Prompt Engineering. Pshh. It’s Just *Explaining*.

Prompt engineering?! Nah, it's just explaining things. Clearly.

There's no need to shy away from the seemingly mystical world of Prompt Engineering – it's actually a realm where teachers like us hold a superpower! This valuable skill isn't just for tech wizards; it's something we can use to create amazing AI-driven learning experiences for our students. 🌟

Prompt Engineering you say? 🤔

Software engineers love calling it Prompt Engineering because it makes us feel fancy. Indeed, I do feel fancy when I tell people I spent the weekend prompt engineering, but what's the reality of that – what's the actual experience of a weekend spent engineering those prompts? Well, all it means is I've spent the weekend explaining how to do something, mostly in plain English.

So is the name putting people off? Such a grandiose title might feel a little bit intimidating, and could even put off the people we most need to get involved – those who aren't as technical but have a great grasp of effective communication, clear instructing, and persuasive arguments.

You know. Teachers.

A New (better?) Mental Model

Prompt Engineering – turns out – is actually just a teacher superpower you already have: explaining how to do something. Clearly. Without ambiguity.

Here's a better mental model for you:

"… imagine that you're explaining something to a trainee teacher."

This trainee teacher is all book smarts and enthusiasm but has zero classroom experience, so your job is to clearly explain how they should deliver content, react to certain types of questions and provide the kind of feedback needed.

You might even want to specify a particular pedagogy you want to use. Do you want to leap on the concept of semantic waves? Tell the tutor what it is and how to do it effectively in the lessons they're involved in.

Maybe Communication is Key?

To get the best out of any AI tutor, we need to be able to clearly explain how to do something. In real life, that's easy, as we've had a lifetime of practice at interacting, explaining, and convincing people to do things. Thankfully the AI has learned to communicate by reading through all the text ever written, most of that is on the internet. That means that the AI has learned a bunch of communication strategies and what it should do if it encounters them:

  • 📢 Shouting: Surprisingly, if you want an AI to follow instructions that it seems to otherwise be ignoring, YOU CAN SHOUT AT IT and get an outcome that's more in line with what you want to happen. e.g., ALWAYS WRITE IN BRITISH ENGLISH, NEVER USE AMERICANISATIONS
  • 🥺 Emotional Manipulation: Shockingly, if you lay on the emotion, AIs tend to have sympathy and do a little bit more to help you out, for instance, I sometimes use My Nan isn't well and she'd absolutely love it if you could… to really push its buttons.

    My Nan's fine by the way. Thanks for checking in.
  • 😊 Politeness: Sometimes just asking it politely to do something will get you more of what you want; just being nice to the AI usually results in behaviour that's better suited to what you want. You get more with sugar than salt after all! e.g., It would be amazing if you could then give the student some feedback to improve their writing, thank you.
  • 🗣️ Directness: The opposite is also true; if you tell the AI what to do instead of asking nicely, it'll know that it can't opt out and give that part of the instruction more credence. e.g., When you start, you must give the user a list of options.
  • 📍 Location: The most important information comes at the end; we all know this, we often restate the key facts and questions for our students at the end of our writing, AI is no different and will pay more heed to the last part of a prompt.

So What, It’s Just… Talking?

Well, in essence, yes. The way you explain to an AI tutor how to do what you want it to do is just to… explain it. Plainly and clearly. We all have effective strategies for explaining concepts to people and telling them how to go about doing things already; this is just that – but with a text box.

Don't be scared. Try something new using that skill you've got for explaining things.

And if you want to see what AI tutors can do for you in the classroom, why not give Mindjoy a whirl?

David Morgan

David Morgan

Cardiff, UK