on inviting AI to the research party…

It’s research party season, people!!!

This year we decided to put AI on the guest list so we invited AI to come to our recent research party! #DaringIKnow!!!

AI RSVPd and came…

Based on ubiquitous rumors that have been going around about AI’s questionable behavior around town, though, we were, quite honestly, a little worried that AI might be one of “those” party guests. You know, those guests that show up at a perfectly nice research party where everyone is having a great time enjoying the potluck dishes that people brought that start with the same letter of their first names. “I’m Dave and I brought dolmades!” Nobody is making too much noise. Nobody is getting too drunk. Nobody is gathering supplies to go and TP the neighbor’s yard…

You know, and then “that” guest arrives. One thing leads to another and before you know it there are 14 police cruisers in front of the house and everyone knows that the party is over and it’s time to go home all because AI just didn’t know when to stop…

I mean, I dunno about you, but I’ve heard that at some research parties, AI has been known to say racist and sexist things… AI has been rumored to assertively make statements that seem to be just wrong or really out of context and then being unwilling to say EXACTLY where they heard what they’re asserting or cite their sources…

You might be wondering, “Yeah, Dave, with all of those concerns why in the world would you even want to invite AI to your research party?” and you know, at some point life is really short and I guess sometimes you just gotta take a chance and invite new guests to the party every once in a while. Who knows, sometimes when you invite new guests they inject new ideas into your conversations and prevent you from being bored out of your skull! Sometimes when you invite new guests to a party they help you think of things you’d never considered before and open your eyes to new horizons! And, well, I’ve also heard that AI can be super charismatic and entertaining so I kind of just wanted a chance to meet AI for myself.

I get it, though, sometimes when you invite a new guest to your research party, you find out that they’re a great guest at SOMEONE ELSE’S party, but they just don’t fit in very well at yours–looking at you EBSCO Discovery Service.

Or… You know, they bring a potluck dish that just doesn’t agree with your system and gives you projectile diarrhea for the next 48 hours, but in the end you’ll never know unless you take a chance and get to meet them in person for yourself.

  • Who: IB Diploma Juniors
  • What: IB Extended Essay Research Support
  • When: Fall semester of Junior Year
  • Where: The Library
  • Why: Providing topic selection and research support for IB juniors embarking on their 4000 word IB extended essay independent research paper

Given concerns over some of the things we’d heard about AI at other parties, we decided to have some house rules in place. We told AI that the party started at 10:00, but we had all of the other guests arrive early so, you know, we could set some house rules in place.

Pre-Party House Rules

We started our discussion on house rules for AI with our junior guests based on the IB’s statement on AI.

Pre-Party Introduction to AI

We had our high school educational technologist, Dr. Pennington, come and talk to the cohort about ChatGPT version 3.5 which is the version that has been approved and loaded onto high school students’ school iPads. Dr. Pennington shared information about large language models, the dataset that was used to train ChatGPT 3.5 (training data for 3.5 stops after January 2022), types/forms of data NOT included in the dataset (firewalled/paywalled), etc.

ChatGPT and Our Big Wicked Research Problem…

In almost 24 years as a school librarian the big wicked research problem I’ve always struggled with is how to most effectively help a human who is learning about a topic find entry points and keywords that can be used to connect them to relevant and pertinent sources so they can learn more. The process is slow and the process is hard! Think about it! I have a BEd in elementary education, an MEd in curriculum and instruction, and an MLIS is school librarianship. When I am researching information in the education arena, I typically know the vocabulary of the field of study. I know the names of prominent educational theories, prominent educational theorists, movements, schools of thought, etc. that all can be used as entry points that lead me to relevant and pertinent information.

If I am seeking information about pancreatic cancer on the other hand, I find myself limited to launching my search into what I know is an extremely multi-faceted topic with a search on [pancreatic cancer] and, honestly, nothing much beyond that…

Aside: Looking at you faculty members who completed your last degree in the 1990s and “know how to search” and roll your eyes when we talk to you about how help students be better searchers… #DunningKrugerEffect 👀

ChatGPT, Meet Wicked Problem…

At this point we had ChatGPT come in and take a seat at the table. Rather than have everyone talking with ChatGPT all at once, we had groups of students meet ChatGPT together. We let them know that ChatGPT seemed to be on its best behavior when we started the conversation with a prompt that gave it some context for the TYPE of conversation result we wanted to get and some contextual information about a topic.

We launched our demo conversation with ChatGPT using a prompt on [coral bleaching] and we had students brainstorm the kind of information a perfect reply would give us. We decided that a perfect source would tell us all manner of information as an introduction to a topic.

What kind of source typically provides an understandable introduction to just about every aspect of a topic you might need to know? Why… A textbook!!!

We had students prompt ChatGPT with [Build me a table of contents for a textbook on coral bleaching]

ChatGPT 3.5’s resulting table-of-contents, then gives 16 year old me, entry points to search that significantly increase my chances of getting me to an aspect of coral bleaching that might help me narrow a topic beyond [coral bleaching][bleaching mechanisms] [coral symbiosis][physiology]

But Wait, We’re Still in the Topic Selection Process so There’s More…

Too often, we see students want jump from, “Yay! I know three search terms so now I’m going to SEARCH, SEARCH, SEARCH” without thinking quite enough about, “So… What can I do with what I have right here in front of me.”

With the IB Extended Essay, students can choose to write their independent study extended essay on anything they choose, but they do have follow topic treatments established by the IB. We had students take a list of all of their IB courses and take the ChatGPT table-of-contents headings and see which ones they could turn into essays the fit into different disciplines.

“Coral Symbiosis and Physiology could be written as a chemistry EE, biology EE, or environmental science EE”

“Conservation and mitigation strategies could be written as a global politics EE or an environmental science EE.”

***Sorry! I had pictures of students’ work and notes, but I lost them… 🤷🏻‍♂️

From here students seemed to take to the prompting and iterating extremely easily. [Build me a table of contents for a textbook on coral bleaching in Hawaii] and we sent them off to explore topics that they might want to eventually write commit to for their extended essay.

Serving Some Tea at the Party…

Students had a good time and, I think, quite a bit if success using ChatGPT to get their heads around and into different topics.

Over the course of their time with us in the library we also raised and discussed the issue of bias in AI training datasets. One, I think, very enlightening and effective activity involved simply putting the Independent Ideas blog post Canva, AI, and the Biases Baked Into Everything, by Sara Kelley-Mudie up on our monitor and asking the cohort, “So, what do you all notice about this? What do you think?” I thought that it was an incredibly easy way to get kids to see that, though the output product in Sara’s blog post was a visual image, that the very same kinds of biases are baked into sources of all kinds and that sometimes when they’re in printed word form, that they’re not always as readily evident for us to see.

Parting Gifts…

As we wrapped up our ChatGPT party, we wanted to have a feel for what kids thought and how they were contextualizing ChatGPT as a tool for in their research toolkits. Starting when they come to us in middle school, we draw a very rudimentary “mind map” of the internet on the board to help them get their heads around what they’re searching when they’re searching in Google or Bing or Duck Duck Go and the differences between websites and databases.

“When you search my name on the world wide web, like when you search Google for example, you don’t see email that people have sent me because it’s a different part of the internet. Likewise, Google searches don’t surface database content because the content is paywalled and can’t be indexed by bots…”

We asked our cohort, “So where do you think we should put ChatGPT?”

Kids thought that it needed it’s own space on the internet, but some argued that in their minds, it probably had a bridge that linked to the WWW because (though it isn’t Google) the data it scapes is of the same nature as is being searched by Google.

The parties that followed had much more traditional guest lists. We got a chance to catch up with our old acquaintances Masterfile, Academic Search Complete, and JSTOR. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’ve always been and continue to be very nice guests to have over. They’re not as flashy or charismatic as ChatGPT, but you know, in today’s world I’m trying to be open minded and accepting of a wide swath of friends and learn what I can from each of them.

Have you invited AI to any of your library soirees or research parties? If you did, please hit leave a reply below and tell us how it went!

Happy, almost there to winter break, all!!!

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