Fed On a Diet of Children’s Stories

Welcome to Digitally Literate, issue #379.

I worked on the following this week:

  • Boost Your Learning Through Effective Note-Taking -In How to Take Smart Notes, author Sönke Ahrens makes the case that note-taking is not just for capturing information but for clarifying and generating thoughts. Ahrens provides insights and techniques to use notes as a tool to truly enhance learning.
  • Crafting Atomic Notes for a Connected Knowledge Base – Atomic notes are all the rage in personal knowledge management circles. The idea is that each note should capture one singular thought or concept. While atomic notes have many benefits, putting the method into practice can be tricky. Let’s look at some real-world examples to get a feel for writing effective atomic notes.

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Why We Do The Things We Hate

Admitting the disconnect between wanting an identity and enjoying the activity can be a tough pill to swallow.

What are you doing in your life that you don’t actually love, but you’re doing it because of the image it projects or the persona it creates?

Six Principles Related to AI in Higher Ed

Educators are encouraged to consider and adapt six principles related to artificial intelligence (AI) in higher education. These principles emphasize the importance of prioritizing people over technology, promoting digital inclusion, integrating digital and information literacy into education, using AI tools to enhance teaching and learning, recognizing that learning about technologies is a lifelong process, and conducting AI research and development responsibly.

As I’ve mentioned over the summer, I helped provide feedback on the original statement and I’m one of the signatories.

Why this matters: People, not technology, should be at the center of the work. Furthermore, AI research and development must be done responsibly.


Learning How to Innovate

ChatGPT and other deep generative models are proving to be uncanny mimics. These AI supermodels can churn out poems, finish symphonies, and create new videos and images by automatically learning from millions of examples of previous works. These enormously powerful and versatile tools excel at generating new content that resembles everything they’ve seen before.

A research collaboration between computer scientists at MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab and mechanical engineers in MIT’s DeCoDe Lab outlined the challenges that exist when you want to develop something new and novel.

Why this matters: We need to remind ourselves that generative AI tools are good at replicating data and ideas that mimic existing patterns. These models and agents may create something that you have not seen, but chances are it is something that has been seen by others. We have a lot of work that is needed to generate new and novel designs.


Computers as better teachers than humans

Teaching computers English is challenging. However, there is a method that proves effective: Simply feed mountains of text from the internet to a giant mathematical model called a neural network. This approach is less costly and time-intensive than the traditional method, which requires training large models on vast text archives.

Researchers at Microsoft have developed a new method for training tiny language models by feeding them a diet of children’s stories. Small models, trained on smaller data sets, learn to tell consistent and grammatical stories rapidly. This technique suggests new research directions that could help in training larger models and understanding their behavior.

Why this matters: “Raw language is very complicated,” said Timothy Nguyen, a machine learning researcher at DeepMind. “In order for interesting linguistic capabilities to arise, people have resorted to ‘more data is better.’” That mindset may not be true for all use cases.


Dirty Words are Magic Spells

Swearing has a powerful effect on us because it is connected to societal taboos and values. The harmfulness of these taboos can make certain words taboo as well, even as societal values change. Swearing can be offensive or affectionate depending on the context and the intent of the speaker. Overall, swearing has the ability to shock and offend, but its impact can vary over time and with context.

Why this matters: This week in one of my classes we’ve been talking about language and the appropriateness of different uses for different purposes. One of those elements that come up is the potential use of cursing in (middle grades and secondary) classrooms.


Lessons on Note-taking

Robert Caro, author of acclaimed biographies such as The Power Broker and a five-book series on President Lyndon B. Johnson, is known for his meticulous approach to research and note-taking. Caro’s archives are now part of a permanent exhibit at the New York Historical Society, showcasing his extensive documentation process, which includes reading all available secondary material on his subject before conducting original research and interviews.

Why this matters: As someone who regularly takes notes across different modes and spaces, I think it’s fascinating to see how Caro approaches his research and writing, including his dedication to truth, his outlining process, and his daily word count goals.

How to Upgrade Your Mind

Need to still get useful results while making quick judgments and fast decisions? Randy Pherson, a former CIA analyst, devised the Five Habits of the Master Thinker to help you out.

  1. Challenge our assumptions by practicing collaboratively with others
  2. Consider alternative explanations to mitigate our biases
  3. Look for contradicting information to save valuable time
  4. Keep our eyes on key drivers to reason more efficiently
  5. Assess the overall context before launching into judgment

Justice therefore demands that no one should do more ruling than being ruled, but that all should have their turn.

Aristotle

Cover Photo CC BY using Playground AI

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