The greatest gift I received from education was the gift of original thinking. I loved being challenged! I flourished in classes where my mind was stimulated to solve a multitude of problems or pose genuine queries that pushed forward new ideas. Being able to sort through concepts and create a bridge or pathway to a new understanding was very exciting. Formulating that understanding in my own words to convey meaning and significance was a satisfying process. To be honest, I still find it a worthwhile endeavor–even after all these years. In fact, this process of original thinking and creating is one reason I entered teaching. I wanted to share this experience with young people.
Thankfully, the discipline I taught, Visual Art, was predicated on the idea of original thought and creation. The processes and historical context I taught were internalized by students and transformed into personalized artistic visions of whatever theme, subject, topic, concept or combination of the same. At times, the novel approaches were adaptations or appropriations with genuine bits of personal artistry. Sometimes, the students’ approaches were so fresh, with ideas so beyond expectations, the results were thrilling!
And, yet, occasionally I had students who tried to push another artist’s work off as their own! I found that with the advent of the internet, the number of student attempts at copying another artist’s work, as if it were their own, went up. There is a whole process to help students distinguish between copying a master’s work to learn something and copying a work without giving credit to the originator of the work. I appreciated those opportunities to walk alongside my students through these particular moments of important learning.
The internet also birthed the ‘copy & paste’ environment in which so many teachers have struggled. Don’t get me started on crowdsourcing answers to homework questions on social media. I reinvented my assignments in light of these potential obstacles to original thinking. The few essays I assigned during the course of a semester required class specific responses to distinct prompts using a limited number of words and cited sources. I reviewed drafts and made suggestions, and a clean, edited version was turned in for a grade. All of the expectations were provided to students via rubric so they could have those in front of them as they worked–completely transparent. It worked for a while. ‘Copy & paste’ was just hard to combat.
Don’t get me wrong; I kept doggedly pursuing original thinking with my students. I even turned to nascent AI programs to help with my teaching–like Turnitin, Grammarly, and Purdue Owl. I wanted my students to know that I’d check for plagiarism. I showed them how to police grammar, spelling and punctuation, and I wanted them to be able to correctly cite a source. These AI platforms were good, academic tools. But the AI ballgame has exponentially changed in 2023.
Up till now, AI for student artists has been an online art making plaything. It has also been a toy in the hands of many content creators–some with serious commercial intentions. However, the art generating application has exploded these last year and a half as has AI in general.
Regarding developing original art and design for yearbooks, the use of AI art generators for anything other than an ideation tool, is a slippery slope. For instance, with just two words, “yearbook cover", the free AI art generator site, Neural Love, created 4 iterations of a yearbook cover in under 30 seconds. I get that it's cool, and that it's easy. But where’s the original student voice? How does it personally relate to the students on the yearbook staff and to the school’s student body? Further, the data fields that the AI programs pull from to generate these images do not currently grant permission for use in this way. Lawsuits are heading to courts over copyright infringement issues. Instead, I could see this working as a way to produce ideas that can be enlarged upon and personalized by staff members. In other words, to use AI images as a springboard to be adapted and reimagined to the point that they become far removed from the original starting point. Again, it is important to remember that until courts decide how AI art generators move forward regarding copyrights, it is best not to use AI generated artworks.
The same AI considerations exist regarding the writing of captions for photographs, or writing copy in general throughout the yearbook. (Remember this includes data field permission incursions.) Hootsuite is a social media caption generator, and your social media savvy students will know all about apps like this. For the caption I generated, I didn’t have a photo; the app doesn’t require one–just a very brief description. I used these words, “cheer squad, winning touchdown” to describe the non-existent photograph, and wanted keywords “cheer winning touchdown great support” in the caption. Again, in less than 30 seconds, three iterations were generated. None were perfect; but could be edited to work. There is no personal attachment. It is just a caption for any photograph for any yearbook at any school. Who will care?
Now I do see that a caption generator that produces captions to be personalized and edited could be a great differentiation tool for students with IEPs who may require word choice and other language skills adaptations. I can also see using this kind of generator to assist “blocked” writers–as long as the writers personalize and edit. But these AI apps and platforms are just some tools in a tool box with many tools for many kinds of problems to be solved. AI generators do not replace human intelligence and the gift of original thinking.
Like many technologies before it, AI will transform the way we interact and interface with each other. And like many technologies before it, AI will bring to bear dilemmas with which we must contend. AI will redefine the classroom in ways we have yet to imagine. If we think of AI as we have other technologies, as tools, and use it as such and teach it as such, then I think AI will be an excellent channel through which original thinking can thrive. You just have to teach what it means to be original!
For further reading on AI and its potential in education, please see the following:
The Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology–including this handout, AI and the Future of Teaching and Learning that covers the core concepts of the new policy report by the same name.
And the August 24, 2023 New York Times article by Kevin Roose, How Schools Can Survive (And Maybe Even Thrive) With A.I. This Fall.
These resources offer teachers and administrators healthy guidelines, suggestions and strategies for folding the potential of AI into the classroom.
United Yearbook appreciates the original creativity of the many yearbook staff with which it partners. When you determine you and your staff require support in any form, feel free to contact us to schedule tailored workshops to meet your needs. If you dream it, together we can build it!
Contributor: Lucy McHugh comes to United Yearbook Printing from a 39-year career in public and private school education. She was a former visual art teacher and yearbook adviser. She received a Bachelors of Science in Art from Columbia College in Columbia, SC, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Nebraska in 2000, and in 2014 earned a Certificate in Catholic School Leadership from Loyola Marymount University. Lucy enjoys her family, making art and gardening.
Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.