An experiment with ChatGPT

I’ll start off by saying that I am not a fan of AI – mainly because most of the ‘fan-boi’s are so non-critical and sometimes obnoxious – and I am certainly not a fan of private companies exerting power over people by controlling public spaces (looking at you Google and Twitter in particular). However, ChatGPT, and it’s underlying LLM (large language model) GPT3, are getting a lot of press so I thought I should dip my toe in that particular sea. I did make a prescient suggestion in 2017 about AI and assessment.

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Getting ideas fast

// First published on JiscInvolve Codesign blog

On Tuesday 22 November, Harvey Norman and I were asked to run a session at the Jisc Student Experience Experts group in Birmingham. We took the opportunity to introduce the Pathfinders initiative and to give the delegates a chance to experience one of the many methods we use as part of our innovation process.

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Facing a shutdown: thoughts about moving to remote teaching

I have been asked a few times this last week for advice in dealing with a shutdown of face-to-face teaching. There’s loads of brilliant advice online for the technicalities, but not much about the practicalities or social/emotional side of the situation we currently face. Below is the rough advice I have shared.

As much as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is slammed, I think it gives us a useful crutch in times like these. Staff don’t know what’s going on, but students know even less and are getting conflicting information from the media, etc. Add to that precarity of housing if they are in halls, or will they be able to finish their degree, there will be a great deal of anxiety surrounding the issue. That’s even before considering those at higher risk, like immune-compromised students or those with at-risk family members or care responsibilities. Their studies will probably not be their number one priority right now, so don’t expect to move through the course at the same pace.

Find a way to make contact with all students and give them reassurance and calmness. It needs to be two-way conversation and we need to listen.

Setting up a Microsoft Teams site (or Slack if you’re not an Office 365 subscriber) for each module is probably do-able, and 2-way conversation is a lot easier on there than in the VLE, for example. Your IT department should be able to automate this, but you will know people who can help you pull something together.

Staff will also be feeling uncomfortable about changes to their teaching practice. Some might run with it, but others may be scared, lack knowledge, or can’t envisage what ‘remote’ could look like in their context. That is completely understandable. Opening up channels for staff to ask these questions without shame and get answers is really important.

Give staff a forum to ask questions and get useful answers

This could be a school-wide Microsoft Teams site – staff will help each other, but it might be useful to rota some experienced remote teachers in to check/advise. The key thing is to make it completely clear that this is a new situation and with changes, there is uncertainty. Asking for help is a strength not a weakness, so encourage them to be strong for their students.

Where there is a lack of confidence or skill in supporting ‘remote learning’, then we need a way to support staff without overwhelming them. Course handbooks and lesson plans largely go out of the window. Let’s think about what we can do in this situation with the skills we have, and then how we can support and develop skills over time.

Start off with small changes and work up

It’s easy to suggest make every lecture a video, but that is a huge jump. My first piece of advice – take your existing lecture notes and give them a tidy. Then add all the contextual information you might share in a teaching session and add it to the notes field. It’s not perfect, but it is a small improvement. Use Teams (or whatever) to allow questions from students and then respond to them. Other students will respond, so watch out for misconceptions. Most of your teaching time will probably be spent minding/encouraging/probing the discussions – reassure staff that this is proper teaching. There are resources available to support online teaching, e.g. from the OU

Once people are up and running, we can start thinking about other teaching beyond lectures. Practicals are going to be very difficult to do. Unless people have lab chemicals or a spare horse at home, they probably can’t do a lot of the stuff. We need to think how we can provide something similar.

Demo practical stuff and get someone to video it on their phones. You can upload that to Stream (through Teams) or Panopto.

Don’t worry about picture quality or sound quality. Don’t even worry about narrating it as you go or afterwards – although it is useful. Capture the experience. You can write up a more detailed account, if necessary.

If you are feeling confident, you can use the narrate function in PowerPoint to make a video lecture

Grab a wired microphone (something like an Apple Handsfree headphone one), plug it into a computer and give it a go. Anything is better than nothing. You will find guides online.

Most of all, don’t panic. We don’t want people thrust into delivering their course entirely online, because this isn’t ‘online learning’. This is an unusual occurrence, so we have to adapt as best we can. Anything they can do to keep students ticking along is great – but remember that it isn’t just our students, it’s affecting everyone.

Talk to your students. Ask them if this is working for them. Ask them for help.

Students won’t know how to learn online, so encourage a spirit of trying this out together. Explain why you’ve done something (e.g. notes field in PowerPoints to give them contextual information). What do they like? What don’t they like? What could be improved? How would it benefit them? Keep the dialogue going – it’s difficult, but necessary, especially at first.

Hopefully these suggestions will help. It is easy when faced with such big changes to focus on process and product, but forget about the people. You can’t do either unless you bring the people along with you.

If you have questions or comments, please add them below, or connect with me on twitter (@marcuselliott) and I’ll do my best to answer.

Good luck and stay safe – for everyone’s benefit.

Revisiting my VandR mapping one year on

Lawrie Phipps recently published a post, “Development not Training: an approach to social media for leaders“, setting out the history and rationale for the VandR mapping exercise he uses on his Jisc Digital Leaders course (VandR is shorthand for Visitor and Resident, a really useful way of thinking about how we engage with our digital lives – see here for a natty cartoon). If you haven’t read his post, please do (but promise to come back). And if you haven’t attended the Jisc Digital Leaders course, I would highly recommend it – booking is available for the May 2017 but I do not get commission.
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Keeping Safe On The Roads

I saw this tweet.

Yep, I’ll just let you absorb that for a second.

Chris Grayling, the Transport Minister – the man who has overall responsibility for ‘getting people and stuff around the country’, has decided that one form of transport does not ‘count’.
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What is my point?

As some of you may know, I am due to become a father for the second time in October. This impending addition has made me think about the impact I have had on the world.

There are the obvious costs to the planet for sustaining my life. Whether that is CO2 released into the atmosphere, the waste I create, or the environmental toll caused by the production of my food.

There are also some positives… somewhere. Hopefully I have made some people happy (one married me, so can’t be too bad), but I know I have probably made some people sad. Beyond environmental or emotional, it is actions that we are judged on, so what have I added to humanity in my 30-odd years? Continue reading “What is my point?”

Stairway to Heaven: A Tale of Commons

In 1967, Randy California,of the American rock band Spirit, wrote and recorded a short instrumental track entitled Taurus.

In 1971, the English band, Led Zeppelin, released their seminal track, Stairway to Heaven. Stairway is widely regarded as one of the most important songs of the 20th Century.

In 1968, Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit, on what was their first American tour. During this tour, Led Zeppelin often performed together with Spirit on stage.

Now, what has this got to do with anything, you may ask. Well in 2014 and 2016, various members of Spirit and their estates filed copyright claims against Led Zeppelin for the striking similarities between the tracks. These claims are based on the shared use of finger picked stepdown progression in A minor, and the fact the bands had spent time together touring.

These two bands must have spent time together on tour buses or in green rooms, picking their way through harmonies and riffs. They will have heard each other’s set lists ad nauseum. I have no doubt that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had heard Taurus at some point. We don’t know whether there was a conscious intent to nick a bit of the progression, or just an earworm that reared its head once Stairway had started to be written.

I am not going to state whether I think Led Zeppelin’s song is a copy, but in June 2016 a jury decided that the similarities between the songs didn’t amount to copyright infringement.

However, it does raise another issue, and that’s one I would like to explore in a more familiar context: education.

What does this mean?

It is clear that there are some similarities between Stairway and Taurus, but it is the creative process that is most intriguing.

What is Creative Commons?

Use Creative Commons tools to help share your work. Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardised way to give you permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice.

Now, let’s imagine that the music industry was not just about making money, although with Stairway netting £500 million in royalties, it is difficult not to. Let’s imagine that Spirit released Taurus with a Creative Commons licence. Spirit would be able to ask people to pay to come to their concerts and to buy their music. But, it would also allow other bands to use parts of their work to create new works, based on Taurus.

This would allow the creation of a huge number of derivative works. Some might be rubbish. But some might be Stairway to Heaven.

What has this got to do with education?

If we extrapolate this to an educational context, we get a situation where academics create learning resources, and then share them with anyone else. This means another academic, teacher, or home-schooled kid, can take that resource, break it down and rebuild it for their own uses. Doesn’t that sound good?

This may sound like the original author is putting in lots of work for little in return. But there are two sides to this.

Firstly, by including the Attribution licence, any future user has to list you as the original author. Your name gets out there, and the potential for hundreds or even millions of people to use your resources. Imagine if our research publications had that impact!

Secondly, a culture of openness, means that others also create content, which you can use and re-use. That sound nice, doesn’t it? You could find a high quality resource that meets the needs of your students and their learning outcomes? It may take a bit of editing, but the bulk of the work is done.

What about the money?

Money does complicate things but if Spirit had given Taurus a Creative Commons licence, then no-one would need to steal it (knowingly or otherwise). This means Spirit would get attribution, and fans may have bought more from Spirit’s catalogue.

Yes, this is a fairly basic argument, and the inclusion of Spirit’s name on the liner notes was not a given. However, when you are trying to defend millions in royalties, you may not be as happy to provide attribution to your influences.

Academic work is unlikely to be worth millions of pounds, but when the culture is focussed on ownership of content and money, it is the greater good that suffers.

So why not think about licensing your work using Creative Commons to help make the world a better place.

After all, without Taurus, we may never have got Stairway to Heaven. It is humanity that loses.

Updating the website

Regular visitors will notice that I have changed the theme on my site recently.

The reason for this is because I am in the process of building/redeveloping the theme for my work department’s website, and I am using my site as a staging and testing area. I know I should probably turn my WordPress installation into a multisite network, but I still haven’t got round to it.

One of the new menu items is ‘Testing’, and it contains links to the new homepage, with built-in feeds, and some of the new page templates.

The more I play with this theme, the more I like the look and feel. I am quite tempted to slightly adapt the theme to become my permanent theme.