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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

What does the green light on the dock mean? Ask Gatsby

Leonardo DiCaprio played Jay Gatsby in the 2013 movie.

"Persona chatbots" emerging on platforms like Character.AI can let students talk to James Madison about the U.S. Constitution, writes Alyson Klein on Education Week. They could ask Macbeth "if he’d thought through the consequences of murder" or "learn about migratory birds by interviewing a flock of Canadian geese."

Are they reliable? Probably not. They're sort of like historical impersonators at Colonial Williamsburg, only with more data and less sense. In a symposium, Kristen DiCerbo, the chief learning officer at Khan Academy, explained how the site's new bot, Khanmigo, could help a student reading The Great Gatsby talk to Gatsby about the the green light at the end of Daisy's dock.

Gatsby (Khanmigo) answered: “The green light represents my longing for Daisy, the love of my life, my desire to be reunited with her, and it symbolizes the American dream in the pursuit of wealth, status, and happiness. Now, tell me, sport: Have you ever had a dream or a goal that seemed just out of reach?”

Pam Amendola, a high school English teacher in Georgia, doesn't want tools that give students answers, she told Klein. But she sees other uses. For example, before students read Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, about the Salem witch trials, a Millerbot or one of the characters could explain life in Puritan Massachusetts.

Klein interviewed a Barack Obama chatbot. He got a lot wrong. "Often it shared inaccurate information or contradicted itself," she writes. "Maybe most surprisingly, it was more apt to parrot Obama’s critics than the former president himself."

She asked "Obama" for his "view on the Common Core standards."

The idea behind Common Core was great — that we would set national education standards that were clear, and would be an objective way of measuring whether children were learning and meeting expectations. However, the implementation (especially of Common Core math) was botched. Common Core math was overly abstract and complex. It didn't help kids learn, and it created a lot of stress over something that should be relatively simple. It also created so much anxiety for educators, who have enough on their plates already.

"This is a reflection of what Obama’s critics have said about Common Core, not what Obama himself said," Klein points out.

Common Core was billed as "state standards," for one thing.

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