Collaborating with ChatGPT on writing my “computational thinking” book as a graphic novel

Three panels from a graphic novel style illustration of how one might look up a word in a dictionary

Over drinks at the faculty club last night I mentioned that I was trying to come up with an innovative medium for my book on computational thinking. Something interactive or multimedia or some combination that’s not been tried before I said. My colleague, S., said “why not do it as a graphic novel?” I was intrigued, but I’m more an artist manqué than artist and so it felt like a stretch. But an intriguing one.

So this morning I sat down with another colleague, ChatGPT, and asked whether it might be able to help. Ever eager, it said it could and showed me an example of its work.

This looked like fun, so I looked for a short passage from the book that we might experiment with. I prompted ChatGPT with the following. The “text” is actually a transcript of a video I did for a class sometime during the pandemic.

Excellent. I’m working on a book that is an introduction to computational reasoning. So it won’t be a graphic novel with a plot, per se, but an instructional, didactic document. I want to experiment with different approaches to telling the “story.” Let’s just see how it goes with this short passage. It’s from a chapter called “thinking slowly” that introduces algorithmic thinking and generating simple instructions based on a set of commands that a machine can follow. In this “scene” I’m musing about how one looks up a word in the dictionary. The didactic goal is to have the reader (student) really stop and think about the underlying process that one automatically and intuitively applies (it’s sort of a variation of binary search).

Here’s the existing text: Let’s stop and think: how DOES ONE look up a word in the dictionary? I need to look up the word “concatenate” so I open the dictionary randomly. The top word is “macroeconomic,” so concatenate is in front of that. So now I split the pages in front of this page in about half and examine the page. The top word here is “cyclamate” so concatenate is still in front of where I am. So I divide those pages in half, and now I’ve got “California Poppy.” My word is after this so I’m gonna go backwards a bit. Now I have “cast” so concatenate is still further back. Next I read “churl” which is still not far enough and then “commodity” so concatenate is still further on. But now I’ve got “Corinthians,” so I’ve gone too far. I go back a few pages and I’ve got “contemplative”; concatenate is still in front of that. A few more pages back, “congruently,” not quite. Now “Conemaugh” and “concerto” so concatenate should be in here somewhere. It is not on the right side page because it goes from “concerto” to “concretize” so my word is on the left between “con amore” and “concentrate” so my word should be on this page. I just start at the top here with “con amore” “con anima” “conation” “con brio” “concanavalin”?! Now that’s a new word to me: “either of two crystalline globulin is occurring in the Jack bean.” Wow, who knew? And then there’s concatenate “to link together in a series or chain.” There we are; job done. What can you come up with in the graphic novel format for this?

There was some back and forth and it never managed to get the captions and speech/thought bubbles quite right so I edited the text of those, but here’s what we got after about 45 minutes of work. Promising, to say the least.

Author: Dan Ryan

I've been an Academic Program Director at, a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. My current mission is to figure out how to reorganize higher education and exploit technology so that we can teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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