Curriculum Singularity
5 min read

Curriculum Singularity

Yoshimi Battles...

No, not a nerd.  I am a geek; there’s a difference.

In my digital-storytelling class I often challenge students with a design fiction exercise in which they must create a thing  from the near-future.  The thing must be plausible and based on the trajectory of current events, so it is something that is likely or possible. Ultimately, the thing is a story the student must tell and a bit of digital-media they must produce - an artifact from the future.  It's a creative assignment but also a discussion prompt and a thought provocation for the class.   This is me doing that.

I read an article a few months ago about a professor teaching from the grave.  It seems his online course was so well curated, polished, and automated; that it practically ran itself. His lectures were recorded, so with a little teaching-assistance his digital-self remained present and pontificating right on schedule.  I imagine students were directed to talk amongst themselves in discussion threads (post once, reply twice), and assessments were proctormated (proctored/automated). Beyond issues of intellectual property and appropriateness, this sparked my creative curiosity.  Could I automate my courses? Myself?  What would happen to my digital-self when I exit?

I recognize that end-of-life is an evolving discussion in the big-tech sector, as our clicks, posts, and content live beyond our expiration date.  There is a question of ownership for the data and content properties we’ve produced.  Thus, services like DeadSocial help plan for a digital after-life, like a mortuary.  This is a recognized issue in social-media, but I never considered it in the context of learning-media.

I chuckle at the folks building bots to replace themselves on Zoom, like this, this, or this.  Shake my head and consider the article I just read on a digital cloning service called HourOne. I geek-out on an AI led dungeons and dragons game and am genuinely amazed by the MetaHuman Creator from EPIC Games.  “High-Fidelity Digital Humans in Minutes” - is their tag line.  My smiling fades when I see a new experiment with GPT-3 and DALL-E on twitter; witnessing folks like myself, simply goofing around with AI and sharing astounding results.

Nerd alert - the robot overlords are coming for our jobs, even the teachers. I recognize it sounds like kooky dystopian conspiracy theory, and many folks have long stopped reading.  Thanks for sticking with it.  This is a design-fiction artifact from the future so bear with me here.

Today, AI is doing creative work and simulating people accurately.  This is remarkable non-fiction reality, 2021.  AI writes essays, grades assignments, and does homework. AI assists cheaters and it catches them too.  It produced this JFK speech that never happened and this Nixon speech that thankfully didn’t happen. The examples and applications are exponential. The implications for fake-news, conspiracy theory, and media-literacy are also exponential.

It all leaves me wondering if I could create an autopilot course that teaches itself.  Not a self-paced training, but a course that looks and runs like a living teacher is actually teaching.  Georgia Tech has already produced an AI teaching assistant that fooled students... a deep-fake course seems like a natural evolution.  Given the tools that are emerging and the nature of industrialized education, it seems likely.  I imagine being an instructional designer ten years from now will be a drastically different job than it is today.  Likewise, being a teacher.

I’m not a bad person, mostly.  I’m not condoning such things, just acknowledging such things. Shift happens slowly, then all at once.

With this context in mind, my design-fiction story centers on an education marketplace where AI courses are commonplace, and human courses are a specialty.  Under the banner of student-success, we set the program parameters and put the bots to work - automating, homogenizing, data mining, and producing curriculum.  We record ourselves as input for deep-fake productions and robo-lecturing.  We leverage templates, rubrics, textbooks, and test-banks with extraordinary quality-assurance measures, as quality-matters (QM).  Syllabi are generated with smart-contracts and tracked via a common data store, a sort-of crypto-curriculum transaction and transcription.

We have achieved curriculum-committee singularity.

In this near-future, students enjoy a warehouse store of learning options where choice is abundant.  One niche focuses on the organic goods - the curriculum and instruction that are 100% certified human and humane.  These are artisan-courses, certified bot free. They cost more and are not within reach of those with shallow pockets, but premium product comes at a premium cost. And so, my artifact from the near-future is a remix of On Deck and Master Class circa twenty-thirty something (203#). I imagine Amazon buying On Deck and rebranding as Prime Learning, an educational marketplace of artisan learning experiences and services made by real people, for real people.

This is my thing from the future. I wanted to actually produce a website, but I’m not that invested here.  So, some Photoshop and fun with a face-aging AI.  

AI Aged: M Obama, Me, G Thunberg, My Kid, E Pao, S Galloway, Drake

Imagineering an artifact from the near-future is an insanely fun exercise.  It gives students a prompt for critical-thinking, media studies, and in my classes - scaffolding for digital storytelling and media creation.

Grade my project as you wish, please just consider the real rubric.  This exercise is not actually about the future somuchas the present.   It is about stimulating thought and discussion about current events, and what we’re doing in the world.   It is a provocation about being woke and intentional about today, and by proxy tomorrow.  If you must score this assignment, please use that as a guide.

Roose, K. (2021, March). Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation. Random House.

Levine, D. (2016, March 13). Design Fiction - Digital Experience Design - Medium. Medium; Digital Experience Design.

Situation Lab. (2017, June 22). The Thing From The Future. Situation Lab.

Near Future Laboratory | Clarify today, design tomorrow. (2021).

Signs From The Near Future. (2019). Signs From The Near Future.

Bartlett, T. (2021, January 26). Dead Man Teaching. CHE; CHE.

JFK Unsilenced. (2021). Rothco.

Panetta, F. (2021). In Event of Moon Disaster - Home. In Event of Moon Disaster.

Digital Humans | MetaHuman Creator - Unreal Engine. (2020). Unreal Engine; Unreal Engine.

OpenAI. (2021, January 5). DALL·E: Creating Images from Text. OpenAI; OpenAI.

Brown, T. B., et. al. (2020). Language Models are Few-Shot Learners.

The World’s First AI Teaching Assistant Turns 4. (2020, January 24). College of Computing.

Learning Economy Foundation - A Steward of the Internet of Education. (2020).