I spent two hours in back-to-back Zoom meetings this morning and feel refreshed and inspired. Yes, you read that correctly. Refreshed and inspired.
Online communities have been forming even before the Internet as we know it existed, with their roots in the early bulletin board systems. This fall, I have joined two groups with two very different purposes that represent my current professional and personal interests. They both met this morning so I moved from a task force discussing AI with colleagues at my university to a meeting of the Handmade Book Club.
The AI group is blended with attendees both face to face and online. I appreciate the online option being offered as I otherwise would not make the hour-long drive to the city to participate. The monthly group is loosely led by one of the faculty development staff, but three people signed up to talk about what they have been doing with and learning about AI. I am on for December and plan to talk about my experiments with my students as well as finding ways that it can support my assessment and evaluation course. For now, I am spending time with MagicSchool. We also have access to a ChatGPT clone with a small balance so I’ve been exploring that as well. Report to come.
The Handmade Book Club is fully virtual as there are attendees from all over the world including two women today from Ireland and the UK. They meet every Friday morning to discuss various topics. The last meeting of the month is where members share the books they made for that month’s challenge. This month was Pamphlet Palooza, and we made books with long “pamphlet” stitches that could then be used for weaving. The books they shared were reflections of their lives and interests with many including handmade paper and fabric. My own is fairly simple although I did include pages from a coloring book as a personal touch.
One question that was often asked was what they planned to do with the book. Some had an answer: one woman had started a common place journal while another planned to use it as a daily art journal to keep track of her work. But most really didn’t have an answer: the joy for them was in the making. I know how they feel as my own pile of handmade books continues to grow. I can’t wait to find out what the November book is going to be!
One of my graduate students was a sport writer focusing specifically on high school sports in a small town. So, I had to share the news about Gannett Newspapers pulling back from their use of AI to write their news stories. Gannett, of course, is not loved by small newspapers and local journalists as they take over and big layoff usually follow. What suffers when that happens is the local news, and it is local news that led to the pull back.
The Columbus Dispatch‘s story about a local soccer match opened with this grabber of a lede:
The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday.
Scott Simon, who penned the NPR editorial, suggests that the news organization could hire high school students to cover what is, and my grad student backed him up on this, a crucial part of small town life. As I wrote recently, local communities are an essential part in many people’s lives and AI has not yet, at least, found it niche.
On a side note, I introduced my students to the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine last week. The offending news story from The Columbus Dispatch had been taken down but CNN was able to link to the archived version. At least, Gannett had given credit to LedeAI, the bot that wrote what is on its way to being a classic of sports writing.
I am a tennis fan and have been watching the US Open. IBM is a major sponsor and has several commercials about AI on rotation, including one that begins by stating that people are excited at what AI can do for them. Are they? That Pew data I wrote about last week would suggest otherwise: a lot of people don’t know anything about it and those that do are concerned.
Today, I attended my second university-sponsored AI workshop. It was an interesting conversation with very smart people, but at the end of the day, we simply don’t know what the impact of AI is going to be on teaching, learning as well as life and work in general. And, while IBM and today’s panelists expressed optimism, audience questions during today’s Q & A showed real skepticism about this technology. The biggest concern seemed to echo Jonathan Zimmerman’s recent Washington Post editorial: struggling with assignments is what learning is all about. The bot doesn’t just create your product; it does your thinking for you.
From the panelists, there was talk of transforming the curriculum to take advantage of AI and creating AI-aware assignments. Meanwhile, an audience member who was an arts professor expressed fear at what will be lost as AI moves into the fields of visual and musical arts. The answer–that different kinds of jobs will be created for those that are lost–was not reassuring.
Bottom line message: AI is here and, unlike previous technologies, cannot be banned or ignored.
I had an interesting conversation with my sister and my father when we were together last weeked to celebrate my mother’s 88th birthday. I’m working on a blog post about the changing nature of work that I will post at some point, but as I looked for data to support my ideas, I was distracted by Pew Research Center’s collection of data related to Artificial Intelligence. In particular, two recent articles seem to conflict a bit in perspective, a sign that we are in a period of real volatility when it comes to this technology.
One article provides evidence that most Americans haven’t tried ChatGPT and aren’t concerned about its impact on their lives. The other reports on the growing public concern with AI. As for the former, I am reminded of a conversation I had with an early adopter of the first widely used virtual community, Second Life. It certainly had implications for the potential of online interactions, but you couldn’t get your real life hair cut or your real life tires replaced. Local communities were still going to be important. And, even with the rise of AI, I think that continues to be true. At some point, I suppose a robot will cut my hair or replace my tires, but for the foreseeable future, it will be flesh-and-blood Olivia and Proctor who help me with those services.
As for the latter headline, I think we should be concerned when a technology that we only sort of understand undergoes such a rapid expansion. The educators I know are learning all they can about AI, especially within their own fields of study. They are also engaging in conversations with colleagues about how to use the tools for their own productivity and with their students.