Sunday, February 11, 2024

ChatGPT, write a novel about a dystopian society that has been consumed by technology. Include book burning, and the death of creative thought.

When my daughter was a freshman in high school, she was assigned to read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I admitted to her with great shame that I’d somehow navigated two degrees and a life-long love of reading without ever reading this classic. I decided to right this wrong immediately, and so we read the novel in tandem. 

I expected to like it. (It’s “a classic!”) It turns out I loved it. ADHD in tow, I promptly went down a Ray Bradbury rabbit hole, learning all I could about the life he lived and his beliefs about technology and the future. In my “research” (See also: Googling), I learned that he refused to release any of his work in digital form until 2011, a year before his death at age 92. He held a belief so strongly that he said no to publishing his writing in a way that would put his ideas into the minds of millions of people (and generate a significant bit of income to boot). 

How punk rock is that?

Did his protest against the future of technology do anything to stop it? Not in the least. I still respect the stand he took. I’ve been thinking about Bradbury’s boycott of digital publishing a lot lately as I grapple with my own feelings about technology and the future of creative and critical thinking. 

I recently attended a Zoom training hosted by a popular company that offers AI writing assistance. The woman leading the session enthusiastically shared how the AI components offered in their premium education accounts shepherd students past “the fear of the blank page.” Students can use generative AI to give them a list of possible ideas to write about or generate an outline for them to follow. It can check their tone or make a paragraph “stronger.” It can also, given a little nudge, write the whole damn thing for them. 

As a teacher of rhetoric and composition, I believe the point of what I teach is the process, not the finished product. I value my role as a coach, guiding students through the hard work of the writing process, starting with that frightening blank page all the way through to publication. Grappling with hard questions, carving new neural pathways of creative thinking, and showing yourself that you can do a really hard thing and survive it, or better yet, come out a little stronger in the end, are essential life lessons. I feel honored to guide my students through those experiences. 

But now our students can look at that long walk from the start to the finish of a writing assignment and opt to take the AI sky tram instead. They can arrive at their writing destination without breaking a sweat. 

As the future of AI in education breathes down my neck, I find myself wondering, do I want to be a Bradbury, digging in my heels in respect for my deeply-held principles about teaching, learning, and the craft of writing, knowing that my protest will do nothing to change what’s to come? Do I want to give in and say there's nothing I can do to stop what's coming, so let me grade this robot’s essay? Or might there be a space in between? 
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So, when I say I read Fahrenheit 451, I mean to say that I listened to it on my phone using the Audible app while commuting several hours each day to and from work, my kids’ two schools, and various music lessons and therapies. (Bradbury rolled his eyes in his grave, I am sure.) And, as I write this, I write it not with a pencil and a pad of paper with a dictionary at arm’s reach but on my laptop computer where I look up synonyms for words, move entire paragraphs around the electronic page, and allow the little red line to catch the spelling and punctuation errors I leave in the wake of my tapping fingers. 

Punk rock, I am not. 

Luckily, I peddle my philosophy of teaching here at GCC, where I am surrounded by educators who are devoted to the craft of teaching and student success. I teach on a campus that values the act of thinking and writing so deeply that every year, faculty and staff volunteer to do the hard work of wrestling ideas out of their heads and into the blogosphere for all to see. I know that my fellow Gauchos are scouting the horizon for that middle path forward into our future with AI in education, and if we don’t spot it, I am sure that we can tramp out a new path together.

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ChatGPT, write a novel about a dystopian society that has been consumed by technology. Include book burning, and the death of creative thought.

When my daughter was a freshman in high school, she was assigned to read Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 . I admitted to her with great sh...