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Sunday, May 05, 2024

How to Effectively Design Good Generative AI-Using Student Assignments: Steps, Strategy, and an Example

If it were not bad enough to combat essays purchased from Course Hero, GradeSaver, or one of the other paper mills that purchase student essays, now one has to worry about papers generated by large language models such as ChatGPT, Scribe, Google Gemini, CoPilot or others.  Generative AI tools are being developed for specific topics or domains, and the assumption is, at least from a student’s perspective, that the product will be well written and accurate, or at least well written and accurate enough to merit a passing grade. 

As an instructor who develops, teaches, and grades courses and coursework for online courses hosted on Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, or even Google Classroom, this is a challenge you can’t afford to ignore, and an opportunity that can transform your entire teaching philosophy. 


What data sets are used to train the generative AI algorithms?  Let’s take the case of American literature. I would automatically assume that the first repositories to be ingested would be open access repositories such as Project Gutenberg and  Those would be primary texts for the most part. Then, secondary texts would be incorporated, which would consist of journal articles. Tertiary texts would also be used, which would include encyclopedias. While there may be some question about intellectual property and the right to use the materials, there would be few questions about the integrity of such materials, gleaned as it were, from peer-reviewed and quality assured primary sources, peer-reviewed journals and monographs, and peer-reviewed encyclopedias. 

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to materials about American literature that one can access through the Internet. There are blog posts, online magazines, repositories of articles from study guide providers such as, Sophia Learning,, and many more. These resources may be a bit repetitive and not particularly original, but perhaps harmless in the overall scheme of things.  If anything, they may skew the results to bland and formulaic papers. 


What happens, however, when these AI bots ingest the massive repositories of essays which have been compiled by companies such as Course Hero, Grade Saver, and others?  Is there any quality control at all? Some of the sites encourage students to sell their term papers for $5 each. Is there any quality control?  Would the evaluator or screener check for accuracy, bias, originality, and innovative thinking? Would the screener be able to differentiate between a tired, flat, biased, inaccurate paper and a fresh, innovative, and accurate one? 

It is quite possible that the sheer volume of low-quality term papers, biased or error-riddled blog posts, student-shared material, unrefereed conference proceedings and “gray” literature could exceed the high-quality, peer-reviewed material by many orders of magnitude. 


Learning how to use generative AI as a helpful tool and understanding its limitations and pitfalls is probably a more pragmatic and useful approach than trying to ban it altogether. Further, if students learn how to use AI tools in their coursework where they receive feedback and guidance, it is likely that they will be able to more effectively use the tool in their professional lives. 

Instructional designers and instructors who understand how results are likely to be generated can design assignments that require students to incorporate their own unique vantage points, prior knowledge, experience, and insights rather than simply producing a bland summary or compendium of the blandest, least thought-provoking or original material that responds to the prompt. 


Instructors can develop assignments that actually require students to use a generative AI tool, and then they can ask them to critique the response.  

Here’s a sample assignment: 

Please write an essay that identifies the possible themes in Emerson’s essay, “Circles,” and explains how they relate to American Transcendentalism. 

When I fed the prompt to ChatGPT, it churned out a six-paragraph essay in about 3 seconds. It sported a nice, clear thesis statement, a clear definition of American Transcendentalism, and then proposed several themes, and provided evidence, including quotes. On first glance, it seemed to be a very serviceable essay. 

However, upon closer examination, it was clear that the essay was pretty facile, and felt very derivative. It did not provide citations for the quotes, and the explanations around each of the quotes and the themes did not go into any depth and tended to repeat each other. There was no deeper probing of American Transcendentalism, nor was there any historical context. 

One could argue that the prompt should have asked for historical context, and could even be interesting and ask for connections to a darker, more ominous underbelly of what seemed, on the face of it, to be an expansive, all-encompassing dream of harmony and unity. However, there is no investigation of the philosophical or ideological underpinnings, nor any sense of how American Transcendentalism was popular because it uniquely reinforced and even expanded the authority of those who already possessed it.  

The students could be asked to identify the weaknesses of the Chat GPT essay, and to explain when and how the responses were cliché, facile, or derivative of what one would expect to see in an encyclopedia or generic study guide, and they do not encourage critical thinking or a look at “Circles” through a new and innovative vantage point. 

It would be very nice for students to work on the critique in a collaborative workspace – for example, in a shared document, where each could highlight and comment on the ChatGPT-generated essay. 


It is possible to write assignments and paper prompts that encourage students to incorporate their unique views, experiences, and prior knowledge.  While some may think that this subjectivity would make it difficult to assess the work, in reality, just the opposite is the case. 

For example, for an essay on American literature, a rubric would require the student to accurately describe what the text is about and also the main themes and characters as required by the prompt.  The prompt should also, however, require the student to think critically and ask questions that would relate to their own experiences and perceptions. They could also be asked to apply the concepts to a current situation. The students would be evaluated on their creativity and problem-solving skills as well as critical thinking. 

To apply this to the case of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Circles,” a prompt could look something like this: 

Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Emerson’s ideas about agency as expressed in his essay, “Circles,” and describe how you’ve seen examples of the thinking expressed in your own life or the world at large.  Describe mid 19th-century American Transcendentalism and how it must have sounded to different groups of Americans: wealthy land owners, men wanting to move West for wealth and adventure, women in America, Native Americans, African-American slaves and freedmen, Irish indentured servants, Mexicans living in parts of Texas that were a part of Mexico before the War of 1848, and children. 

Granted, the new prompt is much, much more complex, but you probably get the picture, and can see how writing prompts to outwit the  AI bot is fun and engaging, while also encouraging collaborative activities and deeper learning. 


Colleges and universities are grappling with ChatGPT, Scribe, Google Gemini, CoPilot, and other generative AI platforms and tools.  While there is the chance of rampant violations of academic integrity, we are in the early stages of development and now is the time to envision new and productive pedagogical approaches that are ideal for adult learners and can help develop creativity, critical thinking skills and confidence.  

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Exploring Ian Wild's Moodle 4 Security (Packt Publications, 2024)

Ian Wild’s new book, Moodle 4 Security (Packt Publications, 2024), equips the Moodle administrator and the IT team to protect all aspects of Moodle, from Moodle server security to Moodle application security, including Moodle infrastructure modeling, and strategies for educating the weakest security links – the individual users. 


Link to the text: 

 The book begins by describing the depth and the scope of the problem, while providing a short history of hacking, understanding the nature of cybersecurity risk with Moodle, and the consequences of doing nothing. It moves to a section that explains how to identify threats, and how to use programs such as STRIDE and other Open Web Application Security projects that can be used to defend against many types of cybersecurity threats. 


A large section of the book is devoted to Moodle server security.  Wild guides the reader through a step-by-step process of building a secure Linux server which includes enabling TTS/SSL to have a secure SSL certificate, selecting the best firewalls, and exploring server immutability.  The process of assuring Moodle server security also involves endpoint protection, denial of service protection, and also making sure to have a backup and disaster recovery. Wild clearly presents options for each level of protection and gives clear, easy-to-implement selections. 


Another important section of the book deals with Moodle Application security. This aspect has to do with privacy concerns, a data integrity plan, and a review of the various types and functionalities of Moodle applications with an end to helping the user avoid fall into any pitfalls. 


Ian Wild, a technologist and developer of simulations for AVEVA, has many years of experience with Moodle and thoroughly understands the reasons why having a good security solution for the organization’s Moodle installation is imperative in today’s world.  The information and solutions presented in this book could not have come out at a better time. 



Sunday, April 21, 2024

A 2024 Video Performance of Chucky’s Hunch by Rochelle Owens

When Rochelle Owens’s play, Chucky’s Hunch, was first performed Off-Broadway in 1981, critics lauded what they expressed as a tour-de-force performance by the actor playing Chucky, and they took the plot at face value.  The play, which is a long dramatic monologue by an aging man triggered by the news that the second of his three ex-wives has won the lottery, takes the audience into a fascinating psychological odyssey.  On the face of it, the play is simply about the embittered rantings of a failed Abstract Expressionist artist whose grandiose plans took him nowhere except into penury and bad health, as he lives with his 85-year-old mother somewhere in upstate New York.  He reads his letters to Elly, his ex-wife, to the audience, and in doing so, expresses a range of thoughts and feelings, ranging from rageful recriminations to sentimental recounting of the times that he and Elly spent together, and his observations of her behavior. The narrative is a straightforward epistolary one, punctuated by a framed tale (The Snake and the Porcupine).  

Chucky's Hunch is featured in this anthology.

However, when looking more closely at the structure of the play, and then relating it to her other works, particularly her long poems, it becomes clear that the structure is one of repetition and interweaving, just as she has done in her brilliant “Black Chalk,” “Patterns of Animus” and “The Aardvark Venus.”  As in those poems and others, there is an apocalyptic intensity that envelopes the reader with a sense of creeping horror at observing the protagonist’s existential nihilism that insists on destructive behavior and an ineluctable journey toward self-erasure. It is good to note that one can read the play for free via the Internet Archive ( although it is necessary to create an account and borrow it online.

The release of a video version in 2024, with Charles Berliner as Chucky, music by Marcia Kravis, video editing by Ellen Reynolds, and produced by Rochelle Owens, enables the audience to see a darker and more intimate version (  As a narrator, Chucky could not possibly be more unreliable.  He flings words like the Abstract Expressionist flings paint, and it is necessary for the reader to find the patterns that make the deeper meaning, which is not really about Elly and her perceived slights to Chucky, but more about fatal “dances” (like the fabled Tarantella) of those who fall in love with each other, and in their dance of love, they toy with the parallels between love and death. Eros is held up as a life force in popular culture, but for Owens, Eros gives way to Thanatos, and the death-drive animates the various love dances / erotic tarantellas that weave in and out of the play. 

Love-Death Dance 1:  Chucky and Elly.  Chucky reminisces about his time with Elly and the items of clothing he purchased for her. Their life together was something he now views with a combination of sweetness and bitterness, a relatable pain for anyone reflecting on failed relationships of the past.  Images of a bright-white smile framed by carmine-red lipsticked lips further eroticize the narrative. 

Love-Death Dance 2:  Characterized as an impecunious and unmotivated bum, Chucky mooches off his 85-year-old mother, who horrifies him with the relations she has with Chester, her 82-year-old boyfriend.  Depicted in graphic terms, the discordant notion of a couple approaching death carrying on as though they were teenagers is deeply unsettling to Chucky. 

Love-Death Dance 3:  Mother and son have a close relationship, one fraught with contradictions. Chucky describes how he chews his mother’s food for her as an Eskimo mother would chew food for her baby, which may seem potentially kind-hearted except that she lost her teeth because he hit her. 

Love-Death Dance 4:  Chucky’s only friend is his dog.  The dog was killed, however, because it came between the amorous and deadly contortions of a porcupine and a snake.  Their passion killed not only Chucky’s only living friend, but also each other.  As a female voice narrates the frame-tale, images of a snake about to strike and a young porcupine fill the screen. 

Love-Death Dance 5:  Chucky’s tarantella with his own mind starts at the beginning of the play, and it weaves in and out of a kaleidoscope of emotions.  They take him around in colorful, expressive effusions of emotion and reminiscences, but ultimately, the audience sees him as on a path to madness.  When he disappears without a trace, the tarantella takes its final frenzied spin.  The impressions are emphasized by the juxtaposition of images of seagulls feeding on trash piles. 

Chucky complains that Elly never answers his letters, and he resents the fact that she is not only surviving, but is prospering, thanks to winning the lottery. She has gone on to live and thrive in the modern, changing world.  Chucky’s world is one that resonates with medieval times – with echoes of the earthiness of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the resignation of Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy, and the aleatory movements of the Wheel of Fortune. The still photos and collages in the film form a backdrop behind the performer, and they resonate with the words, not so much depictions but visual metaphors. The soundtrack, featuring sombre music, seagull cries, and more. 

In the end, Chucky psychologically juxtaposes himself in a final dance with the memory of the successful Elly, and in that final dance, he generates more self-destructive energy and pathos, leaving the audience staring into the “filthy maw” of an oblivion of one’s own devising, forged from the dances of “love-death” which left him with little more than shame and regret about his life. And thus Chucky hits home.  Chucky is Everyman. 

---Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D. 

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Kim Lonzo on Two Poems by Carlos Hiraldo and Susan Smith Nash

 The two poems that I have chosen deal with the basic question, does our technological progress represent true human progress. Susan Smith Nash’s poem, “The Nature of Poetics,” ( explores the subjects of modern work aided by technology, traditional work aided by tools, and our possible disconnection as a society as the nature of work becomes more ephemeral. Nash uses Aristotelian analysis to search for her answers. This is a much different approach than the second poem. Carlos Hiraldo, in his work, “The Revolution Will Not Be Facebooked,” cleverly creates a sequel poem which updates and brilliantly plays off Gil Scott Heron’s seminal spoken word piece set to music, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Hiraldo mirrors Heron’s meter and style to call attention to how our modern life holds similar ills as the latter’s poem illustrates. The consensus of Nash’s and Hiraldo’s poems are that technology has not improved the human condition and has possibly added to the disconnections between us.

Nash immediately sets the mood by easing us into a state of relaxation. She opens: “No Zoom meetings this morning / so taking advantage / laptop on lap / leaning back in rocking chair.”  By contrasting the images of the laptop positioned on her lap and the recumbent rocking chair, she foreshadows the theme of her poem. Not only is she reflecting on the nature of work but also the implications of technology on the quality of our lives. She continues: “feet propped up / sipping coffee.”  Already in a position of relaxation, Nash adds an extra layer of cozy with the added action of the propping up of the feet. This coupled with the sipping of coffee conjures a sense that a moment of introspection is about to begin. She is at peace in this moment save for a repetitive sound that calls her attention. She continues: “thoughts punctuated by the sound of roofers pounding away the uncertainty of leaky surfaces.” This seemingly, clumsy sentence breaks from the gentle scene she has crafted. Suddenly, an uncertainty creeps into this idyllic setting. She uses evocative words like “punctuated” and “pounding” because this distraction is significant. She must investigate her own uncertainty. She acknowledges this here: “we dread getting wet / whether by water or fear / I respect the sheathed decking, nails, and composition shingles.” Now the uncertainty begins to take shape. She uses the word “dread” to express that the task before her will be difficult. She is afraid. She references safety when she speaks of the sheathed deck or a protected structure. She deconstructs what makes it safe almost as if to say that she must deconstruct or analyze her fear. In the next part, she muses: “where plans meet hands / the work is real / Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.” Finally, she arrives at the point where the soul searching begins. She acknowledges that roofing is real work and references Aristotle’s most well-known book about discovering the meaning of life, “Nicomachean Ethics.” She asks the reader to go on a journey with her to determine if what she contributes to society is work.

Nash continues,

What is the reality of work in a world of coordinated communication? This is the work of developing documents, tasks, programs                     meetings, conventions, projects ,plans, maps ,diagrams—                         infinite conversations and archived files;

And then there are the invoices, accounting, the back office-

And yet, I sit here imagining                                                                          since I’m not perched on a roof                                                                            I have no nail gun in my hand,                                                                         no risk of slipping off onto a hard pavement;

I’m not really working;                                                                                         all my efforts are ephemeral. (Nash)

Now Nash begins to do a classical analytical dissection of the elements of the argument she is attempting to make. She defines the parameters. What is work in the setting she exists within and how does it compare to the traditional concepts of work? She proposes since she has no tangible risks like say a workman on a roof and her efforts are fleeting that it is possible her work is something other. 

She concludes,

At least back when we printed and piled our paper files there was tangible evidence of work;                                                                      External validation that mind and words had an objective correlative

And we could comfort ourselves that reality and life could be empirically affirmed.

But in my heart of hearts                                                                                       I don’t believe it, and I doubt myself just as I doubt this set of lines on paper is anything                                                                              approximating a poem (Nash)

As Nash reaches her resolution, we similarly reach a catharsis. Her self-doubt about her own work throughout the poem countered with her admission that she believes tangible output with some element of real risks equals true work illustrates the objective correlative she references. In choosing her title, Nash calls to mind Aristotle’s “Poetics”, which first delves into defining poetry as an art and posits that art imitates life. Here the artist attempts to define the nature of a poem by comparing elements of the work of one who uses their hands versus one who uses words and ideas. Whether she considers her work a poem or not though is ultimately up to the reader. An artist’s intentions aside, the nature of any work of art is evident in its effect on its audience and not in its creators vision.

Hiraldo introduces the reader to his work by referencing the source inspiration which is the powerfully poignant, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by Gil Scott-Heron. It is my opinion that Hiraldo wants his reader to be familiar with this piece to fully understand his message. He is tacitly teasing the point that if you are ignorant of the past, you may repeat it. This poem uses repetition and emulation of Scott-Heron’s master work to interplay themes of “old and new,” “mundane and absurd” in a very sharp, satirical tone.

He opens,

You will not be able to man your posts from the comfort of your offices or homes. You will not be able to sign in, rant, and log out.                           You will not be able to friend and unfriend your way into community, share your way to the communist utopia,                                                     like your way to power, brothers and sisters, because the revolution will not be facebooked. (Hiraldo)

By simulating Scott-Heron’s opening and updating from television to Facebook, Hiraldo introduces us to wonderful wordplay and humor, he will be using throughout. The puns on the words “posts”, “friend”, “unfriend”, “share”, and “like” force the reader to interpret at every twist and turn. The brilliant use of the oxymoron “communist utopia”(Hiraldo) illustrates this will be a fun journey into an intellectual discourse on how our technology has improved or possibly impeded us. When he hits his rallying cry, “The revolution will not be facebooked” (Hiraldo), which he will repeat throughout, he is attempting to show us that a new medium reigns and his emphasis attempts to refocus us on the fact that it is a medium.

He continues, 

The revolution will not be brought to you by book length, newsfeed articles telling you everything you already know                                         The revolution will not show you videos of cowardly officers shooting brothers at point blank range because they move too fast or they move too slow

The revolution will be no Onion repost                                                            The revolution will be front page news, brothers and sisters. The revolution will not be facebooked

There will be no smiley selfies of you and colleagues you never talk to at the Global Warming march,                                                                         CNN will not be able to file an entire report based on your social media posts of events because the revolution will not be facebooked (Hiraldo)

Here Hiraldo departs from Scott-Heron who takes a strong political tone. His message rooted in the Black Liberation Movement informed all his work. Hiraldo continues to have echoes of the former’s poem and acknowledges that violence against Black men by law enforcement is still newsworthy in the social media world. He then pivots to question what news in our new digital landscape is. He mentions the satirical website “The Onion” which is a well-known news parody site that is widely shared and often mistaken for real news. He uses the expression “front page news”, an old-fashioned way of saying something was particularly important, to show that our social media advancements aren’t themselves the agents of our change. Further, Hiraldo slyly takes aim at the state of protests by pointing out the vanity aspects of modern activism and the rise of news network coverage of citizen journalists.

He continues,

There will be no soft-porn pictures of meals to be shared                          There will be no soft-porn pictures of meals to be shared                         There will be no kooky anti-government conspiracy theory discrediting all opposition because the conspiracy to be attacked will be what they call reality                                                                                                                  The revolution will not be facebooked.

The revolution will not be brought to you by an old closeted celebrity or a nubile brainy hot thing giving brilliantly obvious quips 

The revolution will not sell you Doc Martens boots                                       The revolution will not give you flattering easy IQ tests (Hiraldo)

Interestingly, Hiraldo launches into an unflattering critique of two major uses of social media which are the sharing of food pictures and the dissemination of conspiracy theories. The tropes of “soft-porn pictures of meals” and “anti-government conspiracies” are used to show the prevalence of and importance placed on indifference and ignorance. Moreover, he juxtaposes the tropes of “an old closeted celebrity” and “a nubile brainy hot thing” to address that fact that our information is packaged in the form of entertainment or infotainment. With a wink, Hiraldo teases the rise of consumerism by mentioning the preferred boot of the anti-capitalist punk movement of the 1970’s. He drives his point even further with a nod to the “flattering easy IQ tests” which is an oxymoron laying bare how little we value integrity and intelligence.

Hiraldo concludes,

The revolution will not tell you what country you should have been born in because the revolution will make the country you were born in the country you should have been born in                                                           The revolution will not be facebooked.

The revolution will not be facebooked                                                           The revolution will not be facebooked                                                          The revolution will not be facebooked                                                          The revolution will be no parody, brothers and sisters, The revolution will be an original work of art. (Hiraldo)

The metaphor of “The Revolution” that Hiraldo has repeated throughout finally takes form here. He has been alluding to the meaning with examples of elements that are not endemic to this revolution. By defining what it is not, Hiraldo has been implying what it is all along this journey. His strongest statement is telling the reader the ultimate result of the revolution will be universal equity. Instead of going to a “promised land” somewhere else , the revolution will have made this unnecessary and no one will question if the grass is greener. For me as the reader, my absolute favorite line is the last. The wit is on full display as Hiraldo takes us home by subtly poking fun at his own work which is a parody. He does this because he is ingeniously showing us that his work like Facebook is a medium for a message and not itself the agent of change. The revolution after all is the movement towards universal equity and this requires active participation not passive acknowledgment.

Our technology has led to fascinating advances in our world. The benefits of which seem to have made our daily lives more comfortable even simpler. We now have a shared digital space that has ushered in a new era of virtual citizenship. Both Nash and Hiraldo question whether our advances in tech have advanced us as people in this modern landscape. Nash embraces her unease at creating a product or work that feels fugacious. She contrasts elements of the new (Zoom Meetings and laptops) versus the old (nail gun or rocking chairs) and decides to use Aristotelian analysis (literally old school thinking) to determine if “work” in an increasingly more digital world remains relevant. By embracing this trope of “new vs old,” she ultimately concludes that minus a tangible or real element, work, like her poem, may not be what it seems anymore. 

Hiraldo too echoes this as he shows us that Facebook as a medium, like television in “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (Scott-Heron) has not been an agent of change but merely mistaken as one.  By mimicking the structure and meter of Scott-Heron’s poem and comparing similar relevant issues in an update to this work, Hiraldo shows that the new medium of Facebook has merely replaced television and this time we are creating the soulless content. His novel approach with a nod to the “Old School” of critical analysis seems to arrive at the same destination as Nash with her traditional reasoning. The measure of our true progress is in how much or how little the individual physically contributes to the real world and not the virtual one. 

Works Cited

Nash, Susan Smith. “The Nature of Poetics.” Marsh Hawk Review, Spring, 2021

Hiraldo, Carlos. “The Revolution Will Not Be Facebooked.” Marsh Hawk Review, Fall/Winter,2019

Scott-Heron, Gil. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Pieces of a Man, Flying Dutchman, 1971

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Poetics. New York; Hill and Wang, 1961.

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