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AI and the quest for the Chicken Bulb: A story of failure, creativity, and curiosity

Over the past few months it has been hard to avoid the term Artificial Intelligence (AI). Educators, for the most part, have embraced this new technology and put their passions for lifelong learning to the test by trying to wrap their heads around this ground-breaking innovation. There has been much debate over the role of educators and education itself in an AI-powered world, but where AI is reshaping academic assessment and the future of work, one essential skill remains timeless: effective questioning. As educators, we have the power to unlock the potential of our students by cultivating their ability to ask thoughtful, probing questions - in order to do so we must nurture an environment that encourages failure.

Whilst creating the first electric lightbulb, Thomas Edison famously said “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. It wasn’t until I started creating my own bulb that I realised the true power of failure.

Behold! The chicken bulb. 

In my quest to better understand AI I asked my father to challenge me to create something using an AI image generator that had never been seen before (credits to DALLE-2, Bing, and Papa Morris) – his suggestion was a chicken shaped lightbulb. Piece of cake.

For my first attempt I simply input “Chicken Shaped-Lightbulb” and got a kind of copy/paste image; a glass chicken stuck to the front of a lightbulb. Ok, not a bad start but not really what I was looking for. So I iterated on my prompt – “Filament bulb shaped like a chicken”, “Filament bulb with the glass shaped like a chicken’s body”, adding in more detail each time. Eventually I decided to get help from an AI expert - ChatGPT. I asked ChatGPT for a prompt to use with DALLE-2, and within seconds received a meticulously crafted paragraph which I pasted into DALLE-2 and voila – I got what I was looking for. 

Innovation is often associated with serious and methodical pursuits, but what if playfulness were the key to unlocking ground-breaking ideas? In his book "Wonderland," Steven Johnson explores the role of play in sparking innovation. He argues that by embracing playfulness, we create a fertile ground for ideas to grow by connecting diverse concepts, encouraging experimentation, fostering collaboration, and nurturing a culture of continuous learning. This sounds like what most educators are striving for, and yet in reality this is not what how many education systems are designed.

NASA uses a creativity test to select the most innovative engineers and scientists to join it’s ranks. It is designed to measure divergent thinking - how many different ways a person can think about and tackle a particular problem. As part of an educational study this test was given to 1600 students aged 5 years old, and then again to the same students at 10 and 15 years old. The results are jaw-dropping. 98% of the 5-year olds scored “Genius Level”, 5 years later the same students at 10 years old this dropped to 30%, and to 12% when same students took the test at 15 years old. The vast majority of students that had scored genius level at the start of their educational journey had lost their ability to think creatively after 10 years of institutional education. This shows that somewhere along the way we taught our children out of divergent thinking and into conformity; or that NASA should be hiring children.

According to educational psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom, "Questions are the vehicles for directing thought." By encouraging students to question, we stimulate their intellectual curiosity and empower them to become active participants in their own learning process. Some anti-AI proponents believe that AI will make students lazier, just as the search engine was supposed to be the death of research, but I believe the opposite, I believe we have lowered the barrier to innovation and that if used correctly, creativity and curiosity will flourish. As Daniel Pink said, "The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers—creative and holistic 'right-brain' thinkers."

That said I do think that there is a risk to the development of young learners. At a recent AI conference at Cottesmore School in the UK, Chris Goodall (Deputy Head at Epsom School) said that creative people will use AI to be more creative, workaholics will use it to do more work, productive people will use it to be more productive, and lazy people will use it to be lazier. In other words, AI will enhance the traits that we already have. This is where educators come in. Ken Robinson was a strong advocate of teachers as facilitators and combined with AI I believe there is an opportunity for education to not just be about “filling a bucket, but lighting a fire” as William Yeats said.

There are hundreds of examples of educators using AI to develop effective questioning skills in their students, from conversations with Jeff Bezos to visualising scenes from their creative writing. The Basmo app even allows you to have conversations with your favourite novel! And this is just the beginning. The role of the teacher in all of these is to facilitate students asking questions. We must collaborate with AI in order to develop the essential skills in students that will make them future ready. 

In an era characterized by the rise of AI, the future of work, and evolving academic assessment practices, the importance of teaching effective questioning in education cannot be overstated. By fostering critical thinking, enhancing communication skills, and nurturing lifelong learning, we empower learners to navigate the complexities of the world around them. As educators, let us cultivate a culture of curiosity and enquiry, empowering our students to ask the questions that will shape their future. As Albert Einstein famously said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning."


Author : Carl Morris, Co-Founder & Principal of The Online School

Carl's Linkedin :

As the Principal of Carfax College Oxford, & Head of Carfax Private Tutors globally, Carl oversees student academic programmes, client relationships, training, marketing, promotion, and business development. Carl graduated from the University of Oxford with a Master’s degree in Chemistry; and went on to become an ACA qualified Chartered Accountant. Having worked in education for the majority of his professional life, Carl has a wealth of academic experience and is an enthusiastic Science/Maths tutor, with a broad range of professional and personal experience. He has supported pupils across all the major curricula, and has worked with organisations that provide tuition to underprivileged children, helping them with university applications.