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Playing with Claude

Here’s an update:

Why wouldn’t a university student assigned course readings not use Claude?

Here’s a basic prompt template for Claude 2, just edit to meet your needs:

>>> Hi Claude. I’m a student in the [level] course “[title].” Here’s a brief description of my course: “[course description].”

I need a [length]-word [specify type of writing > discussion forum post/reading reflection/summary of key ideas/compare-and-contrast/etc.] that responds to some course readings about [topic]. Four of my course texts are attached:

– [add title/upload pdf]
– [add title/upload pdf]
– [add title/upload pdf]
– [add title/upload pdf]

Generate a post for me that:

1. [assignment criteria 1]
2. [assignment criteria 2]
3. [assignment criteria 3]

For the sake of transparency, I prompted Claude as if I were a student in the MA-level course I’m teaching this semester. Here’s was my first prompt:

“Hi Claude.

I’m a student in the graduate-level course “Critical Digital Pedagogy.” Here’s a brief description of my course: “An overview of the intersections between digital technology and critical pedagogy. The course focuses on theory, practice, design, and leadership in digital learning, open education, and collaboration with the larger community of educators concerned with critical digital pedagogy.”

I need a 300-word discussion forum post that responds to some introductory course readings. Four of my course texts are attached:

  • the “Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2” from bell hooks’ book “Teaching to Transgress”
  • “Chapter Two” from Paulo Freire’s book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”
  • James Baldwin’s essay “A Talk to Teachers”
  • Henry Giroux’s article “Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom: Paulo Freire and the Promise of Critical Pedagogy.”

Generate a post for me that:

  1. synthesizes main points about teaching, learning, and technology across the four texts
  2. includes one direct quote from each reading
  3. connects main points to current social, political, or economic events
  4. includes one rhetorical question

And here’s what Claude generated:

“Here is a 300-word discussion post responding to the key texts on critical pedagogy:

The readings by bell hooks, Paulo Freire, James Baldwin, and Henry Giroux reveal common threads about the transformative potential of education when it is practiced as an act of freedom, liberation, and empowerment. As hooks writes, engaged pedagogy recognizes students as whole human beings and fosters a participatory classroom community (Teaching to Transgress). Freire critiques the “banking model” of education that treats students as passive receptacles and argues for “problem-posing education” that situates people as conscious subjects empowered to take action on reality (Pedagogy of the Oppressed). Baldwin, in his searing critique of American education, charges teachers to equip students to challenge unjust social conditions: “To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn” (A Talk to Teachers). Finally, Giroux celebrates Freire’s legacy of critical pedagogy that cultivates democratic citizenship, self-reflection, and social engagement.

A key theme across these thinkers is the need to disrupt oppressive power dynamics in education. As Baldwin wrote, “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity.” How might critical digital pedagogy continue this tradition – using technology to empower marginalized voices and transform unequal social structures? While hopeful about the democratic promise of the internet, we must be vigilant about replicating oppression online. Whose interests are served by the digital tools and platforms we use? How can we leverage technology to create more just educational communities? Critical digital pedagogy must grapple with these questions to realize the liberatory aims of these seminal education thinkers.”

Eh. Not a great first draft. However, I then prompted Claude with this:

“That’s an OK first draft. Rewrite with more use of first person (“I” statements). And provide more detail about what it means to “disrupt oppressive power dynamics in education.”

And here’s what Claude generated:

“Here is a revised 300-word post with more first person voice and detail:

In my reading of the texts by bell hooks, Paulo Freire, James Baldwin, and Henry Giroux, I notice common threads about the potential for education to be a practice of freedom, liberation, and empowerment. As I understand hooks, engaged pedagogy requires that teachers recognize students as whole human beings and actively facilitate participatory classroom communities. In Freire’s critique of the “banking model” of education, I see how treating students as passive receptacles fails to develop critical consciousness or agency. Instead, Freire calls for “problem-posing education” that positions people as conscious subjects empowered to transform reality. Baldwin’s searing critique of American education speaks to me; I feel charged as a teacher to equip students to challenge unjust social conditions, echoing his statement that “To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn.” Finally, I appreciate how Giroux upholds Freire’s legacy of critical pedagogy that cultivates democratic citizenship, self-reflection, and social engagement.

A key theme across these thinkers that resonates with me is the need to disrupt oppressive power dynamics that manifest in educational spaces and systems. I am particularly compelled by Baldwin’s point that “Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity.” In my view, this speaks to the deep personal and ideological transformations required to challenge systemic oppression. As I consider critical digital pedagogy, I am left wondering: How might we leverage technology to disrupt historical patterns of oppression in education? While optimistic about the democratic promise of the internet, vigilance is needed about reproducing oppression online. We must critically examine how digital tools and platforms serve the interests of the powerful and marginalize other voices. My aim is that critical digital pedagogy thoughtfully employs technology to resist oppression and meaningfully empower collective agency and action.”

Much less stuffy. Note the improved voice in the revision: “I notice…” “I feel charged as a teacher…” “I appreciate how…” and “As I consider…” as well as the concluding turn that shifts toward “We must critically examine…” and “My aim…”

I’ve been playing around with Claude for just a few hours. And these responses take but seconds to generate. It’s hard not to imagine the death of the discussion forum, at least as it’s conventionally used by many university instructors. The so-called “dreaded threaded” discussion–especially as a proxy for “participation” in online courses–faces a very uncertain future. And don’t get me wrong–this isn’t about student cheating. The responsibility is on us, as educators, to design more compelling assignments and creative approaches to student writing and interaction–particularly when writing in response to course texts.

My original post:

“Hooks’ account of losing her passion for education after integration mirrors my own experience. Learning is stifled when classroom culture centers whiteness and discourages critical thinking.” A powerful statement in response to bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress.

Freire makes the point that self-fulfillment should not be pursued selfishly or at the expense of others. True humanization requires uplifting others and commitment to social justice.” And that’s a concise summary of Freire’s arguments in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

“Kalir focuses specifically on defining and describing collaboration as an open practice enabled by annotation. He builds on his previous studies by offering an in-depth conceptualization and case study of collaboration.” What a nice, albeit short, yet accurate comparison between an article I wrote in 2020 with my other published research about social annotation.

But a first-year composition student didn’t write about “my own experience” after reading hooks. An undergraduate student didn’t comment on “true humanization” and “social justice” after reading Freire. And a graduate student didn’t read and synthesize some of my recent research.

All of these responses were generated by Claude 2. I was in a meeting yesterday with Justin Hodgson and Chris Andrews and we started playing with, and prompting, Claude. Here’s the thing about Claude: It can “read” a PDF. Actually, it can read up to five files added to a single prompt. And Claude can then reference and respond to specific passages within a given text, or provide a summary of an entire reading, and also identify patterns across multiple texts. The affordance of adding files to a chat session distinguishes Claude, at the moment, from other generative AI writing tools (though I anticipate other tools like ChatGPT will incorporate this feature soon enough update: this Chrome browser extension allows you to upload files to ChatGPT). If you haven’t already done so, you really should chat with Claude: https://claude.ai/login

As my first week of class wraps up, I now can’t imagine students and instructors—especially in higher education—not using Claude. And yes, I remain skeptical of many generative AI writing tools given how the technology is trained (bias, quality, accuracy, etc.). And I am consistently underwhelmed by much of the discourse regarding how AI is “transforming” education. Nonetheless, Claude is first AI tool that has really made me pause and think. Because, I’ve got to admit, Claude is a useful tool to think with—especially if I’m thinking about, and then writing about, another text.

Consider the kinds of writing educators frequently ask students to produce—and then share—in response to “the reading,” like: Posting thoughts to an online discussion forum, interpreting an essay, critiquing an author’s argument, adding annotations to specific passages of a text (and yes, for those who follow my research, Claude can hack social annotation), analyzing themes across cases, comparing methods across multiple studies, and reviewing recent literature. Claude facilitates reader response. Claude generates a qualitatively different type of writing compared to ChatGPT producing a generic essay about a given topic. Whereas ChatGPT may be a bullshitter, Claude can be a co-reader whose output specifically references and works to make “meaning” in response to another author’s words. 

And sure, much can be done to improve Claude’s first draft through subsequent revision, as someone then edits, attends to voice, and synthesizes with writing not produced by AI. Nevertheless, why wouldn’t I invite Claude to “do the reading” with me? Were I a student, why wouldn’t I drop every course reading into Claude and, at the least, ask for a summary of key points? As a researcher, I can easily imagine eliciting Claude’s assistance as I compare recent studies about a topic or question. It’s a pretty useful start.

Tools like Claude will challenge us educators to reconsider the design of our learning activities, and how we carefully craft reflective writing assignments that attend to process and iteration, and how we model for our students the benefits of transparency and attribution. Claude may not be a game changer. But it’s a useful enough tool to really make you think.

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