Plugin’ into superpowers

by | Friday, May 19, 2023

I have been playing with couple of the newly released ChatGPT plugins (you have to have the paid version to use them) and want to share some of my early experiments. The two I am going to talk about are the ChatWithPDF and the Wolfram plugins. Short answer, they are amazing tools for educators! Taking each in turn.

Chatting with a document: Created using Adobe Firefly

The ChatWithPDF plugin does exactly what you think it would: you point it to a pdf document somewhere on the web, and then you can chat (through the ChatGPT interface) with that document. So you can do simple things like – have it create an abstract, or a set of bullet points for a presentation. But even more interesting, you can ask it to test your knowledge and understanding of the document. For instance, I pointed it to the Mishra & Koehler, 2006 article where we introduced the TPACK framework. I first asked it to give me a short abstract of the piece, and this is what it spat out:

The document titled “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge” by Punya Mishra and Matthew J. Koehler explores the complex interplay of technology, pedagogy, and content in the context of teaching and learning. The authors propose a framework called Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK), which emphasizes the dynamic, transactional relationship between these three components. They argue that changes in any one of these factors necessitate adjustments in the other two. The paper further discusses how the introduction of new technology often forces educators to reevaluate their pedagogical strategies and content delivery methods. The authors suggest that TPCK is a form of knowledge that expert teachers utilize, particularly when new technologies disrupt the status quo. The paper also explores potential implications of the TPCK framework for practicing teachers, teacher educators, and educational researchers.

As a learner I often wonder if I have truly understood a text that that I have read. One way it to have the text ask me questions … and that is exactly what this tool can do. It is in this way that this tool can truly become a learning assistant, pushing and probing my understanding. So I asked it to create a set of multiple choice questions to test my knowledge and understanding of the framework. And it did a pretty good job there as well. Some examples below:

  • What is the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) framework?
    • A model that emphasizes the importance of technology in education.
    • A framework that highlights the role of pedagogy in teaching.
    • A model that underscores the significance of content in learning.
    • A framework that emphasizes the dynamic, transactional relationship between technology, pedagogy, and content.
  • According to the authors, what happens when a new technology is introduced in the teaching process?
    • It simplifies the teaching process.
    • It forces educators to reevaluate their pedagogical strategies and content delivery methods.
    • It has no significant impact on teaching methods.
    • It makes the content more difficult to understand for students.
  • What is the role of TPCK in the context of new technologies disrupting the status quo, according to the authors?
    • It helps teachers to resist the changes brought about by new technologies.
    • It provides a framework for teachers to understand and adapt to the changes.
    • It encourages teachers to reject new technologies in favor of traditional methods.
    • It has no role as the disruption is usually temporary.

I then asked it to write some short, conceptual essay type questions. Here are some that it came up with:

  • According to the authors, how does the introduction of new technology impact the equilibrium among technology, pedagogy, and content? Provide an example to illustrate your answer.
  • Given the rapid advancements in technology and the evolving nature of pedagogical strategies, how could the TPCK framework be adapted or extended to better accommodate future trends in education? Consider factors such as emerging technologies, changing learning environments (like remote learning), and evolving pedagogical theories in your response.
  • What is the research base that supports the TPCK framework? Discuss specific studies or bodies of research that have contributed to its development and validation.
  • Critically evaluate the TPCK framework based on the existing research. What are its strengths and limitations according to the research literature?

Not bad.

The important thing here to note is what this is NOT being used for. It is NOT being used by the instructor to test students (thought that is perfectly feasible). What I am suggesting is something different, for students to generate questions to test their own understanding. One can even see students writing responses to the questions and feeding them to ChatGPT to be evaluated and practice these ideas. This is what makes this an amazing learning tool (as opposed to a teaching tool).

Floating cube: Created with Adobe Firefly

The second plugin I played with was the Wolfram plugin that gives ChatGPT “it “access to powerful computation, accurate math, curated knowledge, real-time data and visualization through Wolfram|Alpha and Wolfram Language.” I know I have barely scratched the surface of what this tool can do. But here are two examples.

First, I asked the plugin to compute the total amount of poop generated by humans, globally, in one day, and how big a cube it would form? (Yes, I still have a middle-school brain.) Here is it’s response (and I love the fact that it replaced the word “poop” by the more acceptable word “feces” which is kind of thoughtful of it:

I’m sorry, but it seems that Wolfram|Alpha doesn’t have specific data on the total amount of human feces produced globally per day. However, we can make an estimation based on some assumptions.

The amount of feces produced by a person can vary widely based on diet, health, and other factors, but a commonly cited average is about 128 grams per day. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the global population was approximately 7.8 billion people…

Based on the assumptions mentioned earlier, a rough estimate of the total amount of human feces produced globally per day would be approximately 9.984×1011 grams, or about 998.4 million kilograms. Please note that this is a very rough estimate and the actual figure could be significantly different.

Wolfram|Alpha doesn’t have specific data on the density of human feces. However, for the purposes of this calculation, we can use a rough estimate. The density of human feces can vary, but a commonly used estimate is about 1 gram per cubic centimeter (equivalent to 1000 kilograms per cubic meter).

Based on the assumptions mentioned earlier, a cube containing the estimated total amount of human feces produced globally in one day would have a side length of approximately 999.5 meters. Please note that this is a very rough estimate and the actual figure could be significantly different.

I think it did a pretty good job of estimating various bits of info to come up with an answer, that at least, at first glance, passes the sniff test! (And if you know me, you will know that that stinky pun was totally intended.)

Infinity: Created with Adobe Firefly

I then wanted to see if I could create a genuine math-ed application (similar to what I had done with physics as presented in a previous post). So I asked it to give me code for a simulation of the relationship of the Pythagorean theorem to the unit circle and how that can generate the sine and cosine curves. We went back and forth to specify the task and finally we settled on the following:

  1. You want a unit circle with a line segment (the hypotenuse of a right triangle) rotating around the origin. The horizontal and vertical components of this line segment represent the cosine and sine of the angle it makes with the positive x-axis, respectively.
  2. You want the cosine curve to be displayed above the unit circle and the sine curve to be displayed to the right of the unit circle.
  3. You want a dotted line from the point where the right triangle touches the circle to the equivalent points on the sine and cosine curves.
  4. You want the simulation to run when you click a button that says “run”, with the angle of the line segment changing automatically.

And then, boom, it spat out some code that I could insert into Wolfram Cloud, a free online platform for running Wolfram Language code. Here is an animated gif of the simulation it created, with a button to run the simulation and a slider to change the speed of at which the line segments rotates around the origin.

It is worth reiterating that I do not know Mathematica. This is the first time I have worked with it. And here it is, a working simulation! One I wrote in English.


I am absolutely confident that the only thing that is constraining what I can do with these tools is my imagination.

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