A note about ChatGPT
(The gist: don’t panic but engage actively with this topic. Always remember that your friendly subject librarian is there to discuss – we even have a helpful guide about ChatGPT: https://library.concordia.ca/apps/things/thing.html?thingID=22032 )
Chatbots, abundant intelligence (AI) and other algorithms have impacted librarianship since I’ve started working at Concordia 20 years ago. I remember a time of card catalogues, microfilm and the smell of toner. During my tenure, I’ve seen the emergence of Google, Wikipedia, iPhones, social media’s echo chambers & fake news, open access, open data, open sesame (that was an Alibaba joke), and so many pictures of kittens… which is to say, the only thing to fear is fear itself: don’t be a tool for AI, understand how to use it so it doesn’t own you. I’ve started using this logic in my lectures to business undergrads this semester: “if you use the top 10 hits in Google for your paper, you’re already obsolete because an algorithm is cheaper and more powerful than you.” Job prospects are a great motivating factor for JMSB students!
I’ve always had a knack to keep the attention of students. This time, they were begging me to help them avoid plagiarism and develop searching and analytical skills a librarian can provide. This builds on the knowledge provided by your disciplinary knowledge. The next decade will be as fascinating as it will be exciting. I am confident I will see libraries into the next Millenia. I’m not so sure about the contemporary form of Universities, though.
I like to remind myself that Socrates had a gripe against the written word. Quill, ink and parchment were a disruptive technology after all, and they feared that it would eliminate the skills required for societal discourse. Ditto for church leaders and that pesky invention called the movable type… And yet, here we are. Universities are a rather “recent” institution (at 1000+ years), compared to libraries (3000+ years), archives (at an impressive 5000-8000+ years) and cities… which archeologists point out existed well before the existence of (“big H”) Western style History (you know, the kind which uses traces and other records).
I would like to venture two hypothesis that ChatGPT brings to light with regards to teaching and learning in Universities. First, that the lecture (of the synchronous, on-site or online, “butts in seats” or “faces on screen” and “prof in front” kind) is quickly becoming a superfluous and an oddly conspicuously anachronistic use of everyone’s time. Second, that the standard academic paper, which is the echo of the lecture, really, is following suit.
What are we to do, then? Simple. The rhetoric about experiential and blended learning and other trends of teaching and learning are pointing the way forward. Oh, and open education too. (ok, ok, preaching for my parish, I know, but really, the only people who have harder knuckles than librarians are, well, archivists, having survived power struggles and the occasional fire for millennia, so you should probably see through my trauma & bias and listen).
I have spent the past decade studying how to lead artistic and cultural organisations through what highly priced consultants call digital transformation (pro tip: write a good copyright license for a simple technological community tool and you will transform for the better). I sense that we are overdue for a very serious conversation about how we all collaborate (within departments, between Universities, etc.) as well as what we consider valuable use of everyone’s time. Having a small army of humans draft papers that are essentially thrown away seems like rather wasteful, particularly given that we now have technological and legal methods to capture micro-contributions to build stunning knowledge objects. We also need to talk about who owns the ideas we generate and the methods or means we have to make them available. Let’s remember we owe that to those who pay for our nice buildings and pensions.
If we don’t discuss, it won’t be long that most of us (not I!) will be left in the dust by a abundant intelligence (AI).
This essay was inspired by the conversations provided during Concordia’s Digital Skill Share Days Conference, an on-campus level up activity for staff and faculty (Feb 9-10 2023) of which I am a member of the organizing committee.
These words were written by my hand directly on a keyboard, on this website. (reposted from my Faculty Union’s private forum)