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iDare Brings Interdisciplinary Teams Together to Tackle Information Challenge
The School of Information Studies (iSchool) has launched a new initiative for students—iDare—a series of information-focused challenges. The first event was held at Hinds Hall earlier this month with a theme of “Future Justice.”
Organizers in the iSchool partnered with the Collaboratory for Data Equity, Social Healing, Inclusive Futures and Transformation (CODE^SHIFT) group, based in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, to challenge participants to use generative artificial intelligence (AI), specifically the text-to-image AI Midjourney, to create eight to 10-page comic books. Teams were asked to focus on the notion of how we may live with and around artificial intelligence. Teams competed for $3,000 in cash prizes and were judged by a panel of faculty experts.
“Information plays a role in so many dimensions of human life—from the arts and social life to medicine and sports,” says associate professor Jaime Banks, who organized the event. “The aim of the iDare series is to help highlight some of these intersections and how our students can think critically and creatively about them.”
“When Jaime approached me to partner with the iDARE challenge, I immediately said yes. Innovative ideas emerge when people work collaboratively. AI is something that can be mysterious and even scary for those not familiar with it,” says Srivi Ramasubramanian, professor and Endowed Chair in the Newhouse School and founder and director of CODE^SHIFT. “iDARE’s ‘future justice’ theme helped students reflect on the challenges and benefits of AI in a fun and creative way.”
The participants included students from the iSchool, College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS), Newhouse School, Whitman School of Management, College of Arts and Sciences, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) and ranged from undergraduates to Ph.D. students.
And this challenge wasn’t your typical student study project. The 45 participating students, divided into 10 interdisciplinary teams, were sequestered in Hinds Hall from 9 a.m. on a Saturday to 2 p.m. on Sunday to work on the challenge. This, says Banks, provided the perfect environment for collaboration.
“Over 29 hours of the competition, the 10 teams came up with some really thoughtful, compelling and creative interpretations of the theme,” Banks says. “It was definitely a hefty undertaking for everyone involved—and the feedback from student challengers is that it was difficult, frustrating … and totally fun.”
The awards, presented on that Sunday evening, included technical composition (how well the team performed in creating what they envisioned, told a cohesive story and leveraged the formal features and conventions of comics as a medium); theme engagement (how well each diverse team came together to creatively interpret notions of future justice in life with AI); and challenger’s choice (the participants’ pick for the most outstanding comic).
Winners were Team CODE^SHIFT (technical composition); Team RiskRush (theme engagement) and Team IcyIce (challenger’s choice). All of the final comics can be viewed here.
Chelsea Brown, a television, radio and film major in the Newhouse School and a citizenship and civic engagement major in the Maxwell School, says her iDare experience was filled with lots of learning and motivation. She was on the CODE^SHIFT team comprised of Newhouse, Whitman and VPA students.
“None of us knew anything about AI, but we did know how to create an impactful story,” she says. Going into the challenge, Brown thought the 29-hour timeframe seemed excessive. “We ended up falling asleep in Hinds at 3 a.m., woke up at 7 a.m. and submitted the assignment five minutes before the deadline,” she says.
Brown served as the team leader. In that role, she planned out the 29 hours, delegated tasks and made sure are images were consistent with the theme of the story.
Her team’s story, “Not So Distant Future,” was a commentary on the potential effects recent legislation surrounding book banning and curriculum restrictions in Southern states can have on students’ understanding of American history. The team won the $1,000 prize in the technical composition category, which measured the consistency of its characters/aesthetics, image composition, alignment to texts and visuals, and structure/conventions for storytelling.
“The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is that you don’t need to be a coder or an iSchool major to understand AI. I believe that AI is going to be a critical part in the future of storytelling and should be included in all of the colleges’ curricula,” she says.
Keisha Rorimpandey, a senior civil engineering major in ECS, collaborated on the team with three other women who were data science master’s degree students. “I enjoyed the IDare challenge. I am a creative person and use AI daily (ChatGPT, etc.) but really don’t know much about it. I wanted to see how I can create art with it,” she says. “The challenge really did allow me to be creative but also surprisingly trained me how to utilize the right words for descriptions. AI is a technology that uses words to understand what the user wants, and my team members and I were not prepared for that. I learned a lot from this experience, but mostly how important it is to be able to communicate with the AI bot with clear, descriptive English words.”
Banks says the event was a success. “Not only did the challengers show up, but they showed up. Every team that competed actually finished (which is a feat in itself), but each finished comic was remarkably thoughtful, creative and represented how they mastered the complexity of this information challenge. All of the teams learned how to productively communicate with a generative AI.”
“Through this practical and collective experiential learning opportunity, students from a variety of backgrounds learned to work together across differences. As an organizer, I am really proud of the absolutely amazing final presentations by all the teams,” says Ramasubramanian, who also served as a judge. “To hear them talk through their interpretation of the theme, the ways in which they overcame difficulties and the learnings that came out of their involvement was heartwarming.”
The next iDare challenge will be held in Spring 2024. Watch for announcements this fall for details.