaching, and learning cannot remain stagnant. There is need for a variety of activities and methods that technology can support, so that students get motivated, organized, cooperative, empowered, and creative.”

This week, I got to experience firsthand the power of technology to help students with motivation, organization, and creativity. I stumbled a bit, soared a bit, and learned a few things along the way.


Lesson 1: My New Best Friend is a Tool

Before this week, I already knew about generative Artificial Intelligence tools, such as those offered by OpenAI. I had used ChatGPT for a few things, such as generating instructions, writing code, asking for editing help, and having ethical and philosophical debates. It was usually helpful and, occasionally, a bit distracting.


Does AI defend derivative AI?
Does AI defend derivative AI?

Ok, truthfully, before this week, I had spent most of my time in a debate about the ethics of generative AI with the tool. If you're bored, I suggest you give it a try. This week, though, I was fortunate to learn some new ways to interact with the tool and it's a game-changer for me.


For context, let me start by telling you about my process to write this blog. Every day this past week I logged on my site and opened my blog. I stared at a new blank page, knowing I had to write something. The first couple days, I didn't worry too much that I wasn't coming up with any ideas. By the middle of the week, though, I started feeling a bit nervous.


A blank screen can be the biggest distraction
A blank screen can be the biggest distraction

The blinking cursor on the blank page taunted me.


Yesterday, I started to panic a bit. I typed the first few words of a sentence, then erased. Typed a few words again. Erased again.


The blinding whiteness of the page taunted me.


I tried going old school. I grabbed a notebook and pen. No blinking cursor was there to taunt me this time. No solid white wall stared back at me. I sat, pen poised over a college-ruled page, ready to capture the flood of ideas.


The blank page beckons
The blank page beckons

The soft blue lines on the page taunted me.


Time passed and nothing came to mind. I accepted it. I had full-on blogger's block. I eventually gave up and sat the notebook down. I picked up my phone and distracted myself by scrolling through Twitter.


One of the items that popped up in my feed led me to Teaching With AI, an OpenAI post directed at educators. At the end of the post, were some suggestions for prompts educators could use to guide the tool to serve as an assistant.


I was already struggling with the blog anyway, so I figured I'd give the machine a shot. I wrote a prompt to transform ChatGPT into my personal blog writing assistant using the samples from the post as a guide. I hit enter, and the first question popped up. "What lessons have you learned this week?"


AI asks, who answers?
AI asks, who answers?

I was surprised by what happened next. I had already stared at my notebook and nothing leapt to mind. I'd already stared at the blinking cursor on my blank blog page and got nothing. I'd spent too much time each day pondering the questions in the assignment instructions with no ideas. But for some reason, when that question popped up in that chat window, I started typing a response.


Then another.


I knew the "being" asking the questions wasn't a being at all. Yet, still, the prompts made the whole process feel like a conversation instead of an assignment.


Before long, I had written paragraphs answering its questions. ChatGPT had cured my blogger's block in only five minutes. And the best part is that every week I can copy that same initial prompt into ChatGPT and do this again. The time I'll save by using ChatGPT in this way to converse with myself and pull out and organize my thoughts can now be spent on more important tasks, like debating ethics with a machine!


Lesson 2: Ask For It

My favorite Bible verse when I was a child was, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." (New American Standard Bible, 1971/2020, Matthew 7:7).


Ask for answers
Ask for answers

Last week, I released my professional portfolio into the world with a bit of anxiety, but mostly satisfaction that I had done my best. I was prepared to hear a variety of reactions and I was looking forward to my harshest critics the most. Unfortunately, almost everyone replied with something akin to, "looks great!" Only one person who I love dearly for their complete, albeit often brutal, honesty mentioned one small thing I could improve.


While it's heartening to receive praise, constructive criticism is the fuel for growth. I'm not sure why most don't seem to enjoy anything beyond praise. For me, I'm invigorated by the opportunities to push myself.


So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. That verse echoed in my head and challenged me to ask. I reached out to some trusted mentors and colleagues and asked them to review my site again with a more critical eye. I told them I hoped they would look at it as though they had paid hard-earned money to commission the site.


The results were immediately beneficial. I got back some wonderful feedback of numerous things that could be improved. In the past, I think I would have just taken the positive feedback as validation I did a good job and would have believed there was nothing more to learn or improve upon. I'm so glad I didn't do that this time.


Lesson 3: AI Teaches as Much as It Learns

Generative AI is not just a tool that learns from human language; it's a teacher in its own right.


You already know how I used it for this blog, but I also used ChatGPT and DALL-E this week to help me create an Open Educational Resource, or OER. I first used it to help me brainstorm some ideas of things to create.


After I'd gathered some journal articles and other resources, and parsed them for the points I wanted to include, I popped back into ChatGPT and asked it to create some summaries of the things I'd found.


I expanded the summaries into a full-fledged guide. I then asked ChatGPT to do a bit of editing. I had written some bulleted lists that were verbose. The AI tool made them concise. I had some awkward sentences. The AI tool made them more clear.


Once I was satisfied with the text, I opened DALL-E to generate some images to create some visual breaks in the text. When I'd get stuck for ideas about the type of image to include, I'd pop back in ChatGPT and ask it to give me some suggestions.


Image generated by DALL-E
Image generated by DALL-E

At each step, I remained the driver of the project, the designer. But the AI tools showed me other options I might not consider. Isn't that exactly what educators do? I've heard some colleagues and friends comment that generative AI is going to destroy education. Their defense is that it just makes it too easy for students to cheat.


That's not the experience I had this week. I learned so much by using these tools. I learned new word combinations to help me write with more concision. I learned how to provide better prompts to AI tools. I learned the conversational element is powerful to push me out of writer's block. I learned that ChatGPT misses a lot of things and needs a lot of my input to create something that meets my standards. And I learned that shortcuts for some development tasks provides more time for deeper reflection.


ChatGPT proved to be more than a content creation tool. It was an insightful guide, enhancing both my learning and my project development.


Weekly Wrap-Up

After the week I've had and the impact generative AI has had on my academic development, I'm all in for this symbiotic relationship with technology. Tech has tested and enriched my understanding of the topics I've studied, educational technology, and even myself. Mastering more nuances of ChatGPT and fine-tuning my requests for specific and critical feedback have been major milestones for me this week. For its part, tech didn’t just supplement my efforts; it transformed my learning. Here's to more tech-driven discoveries next week!


References


New American Standard Bible. (2020). BibleGateway.com. https://www.biblegateway.com/versions/New-American-Standard-Bible-NASB/ (Original work published 1971)


OpenAI. (2023). ChatGPT [Large language model]. https://chat.openai.com/


Teaching with AI. (n.d.). https://openai.com/blog/teaching-with-ai


 

All images contained within this post are courtesy of Media from Wix, unless otherwise noted.

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5 Comments


Theresa Henderson
Theresa Henderson
Sep 06, 2023

"Constructive criticism is the fuel for growth." Yes! In the fast paced world in which we live, it can be challenging to stop and truly provide constructive feedback to support someone's professional growth. You created your own learning venture this week! Well done! :)

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Blondie.crabtree
Sep 04, 2023

My fear as an author and occasional magazine writer, is that AI can do my job quicker and possibly better and even less money to be made in the future for a human writer. I have tried this out and agree the conversation aspect is helpful for ideas and information but I guess my hope remains that the humanity and creativity of a real live person can't be replaced by artifical intelligence.

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Julie Stoltz
Julie Stoltz
Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

One thing I think may be an advantage we have over the machines is that we experience emotions. While AI can mimic, it can't truly grasp love, fear, hope, passion. We can. I think we have the upper hand because we understand what it takes to tap into those emotions and connect with other humans at a very personal level.

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Mike_pasley
Sep 04, 2023

There are many fears around AI displacing white collar workers and even eliminating actors from the movie business. Do you have any grave concerns on how AI might be deployed in the future and if so what can we do about it?

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Julie Stoltz
Julie Stoltz
Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

What a great question! I was having a similar conversation with a friend today about this very topic. I don't have grave concerns about the ways AI may be used. Why? I believe all tech comes with unforseen disadvantages and people will find a way to misuse anything. But there are also unforseen advantages and people will find ways to benefit far beyond the developers' imagination. For every person who uses these tools to take advantage of something or someone, there will be a person who uses them to provide advantages to the world. I think the best defense against negative applications of technology is through education. The more we understand and push the limits of our tools, the more we…

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