As a final parting, I want to share this recent interview I did with “Urban Impact” (Kean’s “Urban Impact” podcast explores the complex issues facing urban communities – examined through meaningful conversations with scholars, community leaders and others who are driving change). Much of my reflections shared here have been inspired by our co-learning journey together this semester.
I think Brandon’s wrap-up of our pathfinding sessions was truly a “synthetic” moment, as we apprehended (in part) our experiences of grief and loss, as well as the source(s) of things that spark our creative impulse from within. The time spent in this final conversation became a re-visioning of “the old-world muse”, and it was an appropriate way to wrap up our semester-long contemplation of “the human nature of writing”.
In mythology, the Muses were nine goddesses who symbolized the arts and sciences. In a “traditional” formulation of the muse, a “muse” is a person — especially a woman — who is the source of artistic inspiration. Even today, the muse is commonly seen as a person who serves the artist’s inspiration. Thankfully, we dismissed the gendered association early on, and took up the concept more broadly – updating our own way of seeing the concept.
Think of it. As an action verb, “to muse” is to think about something carefully, thoroughly, deeply, in a dream like abstraction. When Brandon prompted (forced us) to write a brief letter to our own muse, we each grappled with personal considerations – our experiences of what we have felt and known – about life, and love, and time, and legacy too. This act, in-and-of-itself, was a sincere and human place to reference. We know there is no machine or algorithm that can account for our human histories, our human encounters – all our accrued feelings and the meaning behind those experiences.
Our brief apprehension of our own “musings” was just enough to help us tap into the essence of our unique humanity, and its inherent worth. I could see more in each of you, and the trust we have developed together. We started out the course intending to center humanism, as we set out to consider the “assertion-of-the-machine” in our lives. We end the course in mini-celebration of that ineffable aspect of our own humanness. Full circle, in writing.
Our final class period
I look forward to our final class next Thursday (5/4).
Please remember class is planned as a pot-luck style party, so bring along something good to eat or drink. I look forward to hearing your microfictions about the near future and the impact of artificial intelligence on our lives.
When you submit your final microfiction by publishing in your last blog post, you will also submit at the same time a final reflection which considers what you experienced when writing with the AI tool. What worked, what didn’t, and why? In your reflective companion post, you will “drill down” on the synergy/friction/conflict/benefits you might have experienced when brainstorming with a machine. In that final blog post, you must also clarify where in your process (exactly) you used AI and which platform(s) you used. And if you include any material generated by the AI program, it should be cited like any other reference material.
Please remember to submit (BY EMAIL to me directly) your final portfolio for our class. Here is the link to the instructions on how to complete your final portfolio submission. **Please remember to give me “shared access” to your portfolio google doc.
Thank you for a wonderful co-learning journey this semester. This class has certainly been inspiration to me. Each of you has contributed certain understanding and heartfelt insight. I hope it has been meaningful for you as well. xo MZ
Thanks to Jasmine for her pathfinding as a summative look at artificial intelligence in the present day. Her presentation helped us put our earlier discussions into broader context. In former classes together we have spent some time speaking about writing, intention, creativity, etc. In those conversations we have leaned heavily on a humanist consideration. But it is important to link the ubiquity of AI technology today with the momentum for daily application. Something that we cannot deny. The use of artificial intelligence is all around us already, and it is shaping the logic of the world we share. We must be vigilant in considering our choices, our agency, and our ability to discern the-way-things-work, in such a world. That would mean embracing and further developing a need for critical AI literacies.
Our class agenda slides:
Your invitation to our MA Spring Symposium:
Remember the invitation to join in on the Kean Research Days. This is a campus-wide celebration of faculty-student research and creative activity. The annual event sponsored by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and provide students the opportunity to present their preliminary or completed research and creative activities to the campus community. I encourage everyone to consider participating at some point in their Kean academic career! Remember, our own Maya & Jenny will be presenting on the impact of AI (on writing) on Tuesday:
It is the “final stretch” now for our class time together! Last week you had the final project workshop meant to jump start the process. Thank you to Brandon and Katie for guiding you through the workshop.
We have one month remaining of this special class. The time we have left together will unfold faster than we might anticipate at the moment. With that in mind, I have mapped the next few weeks out with intention, and I am glad we took another look at our Course Calendar together. Time will move swiftly from here on in.
Thank you for another thoughtful class last night. I am so glad that we spent the time this week thinking more deeply about poetry, and also about the world of imagery and visual aesthetics. It seems to me that the very essence of human creativity took center stage in class. What is creativity? And how is related to our human nature? These simple yet critical questions lead us to think more deeply about the importance of human imagination.
Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.” —George Bernard Shaw
Last night in class I suggested that creativity is recognized when someone can take two seemingly disparate ideas and merge them in new ways. I was thinking about the kind of dynamic and unforeseen thinking that tends to promote meaning-merging – the mixing or coalescing of separate configurational ideas into a new unified whole. In a way, what I am talking about here is “combinatorial” creativity. And one could certainly argue that a computational machine has the upper hand. The computer can combine things with much more power than a human brain. But then again, a person’s “unique way of seeing” shines like a magical beacon. A person’s special way of seeing sparkles in light – and we can sense or feel this innate imaginative power in others. We are inherently drawn to what is truly human in our shared (and unshared) human experience. If Alan Ginsberg (via Ethan Hawke’s anecdote) insists that creativity is also in part “playing the fool”, it should not be because playing the fool is fashionable or attention grabbing. But rather, because folly must mean letting go of all the conventions and frames of this weary world. To be imaginative is also to transform the rules, to seek freedom, to seek beyonds that are so hard to see. That is the real realm of art and poetry, no?
In our dreams we sort through our own human data, reconfiguring and combining fragments of our lived experience. Our dreams are “a unique scramble” – what goes into our own consciousness comes out in new combinational traces (like a fingerprint of the individual imagination). Yes, a machine can take on more – a machine can take our collective output, based on the data it is fed. It has the power to sort exponentially. But can it reach an end point? Can’t it reconfigure all the combinations of all the uniqueness of all the people in time and space? I dare say that if the machine has the capacity to anticipate every corner of human perception and experience, then I think it might just take over from here. But somehow, my hunch is that the human imagination is a sacred infinity (bigger than googolplex) that is vaster than any computational power.
The Final Project preview
At any rate, I am glad you will engage in an imaginative exercise to close out class. We discussed briefly the Final Group Project assignment. I do think it will be worthwhile to engage our imaginations by telling new stories about our near future (for our final gesture in the course). When you write your final microfiction about the impact of AI on education, you will be positioning the machine as a brainstorming partner. This is an experiment, and who knows what insights you might gain from the process of partnering with artificial intelligence to tell a story that is meaningful. …Let’s see how this goes, and what comes of it.
These past few weeks of our class time have been very meaningful to me. Our class discussions have indeed been impactful as we continue to consider the influence of artificial intelligence on society. We are no doubt covering critical ground – and more recently we have discussed the ways in which AI is shifting the very ground that teachers “stand on”. The enterprise of both teaching and learning is, by nature, a shifting and dynamic terrain. But now more than ever, we must rethink our approach to how we do this work together. In response to this, I have recently formulated a new “policy statement” (for future syllabi), that explicitly addresses the role that AI might play in my own courses:
You may use AI programs e.g. ChatGPT to help generate ideas and brainstorm. Think of natural language processing tools as an always-available brainstorming partner. However, you should note that the material generated by these programs may be inaccurate, incomplete, or otherwise problematic. Beware that use may also stifle your own independent thinking and creativity. As most of us have had a chance to explore new AI tools like ChatGPT, they can be an amazing assist (much like a calculator is for math classes). When/if you use Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms in your assignments, please write a note to clarify where in your process you used AI and which platform(s) you used. If you include material generated by an AI program, it should be cited like any other reference material. You are encouraged to reflect on this in your writing as well. Let’s leverage the tools as an extension of ourselves with a base of knowledge to make them powerful, and deepen our collective knowledge of what “meaning” in writing truly is. And remember, writing-to-learn is an intellectual activity that is crucial to the cognitive and social development of learners and writers. This vital activity cannot be replaced by AI language generators. **Please note, you may not submit any work generated by an AI program as your own.
-Mia Zamora, Ph.D. Spring 2023
I think of this policy statement as a “work in progress”, and I continue to seek feedback from all of you. I see our class as an experimental ground (and our in-class discussions as food-for-thought) as I continue to refine the above approach. As we have discussed together the ways in which teachers are challenged a new, and the ways in which educational institutions are called to address the issue, it is imperative that we keep the dialogue between teachers and students open, yielding new insight from both perspectives. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning algorithms might be able to provide more direct support for students, and they have the potential to empower educators to be more adaptive to learner needs. AI might allow teachers to be able to do things that have never been done before. But it is also clear that there are great risks. As we discussed in class, AI algorithms can be biased. They run the risk of “baking in” problematic/skewed/distorted data. Race and technology has the potential to hide, speed up, or deepen discrimination (while appearing neutral or even benevolent) when compared to the racism of a previous era. Ethical programming is a must moving forward, but who is tasked to ensure this? Who is doing the coding, and for whom? What profit is to be made in preparing data for global algorithmic consumption, and at what cost, to whom? This question has lead us to last week’s deeper discussion involving inequity and ghost economies that are part of the foundation of the AI industry. The harm inflicted on low wage workers in the name “data cleaning” and the hidden labor economies that sustain technology’s promise of “progress” must be apprehended by the general public. We discussed how much is dismissed (how we look the other way) in the name of our “convenience”.
Ultimately, all of these issues must result in a call for a new kind of literacy – for every informed citizen, and for every educated person in the 21st century. As a class, I propose we consider apprehending a new dimension of “digital literacy” – a “Critical AI Literacy” . I hope to discuss this concept further with all of you as we move forward for the remainder of the semester.
Your “to-do” list
This week pathfinder Erik will share his thoughts regarding the art of poetry. In thinking about this topic, I remember what Robert Frost once said: “I have never started a poem whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.” In addition, pathfinder Giselle will lead us in a discussion of visual aesthetics and artificial intelligence. I am looking forward to this!
Our dynamic conversation this week was a deeper dive into the consideration of the human nature of writing. Thanks to Jenny and Maya’s excellent and truly interactive pathfinding session, we were able to consider the significance of meaning in writing. In foregrounding this elusive yet critical component of our very “humanness,” we contend with the plain truth that a chatbot is never a human (even if it trained to replicate our human qualities). What we discovered in authoring some poems while partnering with chatGPT is that we cannot conflate word form (or agile word-pattern-making) with meaning. The over-abundance of cliche rhymes, interchangeable descriptions, and commutable themes seemed the identifiable hallmark of the “basic” chatGPT writing. It does pass as comprehendible, and even entertaining, sometimes mildly pleasurable. Yet, in conversation together we were also able to discern that meaning is something that pulls us deeper into our communion with the world. Did our poems do that? Not really.
Meaning is a will or intention to connect with others, which lives beyond the “first level” or superficial acknowledgement of our own ups and downs. In seeking meaning, we recognize astounding truths that are actually universal yet profoundly unique (at once). In this sense, meaning cannot simply lie in our own feelings. Rather, meaning is the poignant reminder that we are not alone in our complex experiences of the universe, no matter how unique we are.
As an additional reflection, I would like to add that to live a meaningful life should (imho) be the ultimate goal of living – a goal that must in some sense be realized through the intention to build some form of connection with others.
But I digress, …maybe the big question underlying all this debate is not so much about tech tools. Rather, it is about us. How are we going to handle ourselves around these machines? If we have succeeded in making the machine that can “mindlessly generate text” we all must know that the machines are here to muddy-up the already dirty-waters-of-the-world for us. This leads me to think that intention is the real sticking point, because we have always placed such a high value on this when we read. But in a new world wherein there is often no intention since the machine delivers the text (and a machine on its own never has an intention), then what are the real stakes of writing today? Maybe what is really at stake is the discernment and the credulity of the reader? What is real, for now, is that the problem of obscuring that line and blurring — bullshitting — what’s human and what’s not, has the power to unravel society. Make no mistake, this is a game changing moment on a multitude of levels.
Our agenda slides
Updates on your Final Project
A new idea! The plan is now that we will develop a microfiction AI futures collection written by all of you, along with Dr. Maha Bali’s American University at Cairo students (in Egypt). Speculative microfictions are shortstories about our collective near-future. Thematically, this collection will be about your imagination when considering the impact of Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT. What is extra exciting is that all of your stories will be written with AI assistance (so plan to partner up with ChatGPT or Sudowrite perhaps)! The collaborative collection will include a AI microfiction from each Kean student and each AUC student. What will be very poignant is that we are planning an editorial process of collaboration between the classes, with feedback and connection between all of you in the development of your shared final collection. A formal assignment write-up with our steps in completing this group project is on its way soon. This note merely serves as a “forecast” update for now.
Your to-do list
Our class pathfinders for next week will be Chelsea & Jonathan. They have chosen different themes, so be sure to select one reading from both of their selections.
Chelsea’s theme: AI and it’s Influence on Teaching(Pick 1 or 2 from below):
This week is Spring Break, and I am glad you are all able to take a bit of time to recharge and renew. I imagine you are all catching up on much needed rest. As we discussed, resting is a critical part of being human, and cannot be ignored.
Thanks to Jasmine Dixon for further opening up our questioning regarding the question of ChatGPT (as either friend or foe). Of course the issue of natural language processing and it’s impact on society defies any simple pro-or-con stance, but “the friend or foe” question does help us all grapple with the varying aspects of impact. Perhaps any tool is neutral (inherently), but becomes a source for further concern when put into the hands of human beings. There is the rub. Some people will use the tool to proliferate positive outcomes for many, yet others will no doubt use the tool to manipulate and violate.
No matter what side of the fence we stand, what we have been successful in apprehending is that the advent of chatGPT is a “game changing” moment for education. It challenges what we have known and assumed about the processes and purpose of education. Our understanding of the pursuit and the production of knowledge must necessarily move away from a product and content-oriented enterprise, and lean more deeply towards a process-oriented endeavor. As Paulo Freire articulated in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, mainstream institutionalized education is deeply problematic because it has been understood as a “banking” system where teachers “deposit” knowledge into passive students. Teachers are the epistemological authority in this system, and the overall system reinforces a lack of critical thinking and knowledge ownership in students. If the machine can write so effectively and spit out what students will be tested and evaluated on, what can we do differently to center authentic forms of learning?
Save the Date
A reminder for all of you to remember my Save the Date! announcement for April 26th (1pm or 2pm??). This will be a time slot reserved for a networked/online event, when you will all collaborate with Dr. Maha Bali’s AUC students (in Cairo, Egypt). The topic of your discussion will be the impact of chatGPT, and what students wish for, in light of this new technology in different learning contexts. This event will be one component of your final group project.
Our class agenda slides
Screening Surveillance discussion
I am glad we also had the time to screen the short film Frames (a film produced by the Screening Surveillance Project. The project guides us in critically examining the logic of design within big data systems (that underpin, enable, and accelerate digital surveillance). In Frames, a smart city tracks and analyzes a woman walking through the city. Things she does are interpreted and logged by the city system, but are they drawing an accurate picture of the woman?
As we continue to think about the “human nature of writing” in the face of technology and artificial intelligence, we will continually be confronting the ubiquitous reality of big data surveillance. In that sense, I hope we will be deepening our socio-technological literacies, while shining light on the centrality of current privacy concerns.
Your to-do list:
Be sure to take some time to rest over the break!
Our pathfinders for next week will be Jenny & Maya, and they will connect with all of us in our class Zoom room. I will be sure to send you that Zoom link by email before 3/16. Jenny & Maya have chosen the theme of authorship & the human nature of writing to guide us all.
It was great to resume our rhythm together this week, kicking off our “Pathfinding Series” with thoughts about trauma and care in the classroom from both Bianca and Edna.
I am glad we thought about the concept of flow – a flow state, also known colloquially as being inthe zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. The hallmark of “flow” is that experience of complete absorption in what one does, transforming a person’s sense of time. We thought more together about the critical-creative aspects of this notion of flow verses the possibility of numbing one’s mind when screen-scrolling (without intention or a sense of our own creative connectivity).
This is the trap that we can fall into so easily when using the writing tools at our fingertips. As we continue to consider the human nature of writing and our relationship with the digital tools that can assist us in our work (i.e. AI, natural language processing), we should strive to prioritize this ideal state of creative flow verses the numbing affect of the “zone-out” and disengagement. In this sense, our writing tech tools today present us with a kind of “double edged sword”. When we seek to enhance our personal expression and our own clarity of thought by partnering with AI tools like ChatGPT, we can fall into a kind of hole, trapped and relegated to the sidelines in the face of those tools. How do we keep a check on the ways we use the tools? How do we know when they might take over our own unique creative generativity? Can we sense this “fine line”, and when it is crossed?
I also want to thank Javon for opening up our early thoughts about AI, with a focus on the technology of writing over the ages. From prehistoric pictographs which were an attempt to record experience for those who lived after, to the ancient writing tablets of Mesopotamia, we humans have been trying to signal our experience to others (both in our present and in our futures). The computational models (algorithms) of natural language processing today attempt to predict effective human communication. From time immemorial, we have been trying to predict and represent our experiences to others. This impulse (to communicate with others in time and space) is consistent in our never-ending human effort to create new writing tools, no matter what moment in our human history.
A deeper understanding of care becomes even more critical when we build communities for the express purpose of learning and growing together. If we cannot apprehend trauma and grapple with it together in truth, then we cannot recognize what humaness really is. And in this way, we foreclose possibilities for deeper collective wisdom. Learning is not just about the acquisition of content. (The machines do that better than we do). Learning is about apprehending truths about the human condition. And this requires care. This is in part why I shared with you the story of just one epic fail in this regard. This misuse of ChatGPT to communicate to a community is just a bellwether, …it is just the problematic beginning of a journey wherein AI will be incorporated into the ways we proceed in education and in life. I believe we can do better, if we start to understand the responsibilities we have in our relationship with these tools better.
Our class slides:
Your to-do list:
Pathfinders Jasmine M & Jasmine D have selected three brief readings in preparation for their time next week. Their discussion theme: “Is AI a friend or foe? -Thinking about what is at stake.” Please read the following selections:
Your next blog os “Blog 4/5” which should cover your reflection on the above readings from the Jasmines and if you would like, you can add some thoughts on the previous selection shared with us by Javon.
I missed you last week, but I am glad to have the recuperation time, and I am now looking forward to our re-engagement with our course and our on-going discussion regarding “the Human Nature of Writing”.
We will pick up where we left off (2/23). I will start our next class with some announcements, some warm ups, and address the Course Calendar which is now complete (with only some minor details remaining).
Afterward, we will kick off our “Pathfinding Series” with Bianca and Edna leading the way. They will prompt us to think about the the importance of care in the context of education and learning. I think this will be a worthy humanist “starting point for our overall deliberations for the reminder of the semester. Their pathfinding theme for Part 1 of our class will be Trauma Informed Pedagogy & Theories of Care for Learning in Community.
After a mid-point class-break, Javon will then take the helm as pathfinder. He will open up the concern with artificial intelligence, guiding us to think about the “Correlation Between Creative Writing in a Humanist Mind vs An A.I. Mind“. In preparation, Javon has shared with us the following brief readings: