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James McBride & beyond

It was a pleasant evening spent with American writer and musician James McBride – recipient of the 2013 National Book Award. President Barack Obama awarded McBride the 2015 National Humanities Medal “for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America. Through writings about his own uniquely American story, and his works of fiction informed by our shared history, his moving stories of love display the character of the American family.”

I appreciated McBride’s warmth, his candor, his unscripted way of reflecting with us, and his insights into the current American social landscape. Some thoughtful things he stated that I both appreciate and remember:

  1. His comment that “when you judge, there is no journey” – this is a thoughtful insight into to the ways people might get stuck due to their own frustration, generating a kind of blanket cynicism that impedes personal growth and more complex understanding of this thing called life.
  2. His basic advice to all artists, writers, and creatives: do your work from where you are. Good work starts from what you know most intimately, and where you come from.
  3. That a solid educational foundation in the Liberal Arts/Humanities leads us to a more meaningful approach to life. This course of study, founded on one’s innate curiosity regarding the human condition, requires us to grapple with both the world and ourselves. With the “thinking” foundations that come from this course of study, one can constantly calibrate an understanding of what matters, while also seeking better solutions for society as a whole.
  4. To quote him directly (in response to the idea of AI and chat GPT as an “efficient” writer) – “A machine can’t love. And it can’t care.”
Dr. Mia Zamora & some of her Kean students 2023
At the reception for our Distinguished Lecture Series with writer/musician/journalist James McBride

It was lovely to hear the moderator for the evening ask some of your own questions (I wish there was time for more of them). It also was a pleasure to chat with you during the reception. I am glad we took the time (as a class) to avail of this special opportunity. I think that as humanists, McBride’s work and message of the evening is something for us to incorporate into our reflections on “the human nature of writing”.

Thinking about future collaborative research on the impact of artificial intelligence on learning/writing in education.

What is next?

This coming week, we will kick off our “Pathfinding Series”. I will refine our Course Calendar and insert your selected course readings. And we will start this series with a consideration of the significance of care in learning, with a look at trauma-informed pedagogical strategies. Bianca & Edna will lead the way. This important discussion will “set the stage” for our continued conversation about what is a stake when thinking of the significance of writing in the age of artificial intelligence.

Your to do list:

For our first “Pathfinding” session which will take place in the first half of class this coming Thursday, we will hear from both Edna and Bianca about the critical role of care in education contexts, and we will also consider the impact of trauma on learning. This is an important foundation for thinking about writing from a humanist standpoint.

**Please watch:
**Please read (**select two):
  • Selection from “The Body Keeps the Score” by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk

**Blog # 3 due: Reflections on readings above from pathfinders Bianca and Edna

Happy Valentines! xo

Our first writing experiment: the human voice vs. chatGPT

We have momentum

Thanks for another enjoyable class with you this week! In building a sense of connection together, we began by sharing some stories regarding our names, and had a good time exploring a bit more of who we are. Trust is such a key part of the learning experience (something that only builds after some time with each other). I am glad to invite some of our time in getting to know a bit more about everyone in the room.

Some announcements:

Remember we will be meeting at around 4:20pm at the Liberty Hall Academic Center for James McBride’s reading and talk next week for class!

In addition, please consider participating in Research Days to be held Monday, April 24 – Wednesday, April 26, 2023. Kean Research Days is a campus-wide celebration of faculty-student research and creative activity. This annual event sponsored by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs provides students the opportunity to present their preliminary or completed research and creative activities to the campus community. Here is the link to register.

Class slides

Beginning our discussion with “Voice” in Writing

I am smitten with your articulation of what “voice in writing” might be. It is such a critical yet elusive aspect of writing, and I think you captured some it so beautifully in class. I also think you considered the question of voice from your own well-earned experience of writing. I especially enjoyed our discussion of the dreaded “writer’s block” experience – a sensation of being stuck (perhaps due to a blank mind, or more likely, a flooded mind). What is writing, if not thinking in nuanced and refined ways? What is writing, without the communicator’s intention? What is writing without whimsicality and serendipity?

We also discussed some key questions that I think we will keep visiting over the course of our time together:

Our first experiment

Ou first in-class “experiment” with chatGPT was useful as an early consideration of what the tool will do, in comparison to what a human writer might do (in light of a basic writing prompt).

I asked each of you to write about the difference between high school verses college for about 7 minutes. The results revealed a combination of insights based on experience, memories, and also a broader comparative analysis. You had strong feelings, great “lines” to sum up the vibes of yesteryear, and some profound questions too. Even monitored-bathroom references. When chatGPT answered the same question a few minutes later, it’s response was a well written comparison/contrast argument organized in list form, built upon some fact-based assertions. We considered the pros and cons of the different approaches, and we hit upon the difference in “information for information’s sake” vs. the production of meaning through language. I think this is a useful place to start our overall class exploration of “the human nature of writing”.

Completing Class Calendar

At this stage it is critical for each of you to determine your contribution to our pathfinding series which provides a “spine” for our Course Calendar. You each need to dig deeper that “initial thoughts” and really determine with specificity your plan for presentation. Remember to look closely (research the content) of our Reading Roster in order to confirm what you want to contribute to our discussion. You can also add readings that are outside our roster (if you feel they will enhance your “pathfinding” direction). You can let me know by email if you have new materials that you want me to consider adding to our reading list. **Please email me the working title and the selected readings that will become the basis for your presentation by next week.

You to-do list for next week

1. In preparation for James McBride visit next week:

2. Complete your contribution of our Course Calendar. Please email me the title of your “topic/theme” for your “pathfinding week” and the proposed reading selections that the class will read the week before your own pathfinding session. This is due before February 9th.

3. Blog 2 due: Reflect on our class discussion from 2/2. What is your sense of the importance of voice in writing? Write about what you noticed when you wrote about high school vs. college, as compared to what chatGPT wrote about high school vs. college. **Also, please formulate a question for James McBride to answer in during his public lecture next week 2.

We are off to a great start! See you at the James McBride reading next week!

On our way…

On our way!

I am really so happy with our launch of the #NetNarr “collaboratory”. I feel the shared enthusiasm in the room for “The Human Nature of Writing“. It seems there are so many open possibilities for our collective exploration of A.I.’s impact on the writing process. As you are all settling into this new semester, the metaphorical allusions you have shared (about how you are feeling at this point) are telling. I can tell that you are juggling things, and that you are definitely an interesting group!

As I mentioned in class, the significance of care, and the sense of trust in community, is critical to anyone’s capacity to learn. And so I am glad we are taking the time to connect a bit as we settle into class together. We will continue the process of getting to know each other more each week, before we jump into our weekly content together. And we will also share some of our thoughts and work with the network beyond our four walls (via Twitter) using the hashtag #NetNarr and also @unboundeq #unboundeq (the Equity Unbound network)!

I am glad we took a look at the Reading Roster together (remember this a “live” document that can be expanded by your own contributions). We have also started “to fill out” the Course Calendar together. At this stage, we have settled your individual dates for the “pathfinding schedule”. Each student now has a specific night this semester for their interactive presentation. Next week I hope you will be able to share a topic (and theme title) that you intend to cover during your own pathfinding session (and perhaps a reading or two selected in light of your thematic choice?). **Please work on refining your theme title for your pathfinding session (to be shared in class next week). And if you would like to work with the other person slated to present on your date, be sure to connect with them to confer about your class theme for that day.

Our class slides

Your to-do list for next class:

  1. Please set up your twitter account and your blog URL and submit this information by completing this form (if you have not done so already).
  2. Please look at the Reading Roster more closely, and be prepared to let me know what your topic and theme title will be. You can also share with me any possible reading selection(s) you would like to integrate into the Course Calendar.
  3. Watch: “In the Age of AI”, Frontline Documentary, PBS. 
  4. Read: Nast, Condé, and @wired. “AI Reveals the Most Human Parts of Writing.” WIRED, 2 Dec. 2022,
  5. Blog 1 due: Please write a reflection/response to “AI Reveals the Most Human Parts of Writing”. Include an introduction to yourself (if you haven’t done that yet).

Nice to meet you!

 I was so happy to welcome all of you to #netnarr on Thursday evening (1/19) as we took a bit of time together to acclimate to this learning journey. I am excited about getting “Networked Narratives” up and running with all of you, and I am feeling energized by connecting in person.

Some check in and warm up with you:

A review of some of the things we have accomplished so far:

  1. We have connected in person and established a sense of the course together.
  2. I have shared the overall vision for the class, and discussed briefly the central question of the course – “the human nature of writing” and the impact of artificial intelligence on writing, learning, teaching, and the world in general. (See my first post on this website’s home page for some of these initial thoughts).
  3. We have walked through the course website and the syllabus.

Class slides:

What is next?

This coming Thursday evening, we will do some more connecting and getting to know each other, and I will continue to introduce you to the central ideas and questions of the course.

We will look at our Course Calendar and the Reading Roster together, and we will plan our overall “pathfinder” schedule a bit.

*Please create a free WordPress blog.  Each week, you will be writing a reflective blog post that captures your writing and learning process for the week.  Please send me the URL (web address) for your WordPress blog by filling this form out by Wednesday, January 25th.  In addition, please create a twitter account. We will use the hashtag #netnarr to grow our connections and share our work on the human nature of writing. 

I will feed your individual blog sites into our course website, so you will all be able to access and read everyone’s weekly blog posts on the course website under the tab “Student Blogs”.

Your to-do list for next week:

  1. Please set up your twitter account and your blog URL and submit this information by completing this form.
  2. Listen to the History of #NetNarr podcast.
  3. Select a couple of dates you would like to be a “pathfinder” for the course. We will negotiate the Course Calendar next time we meet.
  4. Please post your first blog post before next Thursday. Your first blog post is your introduction post. Introduce yourself to #NetNarr class (in whatever way you would like to). Let us all know who you are, in whatever manner you feel comfortable.

Looking forward to seeing you all next week,

Dr. Zamora

Welcome to #NetNarr 2023 (aka Networked Narratives: “The Human Nature of Writing”

a digital heart made of zeros and ones

Welcome to a new semester! I really look forward to connecting with all of you soon. In many ways, this course has been “brewing” in my mind for a while. It attempts to ask some bold questions about the state of the world, the state of democracy, the state of education.  In short, we will will ask many hard questions together. At the root of our shared inquiry will be the significance of writing. But we will try to connect that to questions about what make us human. I want to think more deeply with all of you about artificial intelligence – questioning its impact on thinking, on learning, and on caring for each other.

What does it mean to write in the age of the A.I., GPT-3? The algorithms can write faster than we can. A.I. has now mastered structure, form, and syntax. Still, it doesn’t have a clue about meaning. At this stage, you can offer a prompt, and the program will spit out something useful within seconds. Prose will be grammatically correct. Words will be coherent. ChatGPT uses the entirety of the open web as it’s data set. It knows basic paragraph structure and it connects ideas together effectively. So where does that leave us human writers? 

For time immemorial, human beings have reached out to the world with words, hoping to connect and communicate, hoping to import both information and meaning to those on the receiving end of an intended message.  We have tried to convey what we know, what we experience, what we think, what we feel.  Writers hope to protect their authenticity and intention, their unique human voice.  But in a world where the machine can do some things more effectively and efficiently, how do we now reckon with the art and science of writing?  What is the impact of artificial intelligence on the world as we know it? How is machine writing a game changing truth? 

In #NetNarr this Spring 2023, we will be a taking small journey together as we attempt to apprehend the significance of the human nature of writing.

If we know that care and community are critical to how we learn, what is the future for learning and education, in a world written (in part) by machines trained on our own human output?

I look forward to meeting for the first time this week, and getting our co-learning “collaboratory” up-and-running together.

See you soon,

Dr. Zamora