Bits on Bots: Hip Hop Hacks

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JDuncan Headshot.jpgJennifer Duncan has been teaching English for twenty years, first at Chattanooga State Community College in Tennessee and now at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College in Atlanta, GA where she is Associate Professor of English.  For the last ten years, she has focused exclusively on online teaching concentrating on creating authentic and meaningful learning opportunities for students in composition and literature courses.



I love a one-hit wonder! A-ha’s “Take On Me,” Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” and my all-time favorite: “Ice Ice Baby” by a white man who had the nerve to flail around in khaki pants and try to convince us all that he was the voice of the streets (I’ll wait while you Google him). I know that Vanilla Ice was not actually the voice of 1990s Miami, and I know that rap purists hate him. I also know there is not a moment when someone says “I have a problem,” that I will not respond, “Yo, I’ll solve it!”  (After which my children will roll their eyes as their dad comes in with “Word to Your Mother.”)

Vanilla Ice represents a memorable moment in 90s music culture, but is certainly not the apex of 90s rap just as AI will not be the peak of writing education. This “brand new invention” is a technological marvel and simultaneously an ethical conundrum.  It is worth talking about and debating and it will change some things, but, ultimately, video did NOT kill the radio star; it just opened the door to the next innovation which led us from Napster to MySpace until we reached Spotify.

Like music, technology reflects and impacts society, but the tech that lasts beyond the launch party is the tech that solves a problem. So, what problems do my students face and how might AI be able to address them? And can I use AI way that supports the writing process rather than replaces it?

Photo by Igor Omilaev via UnsplashPhoto by Igor Omilaev via Unsplash

If you struggle to get started with AI as a writing tool, here are three surface-level roadblocks where AI can support students without fully integrating into the writing process, so “stop, collaborate and listen.”

Problem 1: Students don’t know how to manage their time. Whether it is work-life balance or just knowing when and how to start a project, students often fail (and cheat) when they start too late, panic, and look for a quick fix.

AI Solution: Have students ask the generative AI to create a project timeline for them.  A simple prompt like “Develop a three-week plan for researching and writing an argument on x” will produce a daily schedule with tasks students can check off to keep them on track.  Yes, you could provide this for them, but by having them use AI to generate it, you’re putting the tool in their hands; then, ask them to go through the proposed plan and refine it to fit their needs. 

Problem 2: We want our students to pick topics that they love, but they don’t know how to create and refine a writing prompt.

AI Solution: Have students ask AI to write them three questions related to the course theme or overall topic. For example, my students write about a food issue related to their culture. I struggle to get them to even identify their culture, but once I do that, they aren’t sure what to say about food other than to talk about what they like or don’t. I require them to ask the AI to provide them three questions related to food within their culture. They get responses like “In what ways can educational initiatives help promote the importance of Cherokee food with the Cherokee community and tradition?” or “How can public schools provide access to halal meals for students?” They aren’t getting answers; they’re uncovering the questions to enter the conversation, and they’re doing it from a place of their control, not mine.

Problem 3: Students don’t revise; they just want to “fix” their grammar. No writing teacher would claim that perfect grammar equals perfect writing, but we do know that grammar issues become a student’s focus and that poor grammar will get in the way of their communication.

AI Solution: Teach students to use AI as copyeditor: “I want you to serve as my copyeditor. I'll provide you with an essay; make grammar and sentence construction edits using the rules of standard English. Provide me with a checklist of the changes you have made. Now, ask me for my essay:” The AI will provide them with a numbered list of the recommended edits so that students not only get corrections, but you can require them to explain why they accepted or rejected each correction.  This will not change their writing, but it will take care of grammar problems so that those don’t dominate your next writing conference.

None of these revolutionize writing any more than Vanilla Ice revolutionized music, but they offer gateway for instructors wanting to experience this innovative moment without fully committing to an unfamiliar genre. Like a 90s mixtape, they offer an easy to digest sample for those curious about the emerging sounds of writing.