Find out how two high schoolers adapted their creative processes after having an AI assistant.
Who doesn’t want to say they’re a published author? It’s a lofty goal that many people aspire to reach, even from a young age. However, it’s a difficult goal to actually hit. Can AI make that process easier? And with so much rhetoric around AI in schools these days, how would teenagers approach the idea of using AI to write a real book? Would they take the easy way out with AI or lean on their human creativity more?
We wanted to find out.
So with the help of entrepreneur and friend of the publication Amanda Slavin, The Prompt partnered with Written Out Loud. The organization is dedicated to empowering children and teenagers to produce full books from start to finish and grow as writers along the way. We gave two students free access to the enterprise tier of Jasper and under the guidance of their WOL program leaders, they spent the summer writing their own children’s books with the help of an AI assistant. Both the leaders and students even got custom training from a Jasper Scale Customer Success Manager, Cailin DeCort, to get familiar with the tool.
On episode 6 of the Prompt Podcast, I spoke with two of those program leaders — WOL’s Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer Jgo and Data and Assessment Lead Cassie Gilmore — about their thoughts on how the project went as they worked with the two students.
This article covers the major insights from that conversation and the project as a whole. And rather than being a puff piece for Jasper, it’s meant to be a peek into how generative AI in education could actually work when there’s dedication around using it effectively. It’s a look at how a creative — even if that creative is too young to drive — can use generative AI to strengthen their own creativity when they know how and when to use these tools. It’s further proof that AI can make for a great assistant but cannot replace human ingenuity.
Let’s dive in (and be sure to read to the end to see snippets of the students’ stories)!
Written Out Loud was founded around three years ago in Fairfield, CT and uses virtual Hollywood-style writer’s rooms (we might thank CEO and Co-founder Josh Shelov, an Emmy-winning screenwriter and filmmaker for that) to teach students. The program uses storytelling, collaboration, games, and other methods to make published authors out of curious students (and even those who dislike writing).
“One of the big things that really strikes me about Written Out Loud is that our first lesson is on courage,” said Gilmore. “We start off by showing kids that they have a voice and that they are heard.”
The two students in this project are in the 10th graders from Maryland and Colorado respectively. Both have participated in WOL workshops before. Since they’re familiar with the voice-building Gilmore mentioned, they were a little skeptical about using AI because they thought it would diminish their human expression.
“They know what it’s like to get inspired to be creative and write,” said Jgo. “So when we asked them to be part of this project, they had a healthy skepticism of how AI can actually fit them in that process. They essentially said, ‘Wait, you just built me up to say that I'm great and I can do this. Why do I need a computer to help?’”
Jgo suspects that some of the ongoing fear and uncertainty around generative AI ruining creativity may have creeped into the students up to that point. And they weren’t the only ones who were initially hesitant to dive right in.
“I am not tech savvy,” said Gilmore. “So I was a little nervous coming into this. When Jgo asked me to join on this project, I was really excited but also a little nervous because this is not my realm of excellence at all.”
The good news is the formal training from a Jasper customer success manager alleviated a lot of those concerns for the students and Gilmore once they learned the AI’s capabilities and how to use it.
After the Jasper training in June, the group spent a few sessions putting their new AI tool to the test. They played games like 20 Questions and created choose-your-own-adventure narratives with Jasper, to great effect. Jgo said those moments were big because they made everyone feel more comfortable using AI without training wheels.
“We spent a lot of time testing the limits of Jasper before we really got into writing,” Jgo said. “And I think that was really important to create some trust with Jasper. It seems a little bit strange to say we needed to create trust with a computer. But I think that that was an important piece of the puzzle.”
When the writing started, the students asked Jasper to generate copy for their stories. However, the results came out flat and didn’t align with their tones of voice.
“They felt like what was in their head didn't quite match what Jasper outputted,” Jgo said.
Soon, the students adapted to have more of a dialogue with the tool. They added additional context through multiple prompts so Jasper understood their goals a little better. They learned that it was hard to get the perfect output with a single prompt, and that’s an understandable challenge that a lot of initial users face.
“It seems a little bit strange to say we needed to create trust with a computer. But I think that that was an important piece of the puzzle.”
More context, prompt tweaking, and training the tool on their preferred tone and the narrative details of their story led to greater results. But even still, there was some frustration. At one point, both students “threw up their hands and said, ‘This is too hard. It's easier for me to actually write his story myself,’” according to Jgo. They were encouraged to continue writing the tried and true way and they did for a while. Then they hit some creative roadblocks they weren’t sure how to overcome. Jgo and Gilmore provided guidance but said they should include Jasper in their conversations to help brainstorm and beat writer’s block.
In one example, a student wanted a witch in her story to help the main character treat a wound with a salve made of herbs and other elements found in the woods. She wanted inspiration from, or to outright mention, true-to-life elements used in natural healing solutions. Rather than combing through article after article, she asked Jasper and immediately got a detailed list tailored to her goals. This allowed her to not only continue her narrative but strengthen it — all without sacrificing her creative voice or spending extra time researching.
From this point, Jgo and Gilmore said the students had a better understanding of what’s, in my opinion, the most fundamental part of using any generative AI tool to write: that it’s their story and they’re still in the driver’s seat but AI can be a great creative assistant.
Due to their initial skepticism, the students may not have taken advantage of AI fully if they didn’t see first-hand that the tool is just that — a tool. Their mindset changed when they understood that their creativity was ultimately their most powerful, irreplicable asset and that AI tools are meant to simply support the humans in control.
“It has been very interesting to see the students fluctuate back and forth between feeling like AI is the magical writing tool they have always been waiting for and a tool that looks shiny on the outside, but just can't keep up with their inherent creativity,” Jgo said.
“But both students were able to say, ‘This is 100% my story,’” he continued. “‘There’s just this really great tool that can keep me from having to read seven different articles for one paragraph in my story.’ So it was a shift in not just the way that they think about AI but the way they feel about AI.”
That transition in mindset didn’t happen overnight. It required trust and learning to accept that they’re on the same team as the tech tool. And these are learnings rooted in trial, error, and exploring the best (and not so great) use cases for the technology.
The leaders said the students also came to embrace the idea that AI could be a spark for inspiration that melts writer’s block, like the student whose witch needed medicinal herbs.
“She got inspiration from Jasper in the same way that she would get inspiration from a conversation, or looking out her window, or from her grandmother who made medications,” Jgo said.
Gilmore noted that having an AI assistant also allowed the students to link ideas that they maybe couldn’t otherwise.
“In the beginning, the storytellers had elements in their brains that they wanted as part of their story but they seemed so far apart that they couldn't possibly be a part of the same story,” she said. “Through the conversations with Jasper, some of those ideas were able to be connected. And it was really great to be able to use it in that way.”
Gilmore also went on to say that generative AI platforms can help hone the skills of aspiring creatives who may not be so confident in their writing or their voice.
In the end, the adolescent authors decided to write and illustrate the final versions of their stories from a clean slate without Jasper providing actual text or imagery. Instead, they used it as an assistant to help with research and inspiration while their brains did most of the creative heavy lifting. Jgo said everyone was curious on whether Jasper could competently write a worthwhile book if the team had the time to train it. But for now, everyone was satisfied doing things the old fashioned way using Jasper to lend a hand when needed.
The students achieved their goals of writing children’s books, it just happened a little faster and more efficiently with Jasper’s help. They also learned that AI is not a cybernetic, voice-stealing content mastermind pulled straight out of a science fiction novel. Generative AI tools are very powerful and they’ll get better at producing more human-like outputs with time. But this project with Written Out Loud proves that AI can never fully match human creativity, even that of a high schooler.
Be sure to check out the podcast episode with the full conversation to get even more insights from this awesome project!
Nia sucked in the afternoon air. The citrus scent of the bushes and the freshness of the wildflowers on the edge of the woods filled her nose and drew her further into the shrubbery. She held the encyclopedia in between the folds of her sweater. “Woo!!!”
Michael's warning calls drowned under Jackie’s screeches of excitement next to Nia. “I’m the king of the jungle!”
Sonnie, on the other hand, scaled down the slope. His fingers curled around the straps of his backpack as the sides of his boots coated with dirt. “There is no jungle here!” he called out with a whimper.
Once the group got their bearings at the foot of the slope, Nia opened her encyclopedia. She pointed to an image of a bushy-tailed creature with its arms curved like a T-Rex. “The Eastern Grey Squirrel,” she read out loud to her friends. “The gray squirrel can be found in the eastern areas of the United States, as well as southern Canada…”
Before the young girl could continue reading, Jackie collapsed to the forest floor. Her groan echoed through the trees, sending a few birds flying from their nests. “But Niaaa! Squirrels aren’t anything new! I saw one while walking to your house!”
Nia couldn’t help but agree. Squirrels were a bit boring. She thought long and hard, before turning towards Michael and asking, “What do you think about squirrels?” Michael didn’t realize she’d asked a question until a few seconds later. He was busy helping Sonnie ward off roly-polies.
“Oh.” He took a look at the book. In the picture, the squirrel had cheeks full of acorns, with more in its grasp. He shrugged. “Why don’t you at least try to find some? No harm in it.”
His sister’s eyes widened. “That’s right!” She immediately tossed the book to the side. Reaching into her adventure pack, she pulled out the blue and orange details of a pair of binoculars.
Sonnie and Jackie quickly followed suit, pulling out tiny cameras and more binoculars. Soon, the forest lost all human commotion. The only sounds left were the snapping of branches as the kids crouched to steady themselves. No one made a peep.
The wind took Riley to the outstretched arms of the greatest oak tree in the forest, and it left her there for the rest of the fall. The wind disappeared, combining with the rest of the blowing winds, indistinguishable from any other gust. Riley was left in the welcoming embrace of the great oak, which seemed to croak underneath the body of its new visitor.
Riley rustled through the top layer of leaves, trying to climb down from the height she had been left on. Some leaves flew off as she climbed, too delicately attached to the branches to stay on with any amount of pressure. Riley tried to catch them, to save them, but they were too far out of her reach. She tried climbing more carefully, but the leaves continued to break off, brittle in the cold of the season. One after one, the leaves drifted off until Riley had climbed down the tree and stood on the blanket underneath her that had been created.
She frantically tried to pick up each leaf and connect it back to the branches, but she could not. The leaf would not return to its spot. She grabbed handfuls of leaves and tossed them at the trunk of the tree, hoping that the wood might retrieve them. They only floated off of the trunk, indistinguishable from every other leaf on the floor. Riley sat there for a moment amongst the fallen, not knowing what to do.
I want to remind you that Riley had never had the pleasure of seeing a forest in the autumn. She had never learned of the beauty that would sweep through the treetops, turning the green into fiery seas of red and gold. As I’m sure you know, this happens every year when fall rolls around. Fall is for when things fall. But they always get up again. The leaves return, the fallen rise. Riley never knew the intricacies of nature. All she knew was that the leaves around her were falling. All she knew was the crunching under her feet and the decomposing land. All she knew was that everything was falling, and it wasn’t getting back up. Yet, after the initial shock of the situation, I believe that Riley’s first autumn here would be one of the most memorable experiences for both her and anyone who dares to remember alongside Riley.
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