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Feb 24, 2023

Wraiting vs. writing

Wraiting is the new writing, only it has AI in it. I bet that a few years down the road, we will all be doing more wraiting than old-fashioned writing. And some of us will be better at it than others because doing it well requires considerable skill. Don’t complain then that I did not warn you, and you fell behind.

Just to give a glimpse of the new world, consider these wraiting tips. It is the tip of the iceberg, for there are a lot more nuances to it than I know about, and even more that I do not. Here are four key roles that AI can play in wraiting:

  1. Brainstorming: One of the main roles that AI can play in wraiting is in the brainstorming stage of the writing process. It can help writers generate new ideas, provide suggestions for topics to explore, and even conduct initial literature reviews (only for well-explored topics). These tools can also be used to create outlines and plan the structure of a piece of writing, making it easier to organize ideas and stay on track.
  2. Critiquing your ideas: Another important role that AI can play in wraiting is as a critical partner to chat about ideas with. With chatbot-style interactions, the AI can engage in a conversation about the writer's ideas, ask questions, provide feedback, and offer suggestions. This can help writers refine their ideas, explore new directions, and gain valuable insights into their writing.
  3. Turning dense chunks of ideas into full paragraphs and segments: By using natural language processing algorithms, wraiting tools can analyze the structure and meaning of sentences and suggest improvements that can help writers better articulate their ideas. This can be especially useful for writers who struggle with writer's block or who find it challenging to organize their thoughts into cohesive paragraphs. AI can look for additional arguments, examples, metaphors, and references to support or challenge your claims.
  4. Editing: Finally, AI can play a key role in the editing process of wraiting. From grammar and spelling to structure, flow, style, genre, and audience analysis, wraiting tools can help writers identify areas for improvement and provide suggestions for making changes. AI-powered editing tools can also help writers save time and effort by automatically correcting common errors and suggesting alternative phrasing.
Wraiting is not easy. AI-powered chatbot has several limitations, some of which are very serious, while others are simply annoying. Learning them will save you from disappointment and frustration; it is a part of the skill. But that would be a topic for another blog. In the meanwhile, build your wraiting skills by trying. It is investment in your future. For educators, there is additional significance. We should start teaching students how to wrait soon.

Feb 23, 2023

"Only able-bodied are welcome"

Excluding individuals with disabilities by failing to provide appropriate accommodations is just as discriminatory as excluding individuals based on race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. In fact, it would be just as unacceptable to advertise an event as "For Whites Only" or "For Straight People Only" as it is to omit language regarding accommodations for individuals with disabilities. If you say nothing, it literally means “For able-bodied people only.” An I am not being metaphorical here.

In semiotics, the absence of a message can be the same as the presence of a message. This concept, known as "the absence of a sign," highlights the importance of context and interpretation in understanding the messages being conveyed. By failing to include language of accommodation in event advertising, organizers are sending a message of exclusion to individuals with disabilities.

At our college, we are committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all, including people with disabilities. Our new recent policy states that events and media resources that are not inclusive may not be advertised on any college-controlled information resources. When someone asks me to share an upcoming event or put a link to a video in the college's update, I click on the link, and check if there is an RSVP and if it asks for accommodations. I also check if the event is not too soon because we know that finding a captioner or an ASL interpreter at short notice is impossible. Additionally, I check if the video has good, human-edited captions or an ASL feed. If these criteria are not met, I apologize and decline to share.

The policy may be seen as controversial because the events and resources may benefit other marginalized people. The larger society unfortunately has not yet relegated exclusionary silent statements like "for hearing people only" as outrageous. An event or a video may be deemed too important even though it is not accessible. However, just because larger society has not yet recognized the importance of inclusivity, it doesn't mean we should do nothing. One day, we all will all be embarrassed by old pictures where people are invited to an open event, and the message says nothing about accommodation.

Forwarding information about an exclusionary event or resource is endorsing it, and therefore, I personally can no longer do it, and I don’t think anyone else should. 
  • I call on the entire campus to adopt a similar policy. 
  • I also call on everyone to boycot events and resources that are not accessible. 

Feb 17, 2023

To R2 or not to R2: Facts first, debate later

It's so much fun to argue without understanding the basic facts! Yep, it's fun and pointless. Consider discussions around classifying universities based on their research output, such as the R1, R2, and R3 designations. When these discussions arise, people immediately object or raise concerns about potential consequences without first understanding whether or not their university actually meets the criteria for the proposed classification, and what costs and benefits the potential new classification entail. Only rarely does anyone say, “I need to know more before I can weigh in.” And those voices usually drown in the excitement of the debate.

For example, let's say someone suggests classifying an R3 university as an R2 institution. Many people may object, raising concerns about potential negative consequences such as diminishing the quality of teaching and suddenly changing expectations of faculty. Still, others might say, "Yes, but here's what we need in terms of resources to get it and to maintain it.” Without first establishing the basic facts, these objections may be based on misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions.

If we take the time to gather the basic facts before beginning a debate, we can avoid these misunderstandings and have a more productive discussion. In the scenario above, a fact-finding committee could be established to determine whether the university in question already meets the criteria for the R2 designation. If it does, then there's no need for a debate at all - the university simply is an R2 institution; it's a matter of correcting the record by providing current information to the Carnegie Foundation. If it's close to meeting the criteria, then the debate can focus on how the university can make the necessary improvements. If major investment is needed to obtain the R2 designation, then the debate can focus on whether or not that investment is justified. But a debate where participants assume different facts is simply hot air, or an excuse to vent other grievances and anxieties. " It is like debating a movie you have not yet seen.

In general, it's always more productive to establish the basic facts before beginning a debate or raising objections. This allows for a more informed and productive discussion and ensures that any objections or concerns are based on a clear understanding of the situation. So the next time you find yourself in a discussion or debate, remember to start with the facts first, and make sure all involved agree on the facts - it will lead to a more productive and informed conversation.

Feb 16, 2023

Poor planning and justice

Some people assume that personal biases, self-interest, and biased policies are the main cause of exclusionary practices. However, I don't believe that's entirely correct. Poor planning and badly designed procedures can also be a major source of actual exclusion. Individuals or groups may be excluded from participating in an event or project due to lack of access or poor organization. That's why good planning is an ethical commitment, not just a good business practice. Whether it's an academic conference, a student event, or any other project, it's important to manage it effectively.

Let us admit it, some faculty members lack project management skills because they haven't had the opportunity to develop them on their career path. It takes courage to admit that you don't know something and learn. And it can be even more difficult once you have those coveted letters after your name. However, these skills are essential for success in any field, so it's important to learn them.

When preparing for an event, it's important to manage it like a project. Here are some commonly known tips on how to manage a project or event with several people involved:

  1. Start planning early: Plan the event well in advance to ensure that there is enough time to organize everything. Otherwise, we end up scrambling to find an accessible room or an available ASL interpreter. Improvisation and spontaneity are cute, but end up hurting someone. 
  2. Develop a timeline: Create a timeline that outlines the key milestones and deadlines for the event. Counting backward is critical here. For example, if we want to announce an event and advertise it, we need at least a month. To advertise it, we need to confirm key speakers and their topics, which takes another month. Rooms are scarce, so we need to book a room at least two months in advance. To book a room, we need to know the general format, which will take a whole meeting to figure out, etc.
  3. Establish roles and responsibilities: Assign clear roles and responsibilities to each person involved in the event. Don't assume that someone will do it; someone does not exist. In academic institutions, seek support from your chairs and deans; they can ask staff to help with specific tasks or match you with other resources on campus. We have the event support request form, but it does not have to be that sophisticated.
  4. Communicate and monitor progress regularly: Establish effective communication channels between team members and stakeholders to ensure that everyone is informed about the progress of the event. A weekly check of progress is the most common routine. Put this checks in your calendar.
  5. Anticipate and manage risks: Identify potential risks and develop a plan to mitigate them. What could go wrong, and what's the plan B? The most common error is to not ask "what if it rains?" or "what if it's 100F outside?
  6. Debrief, identify lessons learned, write them down, pass on to the next person.
Do you want to be a social justice warrior? Get your act together; it's the first step. Remember the rule of the variable barrier: what's a minor annoyance for one person can be an insurmountable obstacle for someone else. We tend to ignore small things because they seem small to us. But from a different perspective, those same things can seem huge. 

Feb 11, 2023

Why Innuendo Has No Place in Academia

Innuendo can be a tricky thing. It's a subtle or hinted remark that often carries a suggestive or insulting connotation. It can take the form of a joke, comment, or gesture that is meant to communicate a hidden message or imply something negative about someone else. In academic and business settings, innuendo can have a destructive impact on professional relationships and workplace culture.

Here are some examples of what innuendo might look like in an academic business meeting:
  • During a discussion on a curriculum proposal, someone says, "If only most faculty knew the basic facts about curriculum forms." This is a direct attack on the proposer disguised as a general lament about a lack of faculty training.
  • Someone says, "Isn't this why we have support staff?" implying that staff are not doing their jobs.
  • Someone says in a public meeting, "Some people can't teach and yet they present themselves as scholars." This kind of innuendo is even more damaging because it's not clear who the person has in mind, leaving many people feeling hurt or offended.
Now, you might be thinking, "Don't we need to allow criticism and accountability?" And the answer is yes, but there are many ways to provide negative feedback without resorting to innuendo. If you have a problem with someone's performance, the best first step is to meet with them face-to-face and express your concerns. You may not know the full story, so it's important to hear both sides. There are also official channels for complaining, such as going to a supervisor, union representative, HR, or equal opportunities office. These channels involve due process, whereas innuendo leaves no room for defense.

It's important to remember that personnel matters should not be the subject of public debates. If you're unhappy with someone's performance, you should take the appropriate steps to address it, rather than making hints or implications in a public setting. Engaging in innuendo will only harm your reputation and make others less likely to want to work with you.

As the facilitator of meetings one must make sure that innuendo has no place in the discussion. If someone starts to engage in this behavior, it's the facilitator's responsibility to shut it down and keep the meeting focused on its purpose. Innuendo does nothing to further the discussion and only serves to bring negativity to the table.

Innuendo has no place in academic or any other settings. It's destructive, undermines professional relationships, and goes against the principles of due process and democracy. If you have concerns about someone's performance, there are better ways to address it than through hints or suggestions. By upholding a "no innuendo" rule in meetings, we can create a more positive and productive environment for all.

Feb 5, 2023

AI in Education Learning Community

Let's tackle this new language-generating AI tech in a more structured and thorough way. Sure, the jokes and comments on social media are cool, but we need to take a closer look at the tool before making any conclusions. The plagiarism debate, among others, is not productive since most people don't understand what they're talking about. And those students who use AI to cheat aren't eager to share their methods. As we gain more hands-on experience, we'll see how people use the tool for written content and how educators can teach them to use it better. Hence, I propose a professional learning community.

Here's my plan: (1) Each PLC member commits some time to playing around with the OpenAI language engine. Try out different prompts for real-life teaching, research, and productivity situations. (2) Meet bi-weekly on Zoom over lunch to discuss findings. (3) Eventually, find a way to rate the most productive prompts and come up with a list of the top-10 to top-25 most useful ones. This information may not be publishable in a scholarly journal, but it could be shared. To keep things manageable, I'm starting with my colleagues in the College of Education at Sac State. But others can easily start their own groups and work independently. It would be great to compare notes from different groups later. If there's enough interest, I may plan an unconference next fall.

There are many types of AI tools out there. The AI Chat is just the easiest to use and is strictly language-generating, which makes for a better comparison.

Just to give you an idea what sort of prompts can be tested: I found last week that AI excels at writing routine, formulaic texts that humans don't like to write. You can give it a couple of specific points and ask it to write a decent recommendation letter for a student. It's also good at converting lists into narratives. Copy a list of your job experiences from your resume and ask it to turn it into a narrative. One of its best uses is specialized editing, like making your text sound like it was written by a native English speaker. This can be significant for English learners of all ages. But my findings alone aren't enough. We need to collectively test, evaluate, and rate these uses to make meaningful conclusions. Anyone interested?