Tuesday 5 December 2023

Micro-interview with Jonathan Olfert

Jonathan Olfert, author of “Collective Bargaining” in The Future Fire #67, came by for a short chat about the story, equity, AI and the future of education.

Art © 2023, Carmen Moran
TFF: What does “Collective Bargaining” mean to you?

Jonathan Olfert: It's just a little story about how underresourced one-size-fits-all accommodations can be useless or worse. I first thought of it during the emergency remote delivery/remote proctoring debacle, at the same time as massive government cuts were forcing support staff layoffs. I came back to the idea several times during some of my own struggles with disability. I wondered what accommodations a hive mind would need, or would be forced to need by a system designed for boring old one-bodies like us.

TFF: Is gen-AI going to make examining fairly and equitably harder or easier?

JO: Anyone who says they can reliably and consistently tell the difference between mildly edited gen-AI and a second-year undergrad's authentic paper (or online quiz response, or cover letter, or scholarship application) is dreaming. So a student's uncertainty about a fair assessment is only going to rise, and uncertainty comes with unevenly distributed hazards. Just as one example, I think of many international students I've known who've learned an extra-formal style that can have that gen-AI 'feel.'  And since instructors often have the academic freedom to decide standards for gen-AI use in their classes, students may be juggling five different risk profiles a semester whether they've even used gen-AI or not. On a side note, want to hear something unsettling? I ran a survey on textbooks a couple of months ago at work, and out of almost 1100 undergrads, 4%—over forty of them—had explicitly used ChatGPT instead of buying a textbook. Which doesn't just speak to the quality of the information they and other gen-AI users are receiving, it can inform their writing style, so they may join the ranks of people more likely to get flagged even if they write all their own papers from scratch.


Jane swarmed up the chair legs and settled into a rustling cluster. “All I want to do is write the exam,” they said through many tiny voices.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/10/new-issue-202367.html.

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