AI As a Finishing Agent

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Jethro Jones: Welcome to a Vision for
Learning on the Be Podcast Network.

I'm your host, Jethro Jones.

You can find me on all the
socials at Jethro Jones.

I'm very excited to have on the podcast
today, nick Pot Kki, who is the, writer of

the Substack, that is called Educating ai.

You can find links to that in the show
notes at, a vision for

He's an AI literacy consultant, a language
arts teacher, academic researcher in AI

linguistics rhetoric and Instruction.

And he's worked in both public and
private settings with students from

middle school to graduate school.

He is got a wealth of knowledge
about these various institutional

spaces and student social, emotional,
and academic development across

this age range, as it relates to
developing responsive AI systems.

So definitely a very
interesting conversation.

Nick, welcome to a Vision for Learning.

So great to have you here.

Nick Potkalitsky: Thanks.

Jethro Jones: So what is the most
valuable thing people are gonna

get from our conversation today?

Nick Potkalitsky: I think the take,
taking the next steps into this AI

space, that we're creating for students
is gonna be forged by building,

greater trust with our students,
making our AI practices more, more

transparent and working alongside them.

to show them that this is a
useful tool, but it will never

replace their own thinking.

Jethro Jones: Oh, so good.

I'll totally second that.

And I think the thing that people should
really hang on for is where we start

talking about the criteria that we can
use to evaluate the use of AI tools

and whether or not it's going to be.

An effective and worthwhile
thing for them to do.

so on this show, a vision for
learning, we talk about the future of

education, what it's gonna look like.

we've been talking a lot about the Apple
Vision Pro because that's what has been

released recently, but I'm excited today
to talk all about AI and how it works.

And I look forward to you, hearing this
conversation, and we'll get to that

conversation with Nick in just a moment.

Nick, I think a good place to start out
is talking about the idea of plagiarism.

it's still something that people are
worried about and are still feeling stress

about and feeling like it's, that's the
thing we need to worry about with ai

and I think it is really down at the
bottom of the barrel of things that we.

Actually need to worry about it.

To me right now, plagiarism is no
different than plagiarism has always

been, except that it's a lot easier
and that's the only difference.

kids are still gonna
be motivated to do it.

Kids are still gonna want to
do it, to get out of hard work.

that's all the issue.

Where are you coming down on the
idea of AI and plagiarism right now?

Nick Potkalitsky: throughout this
sort of crisis as it's been, built

up to be, we have to maintain, the
human connection with our students.

That has to be held up
as priority number one.

That's the criteria that we have to
measure any sort of intervention against.

So I must admit, once the AI
generated papers started rolling

in last spring, was definitely
tempted to resort to ai detectors.

but after, quickly doing research,
I realized just how, inefficient

and ineffective they were.

In particular was impressed by a post
by Alberto Romero, late in the summer

of 20, when he was talking about how
these detectors introduced sort of a

surveillance culture into our classrooms.

And that's where, that was
the tipping point for me.

when I decided that I had to really
change the way that I was teaching, I had

to start to think about, If I was gonna
continue to lean into, into long form

essays as a English teacher, then I had
to, start to structure them differently.

I had to collect them more incrementally.

I had to open up, the essays to
more AI in integrated processes.

And make that part of the workflow,
because, we have to adapt to

the conditions on the ground,
I think, as opposed to, just

holding onto the mythical past.

so yeah, I like the way that you
have framed it as it's a leveling

that this is, it's all plagiarism.

we need to start with
those conversations as.

statistical print printouts, which,
if you go down that road, you'll very

quickly, your students will have their
own statistical printouts to show you that

what they're doing isn't AI generated.

So it's it's just you're, you go
into that Cold war mentality and

then inevitably nobody's learning.

there's no trust.

There's no enthusiasm in the classroom,
and you get to the point where you're

just wondering, what are we doing here?

it's definitely not education.

So that's where I'm at.

Jethro Jones: So Nick.

Tell me about, about your idea of how
you're changing your teaching as you're

focused on integrating AI more now.

what does that look like?

there, there's the idea that you don't,
Have students take home and write essays

solely at home, and that's, that would
be like an obvious, easy first response.

But what else does that look like
where you're actually integrating

AI work into your kids' work?

Nick Potkalitsky: That's a great question
and for me it's, there's a answer to.

Because, as of right now, we
realistically don't have a lot of

evidence as to the impact of, fully
rolling out AI processes into, in

my case, like a writing curriculum.

So one of the things that I'm interested.

What's really the impact on
like basic core, writing and

communicative literacies?

that's my core research
question right now.

so we're entering into sort of an
experimental space, I am hesitant

to go all in the sense of having
a fully integrated AI classroom.

I know that some teachers are
doing that and I'm glad that

they are doing it because I'm
learning from their experiences.

But I'm running sort of two parallel
tracks within my class where.

There are times where, we are still
just working, in a very traditional

way, just generating, generating ideas
without, using ai, tools, x and E.

Hello, for instance, just coming
up with those ideas from scratch.

I think, post pandemic
kids really need that.

because like throughout the pandemic,
they had so many assistive tools that

were bumping them in terms of here, do
this next thing, do this next thing.

particularly those two years
when they were mostly on screens.

so we have to, I'm
finding that we have to.

Find ways within the curriculum to,
to create those x ni, hello skills.

at the same time the, yeah.

Jethro Jones: and Nick, the
other part of that is that.

All these kids who were in middle school
or beginning high school when the pandemic

hit, I guess middle school and lower now.

'cause it's already 20, 24 time flies.

But we basically told these kids that
everything was made up and the school

didn't really matter because we canceled
it so fast across the whole country.

and so now they're like,
does this really matter?

Do I really need to do
my own thinking here or.

Because if something happens, I know
you can just freeze my grades and

wipe away everything, and we don't
have to take tests this one year.

And like we sent a very strong
message to them that we can just

cancel school at the drop of a hat.

and a lot of people don't
tear me say that, but that's

the reality of what we did.

Nick Potkalitsky: Yeah, I think
you're absolutely right and we're.

We're continuing to see the effects of
it in terms of enthusiasm and engagement.

It's almost as if my students are just
waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Jethro Jones: The next thing
that's gonna cancel it.


Nick Potkalitsky: yeah, and then,
AI comes along and it's a tool that.

manifest a lot of these
processes that they're working

so hard to, learn and master.

and you, I can imagine they're just
wondering, so where are they in the

middle of this, the middle of this on.

not necessarily having the
stamina to do things from scratch

and then having technologies
that can do them effortlessly.

And we're we're walking a tightrope
in the classrooms right now.

and I see, in, in school spaces.

One, one method is to, ignore the, these
AI tools, and just kind of, just lean

into the hard work, the, the struggle,
make everything as, as hard as possible.

every, brainstorming has to be, just
pulling up all of the ideas from yourself.

And, our kids are really
struggling with that kind of work.

And so I'm trying to meet them, I'm
trying to meet them, in, maybe 20% of

the time with some AI responsive lessons.

so to make it a little bit more concrete.

So we're working on an
essay on, west Moore's.


Great book, the other West Moore, and it's
a, it's an, eighth or ninth grade classic.

so a ya version of, the, a
longer piece that he did.

So he's now governor of Maryland
and just a tremendous, story

of, of never giving up and.

So we're going into kind of some thematic
questions and like we've already done

what I was talking about is like the one
track where we've done some brainstorming

X knee hello, with a different essay,
but, so now, we've dipped our toe

into AI a little bit and they have,
access to some models and I've, I've.

I laid the groundwork through parent
permissions, to get them that access.

And and we've, I've given them some very,
carefully structured prompts and, they've

accessed some potential outlines and, and
I've also had them use some brainstorming

to create some thesis formula.

so it's.

The idea is to use AI more Socratically.

and I got the idea from, con Conmigo,
which is a, it's a commercial

product out there that, con Conna
Academy is, has put out and is

rolling out in a number of schools.

And what's distinctive about their product
is that it doesn't just like dump answers.

like most AI models it, it
will ask more questions.

so I've created, prompts
for my students that will.

Not jump out, here's the thesis, but it
says, here's like a formula that you have

to then populate with your own ideas.

so we're doing all of that, like on
the front end of writing, and then

we shift to a more of a concentrated
human space where they're gonna

be doing the writing and drafting.

And then we'll come back after
we have the drafting and we'll

get some commentary from ai.

I have this, theory about AI that it's
really only effective at the beginning

and at the end of the writing phase.

Like you, you have to, particularly
at the end, you have to fill up

the AI bucket, for it to start
to do anything interesting.

and I'm hoping, like I'm working
with ninth graders now, so the

AI literacy just beginning, but.

I'm hoping as I work with, students
that are older, we can start to get a

little bit more sophisticated in the
sense of, I would love to show them,

how you can enter in information at a
very low level and get a certain kind

of response, but if you really want
AI to help you write something super

specific, then it's a much more like.

Involved process and what actually
is revealed is like, there's a lot of

specific kind of writing that takes
place between you and the model.

And I'm thinking like down
the line, like what is writing

instruction gonna look like?

Like a lot of people are fearful that,
okay, AI is gonna out mode English, as

a subject, or writing as a discipline.

I, in my conversations with folks, I'm
like, no, it's just writing's changing.

it's, we're just gonna be
learning how to write more

functionally, and operationally.

Jethro Jones: Nick, I think that's
really valuable and very clear

that how we write is changing.

One of the things that I've seen,
and the way that I described this

is that it's easy to get AI to do
anything, but it's really hard to

get it to do one thing specifically.

And so it's actually not
easier for me to write with ai.

It's actually easier to write without ai.

Because I already know how I write
and I already have the skills.

And I think that this is a very
interesting challenge because

especially as you're talking about
these kids who were in school during

the pandemic and probably did not
have a ton of writing opportunities

and an opportunity to develop that
writing, they don't have a voice.

And so when they ask the
AI to write it, then.

It's a really big deal because
it produces something better

than what they could write.

As far as they can tell.

When I ask the AI to write something, it
is never as good as what I could write

myself, at least in my opinion, right?

and so I think, I wouldn't use that word,
I wouldn't write it that way, et cetera.

And so we need to change.

Our perspective about how we are writing
things and be aware that is changing.

And I think that piece is the part
that's really hard for teachers

to grasp and appreciate because I.

There's this nostalgic way that we used
to do it, and then there's this new way

that's scary and we don't understand it,
and we don't, nobody really understands

how these, transformers work so that,
so that it actually produces the text.

Even the people who are creating
the algorithms to make it work,

they don't even understand exactly
how it's working and that part.

It's scary for everybody.

I totally get that.

So I like what you're saying about
how you're going through that process.

How, the AI is only helpful in
the beginning and in the end.

can you talk a little bit about your.

Your writing and how much you use
it, and if it is, something that is

helping you or hindering you as you're
writing your sub substack posts that

are so good and detail oriented.

what's your experience with your own
personal writing as opposed to your

teaching writing to your students?

Nick Potkalitsky:
That's a great question.

so AI has changed the way I write because
I do use it as, a finishing agent.

and using it as a finishing
agent has freed me up, to

just write Torrance of text.

I used to be, a highly, critical, writer.

And what I mean by critical is like
critiquing ideas as I was writing

them and, worrying about, okay, how's
this gonna look at the end product?

and And that kind of would plant
sort of a seed of doubt in me,

about, ultimate purpose and about
how it was gonna land with audience.

And, and then I'm not saying that
AI is ultimately doing all that

finishing for me, but for some reason
kind of me synergizing with ai.

lifted a little bit of those
that worry and those concerns.

in to, with, I've done a PhD
and I've grappled with my

own writing demons now for I.

20 years.

So I mean like me com compared to
how anxious of a writer I was in

undergrad compared to how I am now.

I've just gotten a little bit quicker
each year and a little bit less critical.

But now like with AI in tow, it's like
something's just happened with me.

I'm truly grateful for it, because now
when I like sit down, it's just, I know

that I just, I need to give, these AI
systems like the sort of the logical

connections, between my ideas, like
those that really is what it needs to do.

A lot of its sort of polishing work.

And so I just go in there and I'm like,
I have these connections of the ideas.

Like the ideas were always there for me.

I'm just like slamming
the ideas out, right?

and I'm not worrying so
much about the articulation.

And then I get into a conversation
with AI about the, like.

What it looks like.

And I let it do a first look through,
and it will give me some, initial

sort of, here's some things to
consider, as you do some editing.

So I'll allow it to give more like
a laundry list of things to, to do

as opposed to actually going through
and, Kind of going through and

actually revising all of the text.

And then, with those directives
in hand, usually I'll get to a

place where it's almost, polished.

I don't know, I've just become much more,
more efficient and freer as a writer.

and I'm in with doing the
substack now once a week.

I'm just in, in like maximum.

performance zone, as a writer,
where it's like I'm just feeding off

the audience and I'm like nestled
into like this, like amazing group

of writers right now on Substack.

like Alejandro and, Nat and
Michael Rutenberg, like these, we,

I mean we're a small e in terms
of the AI community on there.

we've, we're just chopping up ideas
and doing guest posts and helping

lift each other and, it's just, it's
like social media before social media,

Jethro Jones: I know exactly
what you're talking about.

So let me ask you this question.

As you've been using AI for your own
work, your own writing, how has that

helped you relate to and s helped
students see where the AI is beneficial

or not for what they're doing?

Nick Potkalitsky: with me and my
students, it's brought us down on the

same kind of playing field in terms
of we're all experimenters in this

new field of, textual generation.

Whereas, early on in January when I
was very fearful of AI and was trying

to keep it out of the classroom.

and I'm talking about
January of 2023, like that.

To go back to my earlier point
about trust, there was fear

and suspicion in the classroom.


We're in, in co-pilot mode, where
I'm learning from their use as

much as, they're learning from
my experiments up on the board.

so it, it's a much more,
collaborative, a collaborative

energy, collaborative atmosphere.

and I think the.

And this is something that I
encourage, the teachers that I

encounter is to have a, to have a
culture of transparency around use.

if you, as a teacher, if you're using
it to generate any classroom materials.

it's, I think it's a good thing
to be forthright with students

that you have leaned into, AI
to, to generate those materials.

Um, you, we get into sort of a
weird space in, in K through 12

where you have some teachers who are
prohibiting, student use of AI and

yet using it to make their tests You.

Jethro Jones: don't get me
started on that hypocrisy.

That drives me nuts.

Oh my goodness.

one, I wanna share real quick how I'm
using ai because I think that it's quite

different than you in my own writing,
because what I do is I basically will say,

here's the idea that I have, or here's
something that I've already written.

how else would you say this?

Or would you have a different idea
for an analogy or something like that.

And then I don't ever copy and paste
it, although I have in the past.


But every time I copied and pasted
it, I just never felt like it was

any good or that it was worthwhile.

I'm in a doctoral program right now,
and the temptation is certainly there,

especially on certain assignments
to just have it do it because.

The assignment is basically pointless
and like it doesn't really matter.

And on those situations, I definitely
want to use AI because when the assignment

is pointless, then it's, it's really
difficult to give it time and attention.

And so if the assignment, what I'm
doing in those situations where

there's an assignment is I'm trying
my hardest to figure out what the

real purpose of the assignment is.

How I can make it worthwhile for
me in a different way that matters.

so that's.

That's one thing.

The other part of that is that when I
do copy and paste it with one exception,

which is I use an app called audio pen.

Audio, and what this tool
does is it will take you speaking,

which is something that I'm very
comfortable with doing right, and it

will take your speaking and turn that.

Rambling, incoherent thought
into something that is clear.

That app, because of how I've set it
up, has done the best job of taking my

rambling, incoherent thoughts and turning
them into something that is publishable.

Nick Potkalitsky: Yeah.

Jethro Jones: In writing and so that has
been the biggest use case for me is being

able to speak what I want to speak and
then having the AI turn it into text.

that is readable.

And then I typically clean that up a
bit and have it be, a little bit better.

But that tool specifically has
been the best one that I've used

so far, and it works really well.

Even better than having an audio
conversation with chat GBT, which I am

really amazed at how good that is Also.

Nick Potkalitsky: Yeah, no.

I've seen people have audio pen
in their workflows, and I've just

never been able to, there's some.

I'm just more of a type
and think kind of person.

But I can see you, the audio is probably
something that you're, you would gravitate

to, but yeah, I find the only time that
I really copy and paste is like when

I have a particularly gnarly sentence,
where I have three or four ideas blocking

out and there's just like a verb that's
really giving me some like issue.

And I just need some help.

I've had this problem historically
throughout my writing career where

it's just I hit sort of a block in my
thinking, like how can I unwork this?

And, when I was writing my dissertation,
those sort of blocks would halt

my writing process sometimes for.

Five, six minutes, and now with
sort of an AI tool, I can get a

couple different options to, to
play around with pretty quickly.

yeah, but mostly it's I like how, I
mostly work with, chat GPT, version

four, which has been acting really
quite strange the past couple weeks.

But, um.

Jethro Jones: so let's.

Let's stop there for a second because
this is something else that is so

fascinating is that it has been
acting strange and it's been doing

bizarre things and we don't really
understand why it's doing that.

But if you don't have
those basic skills already.

That could throw you for a real loop.

I was, I'm in a chat with someone
and they said that they, that they

were doing something with getting
a, some sort of Japanese flower

folding, thing for their wife.

And they know Japanese so they
know what it is, but they didn't

wanna translate it themselves.

They put it into chat, GPT, and
it translated into a story about

somebody killing someone else
instead of teaching you how to,

how to fold this flower correctly.

and what's so fascinating is that
if this goes back to that whole

literacy piece, that if you don't
know what you're doing already.

Then you could really be in
a lot of trouble with it.

and that's really what
learning is all about, right?

That we wanna teach people to know
how to do the things that we're doing.

And in, in one of your subsets, I
don't remember which one, you linked

something from, AI for education, io
that talked about, about one, there was

a flow chart and one of the things said.

If you're skipping the learning,
you're doing it wrong, consider

using AI in a different way and like
that piece is just so important.

We, we shouldn't be skipping the learning.

any thoughts on that?

On the skipping the learning part, I.

Nick Potkalitsky: the absolute worst
outcome of this whole, situation is that,

it becomes a prosthesis for learning.

that, and that we have a whole generation
of students that somehow, you know.

Skip over the cognitive, gains that
come from having, the sustained critical

engagement with a writing process.

I think a writing process can take a lot
of different forms and different shapes.

It can be, multimodal, and it's our job
as educators and particularly, writing

and structure instructors to invite
students into a deep, critical engagement.

ethical aesthetic, philosophical,
Rhetorical, these sort of deep engagements

with texts and whatever form they come.

we, and you can stage that in a number
of different ways depending upon where

your students are developmentally.

but if, I think there's gonna be
a tipping point, as we think about

implementations and integrations.

where these processes, will
start to encroach on some

of that critical thinking.

and that's where we have to be, have
that overseeing or that, and that, Also

hold on to a vision, that I think are
going to ultimately, like the only way

that we're gonna be able to maintain it
is by establishing some principles or,

and some outcomes that we wanna see from
these, syner synergistic kind of spaces.

so like in my most recent post, I
was starting to plan out some ai.

Learning outcomes, that, that were,
that, I wanna continue to think about.

and there are also, there are a lot
of like isti, and there's quadruple

a, which is a big a ai, promotion.

Organization, but they have an educational
wing, like they're a company or

organizations that are building these
like deep, literacy programs, that I

think are gonna help us to structure our
practices, and help teachers build up some

sort of watch points or criteria to, to.

think about, is this
particular implementation

maintaining critical thinking?

Are we giving away too much?

it's gonna, I think a lot of it
will just come down to sort of

like, um, costs and and benefits
for particular implementations.

so when I was at a conference out.


A couple weeks ago, I did a training
with teachers from across the Eastern

seaboard where I walked them through
a AI writing process and, we used

AI to do brainstorming, and then
initial drafting and then editing.

And I had them go through like a five
scale, like a valuation of, How did

AI do you know, and I, the major like
criteria that we were working on, was

like, knowledge and skills generation,
like was there new knowledge being

generated through the integration of ai?

Were there new skills being generated?

I think we need something like that.

like some sort of like solid criteria
that we can use to evaluate use.

Because like right now it's.

It's pretty ambiguous.

I don't know, like the, at the
conference there was like, the

value they were throwing out
was like, human centered, right?

is our integration?

Is it helping us keep
education human centered?

And that's, that's like a good big idea.

But it seems, there's also like
other things underneath that,

like what, what exactly does.

so that's gonna be the work I think
of the next couple months, maybe

year, of figuring out those criteria,
for evaluating implementations.

Jethro Jones: let me ask you this.

what would be your suggestions or
advice to, teachers who are resistant

to doing anything with it, and
how would you encourage them to?

Um, I don't wanna say speed up
the adoption of ai, but at the

same time I wanna say like,
don't run fearfully from it.

How, what would be your advice?

Nick Potkalitsky: So I had several
people in the room in my training who

were resistant and fearful and, the
power, and the willingness comes from

actually just engaging with the tools.

and and I'm working with, A guy, right
now in Australia, developing some,

some leadership, training materials
because, the major stop gap right now

for AI integration and K through 12,
it's, instructional leaders who are

slowing down the process and, they're
in a, a position of tremendous, trust.

And they want to get it right.

and I think like part of our
vision for this, these training

materials are just kind of.

coaxing leaders just to sit down
and use the products, as part

of an acculturation process.

what can these actually do?

I think once you sit down, when you sit
down immediately and you ask or right

away and you see it, that it can create
a sonnet, like that's, that sort of

blows you away and you're like, oh, wow.


there's no nothing that you know,
that these machines can't do.

But, as you prompt away with it for,
a half hour, then you start to see

the limitations, the repetitions.

You start to see the
hollowness of the text.

you start to ask it questions about
the text, and three prompts in that,

the level of understanding just.

Maybe it gets a little bit, blurry.

and I don't know, you, you
start to understand the way

it works and, once you get

Jethro Jones: I may be so bold
as to say anybody who's still

worried about plagiarism.

Has never used the tool because once
you use the tool you realize this really

isn't a worry because it's not there yet.

It's, it cannot mimic a
person's voice that well.

And you can tell, and when I read
things online, I can tell almost all the

time that is done and generated by ai.

There are little key words and
phrases that are like, okay, that a

real person doesn't write that way.

However, I think real people are going
to start writing that way 'cause they're

gonna be mimicking what they see.

Just as a little side note, not to
get us too off course, but, so as we

close up here, Nick, this was awesome.

in the show notes, if it's
okay with you, you put a.

A great outline of your process of
how you've gone through learning

about this and a few different
links to yours and other substack

that were just really powerful.

I'm gonna leave those in the show notes
so that people can check that out.

We didn't have a chance to go into
all of those things, but they, I

thought they were really good and
really interesting, and so I want

people to be able to check those out.

How can people connect with you and learn
more about the stuff that you're doing?


Nick Potkalitsky: you can
reach out to me on Substack.

you can also find me on LinkedIn.

So you could also set, shoot me
an email at, at

So I'm excited to help, schools,
make a transition into this AI space.

Uh, and thank you, Jethro for
setting up this interview.

It was an amazing time.

I think we really broke some new ground
here, You're a good guide on this.

Jethro Jones: thank you very much
and I appreciate you being here.

This was a lot of fun.

I hope that this is not our
last, conversation together

because I think that l.

Like I said, we barely scratch the surface
of what we could have talked about.

And so I think this was a good start,
for, for this podcast and definitely

something that, I wanna stay in touch on.

So, uh, links to his, Substack and
LinkedIn are in the show notes,

so definitely go, go check that
out at a vision for

Creators and Guests

Jethro Jones
Jethro Jones
Author of #SchoolX #how2be Co-Founder of @bepodcastNet, the best education podcasts out there.
AI As a Finishing Agent