A 3-Part Micro-Challenge for Educators Who are Nervous about A.I.

Road with lightning in the distance

In all honesty, it took me a while to get here myself. 

At the time I’m writing this—early April, 2023—I’ve spent about two months stockpiling articles and podcasts to help me learn more about A.I. These materials ranged from enthusiastic to to apocalyptic, from dismissive to practical.

In fact, there was only one thing they all had in common: I was avoiding them.

It turns out, the “ideas for later” box isn’t just for new teachers. We all go through moments when we’re not just on information overload—we’re on super-important information overload. Everything is urgent. We are filled with dread and don’t know where to start.

But last week I finally dug in, reading and listening to as much of the material as I could get through in each sitting before feeling overwhelmed. I started with the apocalyptic stuff, working my way toward the more hopeful and practical, and reminded myself that even the people we are learning from are learning things in real time.

Then, this more important step: I blocked off two concrete hours on my calendar to take a small-yet-specific step forward.

And then. . . did it.

If you’re looking for a way to dip a toe into the possibilities of A.I., please feel free to join me in this three-part mini-challenge. I’d love to hear how it goes.

This should take an hour or two of your time—but choose those hours wisely. This type of thing is better tackled when you have a moment of calm and concentration, not right before your rowdiest students come streaming in.

Part 1: Try to get A.I. to do the thing you’re most terrified it can do.

When it comes to generating terrible A.I.-related scenarios, you probably don’t need ChatGPT’s help. But there’s a good chance one of the biggest fears is this:

What if AI is better than you at being. . . you? 

The good news is, it probably isn’t. 

But you won’t know exactly how that’s true unless you try to get it to do its best impression of you. See where it overlaps and where it falls short.

That’s your starting point.

Part 2: Try to get A.I. to do the thing you most hope it can do.

One of the more reassuring quotes in my research binge came from David Gaughran, who writes a newsletter for authors.

Gaughran suggests that people avoid thinking of ChatGPT as “having an expert on speed-dial.” Instead, he says, it’s “more like managing a team of eager but inexperienced research assistants.” He also compares A.I. to “a team of interns with boundless energy.”

Teachers have always been their own research assistants, their own team of interns. And while some parts of the job are individualized, creative, and undeniably human, other parts are a grind.

If there’s a robot that can do some of the grind-y-er parts of the job, it might give you more time to focus on the human parts. 

At the very least, it can’t hurt to ask.

Part 3: Give both of the experiences above some time to sink in. 

There’s a lot more to learn. You know this.

But after you’ve peered into the portal of the never-ending future, close your browser. Give your non-artificial intelligence enough time to make sense of it all. There’s a reason our best ideas come to us in the shower or after a full night of sleep. 

Our best ideas often land when we’re not actively chasing them.

They come to us when we’re busy being human.

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