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Nov 27, 2023

Assessing writing with AI

Writing with AI is a complex skill that overlaps with traditional manual writing, but it is not the same. Many instructors struggle to grasp this new skill because it is unfamiliar to them. Teaching something you haven't mastered is challenging, leading to noticeable unease at all educational levels. Even those eager to incorporate AI in teaching, often open to new innovations, face this difficulty. The issue essentially lies in redefining the objectives of writing instruction. If the belief is that students should ultimately write independently, then traditional practice is paramount, leaving no role for AI tools. However, the more challenging conceptual shift is recognizing the need to teach students how to write with AI. This is like the transition from penmanship to typing. We lose something in this shift: the beauty, the discipline, and the rigorous exercises of handwriting. I recall diligently practicing letter formations in my first-grade penmanship class. Although I was never adept at it and gladly transitioned to typewriters when they became accessible, I understand the pain of losing the esteemed art of writing, cherished for centuries. This pain, particularly acute for those who have spent decades mastering and teaching writing, must be acknowledged. Yet, this shift seems inevitable. We are dealing with a technology that is being adopted faster than any in history, and it is not a passing fad. The benefits are too clear. We face a stark paradox: educators use AI to create lesson plans and assessment rubrics, yet often bar their students from using the same technology. This is unsustainable and awkward. 

As a profession, we are only taking the first steps in integrating AI into writing instruction. Here's another baby step: I revised Sacramento State University's Undergraduate Writing Portfolio Assessment criteria, considering the new skill of "wrating." 

Writing Placement for Juniors Portfolio (WPJ)

5 - Exceptional Wraiter: Demonstrates mastery in "wraiting," producing AI-assisted compositions at a publishable level in their respective discipline. Showcases exceptional skill in generating rich, engaging prompts and collaboratively refining AI outputs. Exhibits a deep understanding of AI's strengths and limitations, skillfully navigating these in producing original, high-quality work.

4 - Strong Wraiter: Effectively employs AI tools in "wraiting," producing texts of high quality that reflect a sophisticated understanding of AI's capabilities. Demonstrates the ability to create rich prompts and engage in the iterative process of refining AI-generated content. Shows a clear grasp of AI's strengths and limitations, using them to enhance original thinking and critical evaluation.

3 - Competent Wraiter: Demonstrates a solid understanding of "wraiting," using AI tools to assist in writing tasks. Capable of creating effective prompts and engaging in the process of refining AI outputs. Shows awareness of the strengths and limitations of AI in writing, but may require further guidance to fully exploit these in creating high-quality texts.

2 - Developing Wraiter: Beginning to understand the role of AI in "wraiting." Can generate basic AI-assisted texts but requires further instruction in creating effective prompts and refining outputs. Shows potential in understanding AI's strengths and limitations, but needs more practice to integrate these effectively in writing tasks.

1 - Emerging Wraiter: Early stages of grasping "wraiting." Struggles with effectively using AI tools, often producing clichéd, uninspired texts that lack human input and originality. Needs substantial guidance in understanding AI's capabilities, constructing prompts, and refining AI-generated content.

0 - Incomplete Portfolio: Portfolio does not demonstrate the basic competencies in "wraiting" or effective use of AI in writing tasks. Requires additional work to understand and skillfully employ AI tools in the writing process. What do you think?

Nov 22, 2023

The Chatbot Goes to College: The Perils of Premature Policy

The integration of AI-powered chatbots into higher education has triggered a complex debate, with students and parents expressing frustration over the lack of clear guidelines from universities. This dilemma, while challenging, underscores a critical point: the danger of a hastily adopted, university-wide policy on AI usage in education.

Currently, many universities lack a unified stance on AI tools like ChatGPT. This absence of policy isn't necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it might be a safer bet for now. A rushed university-wide policy is likely to be prohibitive and uninformed, stemming more from a place of fear and misunderstanding than informed decision-making. The repercussions of such a policy could be significant, leading to restrictions that stifle innovation and creating additional inequities. Moreover, the likelihood of having to walk back such a policy once better understanding and more use cases emerge is high, which could lead to confusion and a lack of trust in institutional decisions.

Given these potential pitfalls, delegating the responsibility to individual faculty members seems to be a more prudent approach. This decentralization allows for a more nuanced and adaptable handling of AI in the classroom. Professors, based on their familiarity and comfort with AI tools, can create temporary guidelines that best fit their pedagogical goals and the needs of their students. This approach fosters a diverse range of policies, from strict prohibition to full embracement.

This strategy, however, is not without its challenges. It leads to a patchwork of policies where students may receive mixed messages about the use of AI tools like ChatGPT. In one class, AI might be a tool for enhancing the creative process, while in another, its use might result in severe penalties. Such inconsistencies can be confusing, but they also reflect the broader state of AI in society: a technology full of potential yet fraught with ethical and practical uncertainties.

To navigate this landscape, transparency and communication become key. Faculty members should clearly articulate their stance on AI in their syllabi, providing students with a clear understanding of what is expected in each course. It is important to be honest with students, for example stating “I did not have a chance to learn about the use of ChatGPT and other AI in teaching, so I am not yet comfortable allowing to use it, sorry.” Don’t feign expertise where there isn’t any. In my opinion, it would be prudent to at least start experimenting, and encourage students to use AI in at least one, even optional assignment. This requires revision of the assignment, and especially its rubric.  This would at lest who your student that you care enough to try. Many faculty have already tried something and are now in a better position to encourage the use of AI in all of their assignments. It is not realistic to expect all faculty in all disciplines to move with the same speed. Therefore a broad policy may be too much for some and too little for others.

The shift towards AI in education is a journey marked by uncertainties and learning opportunities. Rather than rushing to impose a one-size-fits-all policy, universities would be better served by allowing individual professors to take the lead, adapting their approaches as our collective understanding of AI evolves. This method may be less straightforward, but it is more likely to lead to informed, effective, and sustainable integration of AI in the educational landscape.

Nov 16, 2023

The fundamental misunderstanding of AI-assisted writing

The debate rages on in various Facebook groups dedicated to AI in education, encompassing educators, publishers, and even lawyers. They grapple with the ethics, practicalities, and legality of using AI-generated text, often under the flawed assumption that there's a clear demarcation between human-generated and AI-generated content. This is a classic case of misunderstanding the nature of large language models (LLMs) – it is not just technically impossible to make such a distinction, but theoretically as well.

Imagine writing assistance by AI as a spectrum. On one end, there's the lazy prompt: "Write me an essay for my class based on these instructions." On the other, a minimal request: "Here's my text, just correct the grammar." In the former case, the content is mostly computer-generated. (Although some instructors give such detailed assignment descriptions for students that the paper is practically written by the instructor, but that is another issue). Yet, the most effective and transformative uses of AI lie somewhere in the middle. This is where the magic happens: turning a raw idea into a paper outline, transforming a rough argument into coherent text, asking ChatGPT for feedback on a draft, or enriching a paragraph with vivid examples.

This is not a simple case of either-or; it is a true collaboration between human intellect and machine assistance. By pigeonholing AI as a tool that merely replaces human effort, many reveal their unfamiliarity with what I like to call 'wraiting' – a blend of writing and AI. The current clamor for distinct labeling of human vs. AI-generated text, or setting limits on the extent of AI use, can come across as naïve or even embarrassing to those well-versed in AI-assisted writing.

The beauty of 'wraiting' lies in its collaborative essence. It redefines authorship, shifting the focus from the creation process to the act of releasing the final product. The most important wraiting skills is the ability to wring great content from the machine by giving it most of the ideas. Equally important is the final editing, the ability to discern between mediocre and great content.

Just as the user of a word processor or spell-checker is considered the author, the human guiding the AI in 'wraiting' holds the rights of authorship. The key lies in understanding and experiencing this process firsthand. So, before jumping into heated debates or formulating policies, it might be wise to take AI for a spin in your next writing project. Only then can one truly appreciate the nuances of this new era of authorship, where the lines between human and machine are not just blurred but non-existent. Regulating a thing you don’t know much about is always going to be risky. 

Nov 8, 2023

Ends do (usually) justify means

Do ends justify means? When some argue that ends do not justify means, they typically imply that there are certain situations where the means—potentially extreme or damaging—do not warrant the pursuit of an end. Generally, though, the means are meant to be subordinate to the ends; the latter are the driving force behind our actions and decisions. That is the whole point of the distinction between ends and means. 

In the context of educational leadership, the mission is clear: student success and institutional success. Collegiality and a supportive work environment are crucial, of course. They foster a positive atmosphere conducive to both productivity and satisfaction. Nevertheless, there comes a point when these relationships can impede progress. I have experienced this firsthand. Recently, my actions, while necessary to move a solution forward, strained a previously good relationship with a colleague. I did not relish the decision, nor did I make it lightly, but it was a last resort to maintain momentum toward our ultimate goal.

This is not an isolated incident. Over the years, I have faced such decisions more than once. They are never easy. They are the kind of decisions that linger in the mind, inviting you to question whether there was another way. Yet, they are a stark reminder that an overcommitment to conflict avoidance can be just as detrimental as the tendency to engage in multiple needless confrontations. Both extremes are pitfalls of leadership. A good conflict can clear the air and clarify things.

Navigating these waters requires an intuitive understanding when to stand firm, and when to smooth things over. The art of leadership is not in avoiding conflict at all costs but in discerning when the mission's needs must override the comfort of existing relationships. It's about striking a balance between moving forward and maintaining alliances, knowing full well that sometimes progress demands tough choices.

Nov 6, 2023

The Many Lives We Lead: Transcendence Through Travel and Imagination

In every person’s core, there lies a nomad, an explorer, a seeker of worlds. The act of travel is a sort of pilgrimage into the lives we might have led. I just came from Hong Kong, with its neon arteries pulsating through the cityscape, allowing one to slip into a life electric with possibility.

The phenomenon of craving alternative lives is not simply a fanciful escape; it's rooted in a deep-seated drive for novelty and complexity. When we traverse unfamiliar lands, we do so to indulge in the fantasy of another existence, to stand at the precipice of 'what if.' Each alley and avenue whispers a different narrative, and in our minds, we author countless unwritten stories. “What if I got that job in Nikolaev, in 1990? Would I be under Russian rocket fire right now?” or “What if I was born in 19th century?”

Consider the profound allure of alternative reality movies and books. Their popularity is not just about entertainment; they cater to the human desire to transcend, to live beyond the confines of our singular existence. They are mirrors reflecting our multifaceted selves, the versions of us that exist in the ether of potentiality.

This transcendence is not a mere consequence; it is a catalyst. Our everyday reality, when perforated by the extraordinary, becomes a wellspring of inspiration. The sights of a street market in Kowloon, the scent of incense curling through temple halls, the tactile history etched into the stones of old Hong Kong – these are the tinder for the spark of creativity. Such experiences coax out ideas that might never have surfaced in the sedentary waters of routine.

The hunger to travel more is not useless. It stems from the knowledge that with each journey, our perspective broadens. The paradox of seeing something entirely different yet inherently similar fosters a universal empathy. We begin to understand the thread of humanity that binds us, even as we marvel at the mosaic of disparate cultures.

It’s this mingling of familiarity and discovery that feeds the soul. To stand on Victoria Peak and gaze upon the vast urban sprawl is to entertain the multitude of lives one could live, the paths one might walk. It is to live momentarily in a dimension of our own crafting, shaped by the vistas before us and the visions within us.

Travel, then, is more than movement through space; it is a journey through the selves we might have been, the selves we still could become. The act of imagining another life in another place is a silent rebellion against the singularity of existence. It is a testament to our nature as beings who not only yearn for but also derive vitality from the unknown.

One returns from travels with more than souvenirs and memories; one returns with the kindling for invention. The alternative lives we live in our minds may be ephemeral, but their impact on our creativity is indelible. And so, we continue to seek new horizons, to imagine, to transcend – for it is in these imagined lives that we find the freedom to truly create.