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Redefining Academic Excellence in the Age of AI

This week, my 3rd grade son was working on a presentation on Greek myths. He had to make a tri-fold poster on Zeus, king of the Greek gods, and when it came time to find a picture, we decided it might be fun to create one with AI. It became a family activity — one that reveals magical opportunities and real limits of generative AI for all grade levels. It also became a clarifying moment for what it means to teach in the age of generative AI. Zeus and Cubism Our prompts were almost always simple. We started with “Please make me a picture of Zeus.” The first outcomes appeared in the style of a fantasy novel: stereotypical, bearded, and muscled. In our first few attempts, we tried specifications for details like how to hold a lightning bolt: Our son loves soccer, so we tried some other formats: “imagine he is a soccer player” wearing the school uniform and “make it more kid-friendly”: My wife had the idea to ask for a cubist Zeus. We learned that ChatGPT can’t do cubism.  Make it more abs
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On Artificial Intelligence, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the Risks of Playing With Magic

  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  - Arthur C. Clarke, in Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible (1962) When I uploaded to ChatGPT a picture of my family taken at a screening of Taylor Swift’s “Eras” Tour, and asked ChatGPT simply to “write a poem about the attached picture,” and when it returned to me a sonnet accurately describing my wife and children wearing “Swiftie” shirts in front of a poster of the singer herself, capturing the mix of love, fandom, and family, I couldn’t help but pause to appreciate what an incredible time we are living in.  Today’s technology might as well be magic. I’ve been thinking recently about another magical moment, too: Disney’s 1940 release of Fantasia , which includes the nine-minute, short film “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”  The animated film recently celebrated its 80th anniversary, but the story is actually much, much older.  And in its age, it serves as a timeless cautionary tale f

A Boarding School Musical

So, I wrote a one-act musical about boarding school .  Hamilton-inspired, it’s a hip-hop, pop, and classical music fusion that aims to both send up and speak authentically to the bizarre experience of being an adolescent in a boarding school. It went up at a school meeting, total surprise to the students.  25 awesome faculty members joined in.  The kids were ecstatic. Part satire and part tribute, it begins with learning about boarding school for the first time, carries through the first day of classes, and finishes, of course, with a dance number. While it’s about boarding school holistically, there are good chunks that apply to most any school, like the classes section, in particular.  Here are the time-stamps for different scenes: 00:00 Opening Number 14:04 Sit-down Breakfast 17:30 Classes (US History, Physics I, Math) 28:00 Co-Curriculars 30:30 Walk-Through Dinner 32:11 Epilogue & Dance Click "Show More" on the YouTube page to jump to a sce

"Know to Know No More": Teaching in the Age of Information

The last few years have been a time of particular information (and misinformation) saturation.  The essay below was a response, in 2011, to a school initiative inviting teacher reflections, but its themes feel even more relevant today.  Then, I had recently returned to teaching after four years as a musician and working on political campaigns.  I saw the world differently, and the essay was entitled: “On Going, Knowing, and Coming Back Again.” Same essay below, different title. It has been edited only slightly. The prompt was: We would like to put together a volume of "faculty meditations" or reflections on teaching in the broadest sense of the word… The most important element of this collection of texts is passion----love of what John Taylor refers to as "the calling." “Know to Know No More” On teaching in the age of information 1 When confronted with international crises and wars overseas, with the usurpation of attention by technology, and with

Should We Open the Past Before Trying to Open the Future? (Part 6 of 6)

A decade and a half ago, Web 2.0 brought with it the promise of shared knowledge and collaborative networks.  It seems to me that education hasn’t realized this promise yet.  We haven’t yet created a shared knowledge base or a fully scaled social network for educators.  Surely, an open approach will be essential for succeeding in this.  And yet, before the education sector has figured out how we might realize the promise of shared knowledge, before we have created a successful open environment for teachers to share careers-worth of wisdom and/or to connect at scale, before we have succeeded in education at what other industries have succeeded in, before we do this, we’re instead trying to catapult into Web 4.0, a digital future of artificial intelligence, adaptive learning, mind-to-mind communication, and more.  We’re overleaping teachers and building tools that directly engage the learner. Surely some of this is appropriate.  The digital age offers many valuable educational too

Platform Design: Research Directions (Part 5 of 6)

This course has been a welcome primer on the essentials of OER: from the philosophical foundations of openness to the reasons for each of the five R’s to the provenance and application of Creative Commons.  We’ve had an introduction to and overview of an emerging field.  Of course, the domain of knowledge about OER runs much deeper than the overarching concepts we’ve been exposed to here, but revisiting them at a high level has been a healthy and helpful refresher of what many of us have seen emerge over the past ten years. It was about ten years ago when I first had an idea for a platform for sharing.  Back then, building it would have been cutting edge.  Now, enthusiasm for yet another OER platform seems pretty tepid, maybe even worthy of a sigh.  So I’d like to ask this community for some advice. To do so, I’d like to share some of my key takeaways and impressions from the course, and ask for counsel on appropriate next steps for a project. ~ Some context: while most