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  • Writer's pictureProf Greene

Blogging with AI

For the past several months, I’ve been getting non-stop ads on social media feeds for this AI content tool called Jasper. It’s marketed as an “AI Copywriting and Content Creation” tool, or a “creative AI assistant.” The ads typically feature a short, screenshot style video of a user interacting with the interface by writing in various commands (e.g. “write a paragraph about shopping for car insurance targeted at seniors”) and then Jasper will immediately generate short paragraphs (or even entire blog posts) based on these inputs. It seemed impressive, but possibly too good to be true. So, curious about how Jasper actually functioned, I recently signed up for the free 5-day trial to take it for a test spin.

With the Boss Mode subscription plan, I was able to get access to the “one-shot blog post” template, which will generate three short blog posts based on a topic input. My research is mostly focused on the rhetorical dimensions of spatial and mobile computing technologies, so I put in the term “Augmented Reality.” For the tone of voice, I went with “Informative” and the target audience was college students. Here are the results:

Get to Know Augmented Reality
If you’re a college student, chances are you’ve heard of augmented reality (AR) but may not know exactly what it is. AR is an emerging technology that combines computer-generated virtual elements with a user’s real-world environment. In other words, it takes everyday objects and enhances them by adding a digital layer on top of them. Let’s take a look at some examples of how AR is used.
In Education
Augmented reality can be used to bring learning to life in the classroom. Through this technology, teachers are able to project 3D models onto the physical world and interact with them in real time. This can help students visualize complex topics more easily and make learning more engaging. For example, imagine being able to project a 3D model of the human heart onto your desk so you can study it from every angle or being able to virtually explore a historical site from your classroom chair!
In Entertainment
AR has also made its way into the entertainment industry in recent years. One popular example is Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game based on the classic Pokémon franchise. Players have the ability to catch virtual Pokémon creatures at various locations in their local area using their phones as if they were actually there! Other games such as Minecraft Earth also use augmented reality technology so players can build structures and explore their environments without ever leaving home!
Augmented reality is quickly becoming an integral part of our lives, from education and business to entertainment and beyond! As this technology advances over time, we will see even more applications for it that can enhance our lives in ways we never imagined possible! So if you're interested in exploring this exciting new technology further, now is the perfect time! College students should definitely keep an eye out for new developments in this field so they can stay ahead of the curve when it comes to using AR tools effectively!

As you can see, Jasper thinks college students are really! into! exclamation! points! But other than that, it’s actually pretty incredible that in just a few seconds this tool can spit out a (serviceable) first draft with only two words as input, along with a couple of other parameters. Oh, and the entire text is completely original (according to Jasper) and won’t get flagged for plagiarism.

But let’s back up a bit. What is Jasper and how did it come about? Jasper is actually built on the GPT-3 AI framework originally developed by the organization OpenAI. GPT-3 is the third-generation AI program in the GPT series (Generative Pre-trained Transformer). Although I don’t understand all of the technical specifics of GPT-3, from what I can tell, the program is “trained” on the largest corpus of human-composed textual data in the history of AI development. From this training model, GPT-3 is then able to predict the next string of words in a given phrase or sentence based on minimal input. As such, it’s been described as one of the most advanced (i.e. human-like) AI programs ever created, with an uncanny ability to produce readable, and entirely original, prose with just a few clicks.

After playing around with the software a bit, the coolest part is the use of commands, which really seems to be where the “creative assistant” aspects came to light. Commands are exactly like they sound: short sentences that you can compose to tell Jasper exactly how it can help you out in the composing process (e.g. write an outline for an article about the Japanese economy). The command features put the writer/user a bit more in the driver’s seat but can also be used to offload most of the actual “writing” to the AI itself. In this, your role as a writer/user is more of an editorial position than an authorial one (at least in the traditional sense of that term).

I taught a podcasting course this fall, so with this experience fresh in my mind, I typed in the following command to see if Jasper could help me compose a short blog post: “Write an outline for a listicle about teaching podcasting.” Here’s what Jasper came up with:

How to Start a Podcast in Class
7 Tips for Recording and Editing Student Podcasts
The Top 5 Benefits of Using Podcasts in the Classroom
9 Great Ideas for Using Podcasts in ELA Lessons
How to Assess Student Learning with podcasts

Not great; I’m pretty sure I could have come up with a better outline on my own. I switched from listicle to blog post and this is what I got:

What is podcasting and what are its benefits for educators
How to create a podcast using Audacity
How to add music and sound effects to your podcast
How to publish your podcast on the internet
Tips for creating engaging podcasts that students will enjoy

A little better! I think the “listicle” threw it off in the first command, like it was using listicles themselves as list items in the listicle.

A screenshot of Jasper's command feature.
Jasper's command feature allows for more directed composing practices with AI.

From here, I tried out another technique mentioned in some of the tutorial videos from the Jasper website. I asked it to write an intro paragraph for the last subheading (“tips for creating engaging podcasts”) and this is what I got:

When it comes to podcasts, there are a few things that make them engaging for students. First and foremost, the content must be interesting and relevant to their lives. It should also be presented in an engaging way, with hosts who are relatable and enthusiastic about the topic. Finally, it’s important to make sure that the episodes are short and concise, so that students don’t get overwhelmed or lose interest.

Not groundbreaking, but not terrible either. I feel like you could switch out “students” and even “podcasts” and these suggestions would still apply. In other words, it very much feels like a robot wrote this. The sentences are grammatically sound, and the transitions make sense, but other than that, it’s kind of like the Wonder Bread of paragraphs: it gets the job done, but there’s not much substance.

I’d like to keep trying out different functions of Jasper over the next week or so until my free trial expires, but for now, here are a few takeaways for what this might mean for writing pedagogy and digital rhetoric studies.

1. AI composing tools are here to stay.

Jasper is just one example of an entire suite of creative AI programs that writers and creators will increasingly use to compose digital content, from blog posts to podcast scripts. With this in mind, we would be better served to figure out how these tools might fit into our existing teaching and research practices. Trying to implement more surveillance mechanisms for students (screen recording, Turnitin, etc.) seems like a fool’s errand.

2. We need better access.

Like I mentioned earlier, the free trial for Jasper only lasts a few days, with annual subscription plans topping over $500. Other programs, such as OpenAI API, are more cost effective but don’t have as robust a user interface (e.g. “template” settings for things like blog posts). It’s likely that costs will decrease as more AI programs are released, but writing programs should begin pursuing partnerships across the AI writing industry to facilitate access for students and researchers.

3. We need new theories.

Invention. Delivery. Style. Creativity. Originality. Within this emerging digital ecology, such concepts are perhaps insufficient theoretical frameworks for understanding how writers create (and will create) with AI tools. Sure, many of these programs are billed as ways to streamline the creation of marketing copy, so they are tempting to write-off. But looking ahead, such tools are likely to become integrated into almost every word processing program, email interface, and social media platform (like spellcheckers), and will thus increasingly affect how writers create texts for a variety of personal, creative, and professional contexts.

Anyways, that’s all for now. As I continue playing around with Jasper, and perhaps OpenAI, I can hopefully get a better grasp on the implications of AI writing and what it might offer as a generative tool for digital composing.

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