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AI in higher education: 8 key strategies for institutional leaders

Nhi Nguyen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
August 7, 2023
Table of Contents

Without doubt, AI is no longer just a come-and-go innovative trend. It has quickly become a staple of our daily lives, promising to revolutionize every sector, especially higher education.

Not only are students using AI, but faculties soon realize its potential and start to embrace it more and more. 67% of higher education staff members are using generative AI for their work, with 96% foresee ongoing use in the future, according to the recently-published Educause quick poll survey on Adopting and Adapting to Generative AI in Higher Ed Tech.

With the widespread of AI technology across the campus, it is absolutely critical that institutional leaders acknowledge and embrace it to increase productivity and efficiency. However, it is easier said than done. So many questions need to be answered and addressed by educational leaders in order to build an AI-friendly campus.

From our research and conversations with institutional leaders on the role of AI in higher education, we summarized several key takeaways to consider when embracing AI technology across the campus.

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8 things institutional leaders need to consider when embracing AI

1. Acknowledge the power and potential of AI

One of the big misconceptions frequently made by institutions is dismissing AI as another passing trend. As AI is being integrated into various tools and platforms to support and accelerate workflow, productivity, and more, it is hard to ignore its significant impact on higher education. That’s why the very first thing institutional leaders need to do upon embracing AI is to acknowledge the capacity and potential of AI to influence every aspect of the educational sector.

2. Redesign policies to accommodate AI

The rise of AI has raised great concern over academic dishonesty, with institutions fearing that students will become lazy thinkers and heavily depend on AI tools to complete their work. Plagiarism detection platforms are regarded as useful solutions to allow faculties to detect AI-generated content and prevent cheating.

These solutions; however, only provide short-term remedies. AI technology is not and will not be the last to disrupt the learning practices, because the way education is provided does not inspire students to learn and there will always be some who look for an easy way out.

According to Dr. John Fitzgibbon – Associate Director for Digital Learning Innovation at Boston College, academic dishonesty is the least that institutions should be worried about:

“If we're worried about tools and technology taking over and defeating us, that's the wrong way to think about it. We need to think about humans and technology working together. So we've got to figure out how to work with AI technology.”

Rather than preventing students from using AI, institutions are investing in establishing transparent AI policies to encourage AI literacy and harness AI potential among staff and students.

Michael Vaughn, Education, and Adoption Specialist at Open LMS expressed great support for the establishment of an appropriate AI use policy.

“Failing to develop policies and guidelines around AI now will almost certainly lead to a campus-wide AI ban later. And if you reach the point of banning AI on campus, you’ve deprived your students of the opportunity to develop what will likely be an extremely marketable skill in the future.”

In fact, many institutions are taking action to devise new policies regarding the use of AI throughout the campus. The Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, has gathered the vice-chancellors to come up with 5 new principles to help “shape institution and course-level work to support the ethical and responsible use of generative AI, new technology and software like ChatGPT”. Lance Eaton, the Director of Faculty Development & Innovation at College Unbound has compiled several AI guidelines developed by different institutions.

Dr. Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group emphasized the importance of developing and issuing AI policies throughout the institutions:

“The transformative opportunity provided by AI is huge and our universities are determined to grasp it. This statement of principles underlines our commitment to doing so in a way that benefits students and staff and protects the integrity of the high-quality education Russell Group universities provide.”

Once the institution-wide policies are completed, universities should encourage academic departments to apply these within their own context.

3. Support faculties in mastering AI

Another critical factor in a smooth AI adoption is to provide training for the staff. Sufficient knowledge and skills regarding AI will make it easier for the faculty members to integrate the technology into their curriculum, at the same time guiding and supporting students to use AI appropriately.

Ethan Mollick, Associate Professor at the Wharton School has worked with his team have put together a free crash course on practical AI for students and educators.

To help faculty members in the transition into the AI era, Michael Vaughn at Open LMS offers the course – The ChatGPT Approach: AI-Enabled L&D Strategies for Success.

Besides personal development courses, institutions also compiled resources and guides on the use of AI in higher education. For example, the Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning at Berkeley University of California put together an insightful page on AI generative tools, the Articles and Resources ChatGPT developed by the University of Calgary is also a great reference source for faculties.

4. Increase productivity in administrative tasks with AI

“AI is great at analyzing incredibly large datasets to find patterns that are otherwise difficult to spot” – Michael Vaughn.

That’s why AI can play a critical role in upgrading the quality of many educational tasks besides curriculum development, such as admission, human resources, recruitment, and more.

  • Support admission process: Faculties can save time processing student application data and identifying potential applicants with the help of AI. Furthermore, AI tools can conduct predictive analysis, which allows institutions to foresee students with higher admission likelihood and better allocate financial aid for promising candidates.
  • Manage student progress: The capacity of predictive analysis from AI can be of great use in tracking student progress and providing timely support. Based on various data points, AI generates an overview of student's behavior, and flags those who struggle with classes, suffer from mental issues, and more. By utilizing AI’s predictive analysis, institutions can cultivate a holistic, inclusive assessment environment where students’ performance is not only measured by numerical grades.
  • Reduce drop-out rates: With AI, faculties can identify in advance which students are at risk of dropping out, and also provide personalized instructions and support to enhance the learning experiences.

5. Integrate AI into curriculum development

Incorporating AI into every aspect of curriculum design (learning objectives, activities design, assessment, etc.) shows great potential to enhance the learning experience, particularly in nurturing critical real-life skills like critical thinking or AI feedback.

First of all, AI is a powerful aid to upgrade the teaching process. Faculties can utilize many available AI tools for multiple content creation tasks such as drafting learning objectives, lesson plans, and activities, and even creating study materials like readings, audio, or videos.

For example, Dr. John Fitzgibbon at Boston College used a generative AI tool to transform his assignment. Instead of asking students to explain a concept, Dr. Fitzgibbon generated a ChatGPT answer and asked students to critically reflect on it.

“Nobody learns, nobody gains. If ever there was a time to rethink assessment, it’s now. Instead of educators trying to outwit AI Transformers, let’s harness them for learning.” – Mike Sharples

Besides curriculum updates, institutions need to transform how students are assessed in response to the increasing use of AI. This is the opportunity for faculties to invest more in alternative evaluation methods such as authentic assessment, programmatic assessment, and more. Institutions can also use AI to accelerate many assessment tasks, such as brainstorming assessment ideas, crafting rubrics, writing instructions, and providing timely feedback. Danny Liu, Associate Professor at the University of Sydney along with his colleagues put together a detailed guide to help ensure sustainable assessment upgrade in response to AI.

6. Support personalized learning

Issuing personalized instructions is no longer a dream for institutions thanks to the potential that AI offers.

Feedback is a crucial contributor to students’ learning and success. However, it is indeed an arduous, time-consuming task for faculties to deliver constructive, quality feedback to each student. This can now be addressed with the help of AI, as the technology can generate quick, timely, and personalized feedback on students’ work. FeedbackFruits Automated Feedback is among the tools that harness AI power to offer instant formative feedback on technical aspects of students’ academic writing. The tool would scan the essays and generate comments on different technical writing criteria such as grammar, spelling, citations, and such.

FeedbackFruits Automated Feedback Coach

Information fatigue is a real problem for higher ed students. Whether it’s course material, administrative info, or extracurricular announcements, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks.

To ensure a meaningful learning experience for students, timely and efficient support is absolutely critical. Problems regarding both academic aspects and mentality would arise during the study course, and faculties need to be there for the students. This is easier said than done. With so many tasks on hand already, it can be overwhelming for instructors to address all the incoming queries in a timely manner. AI technology can provide the answer to this problem. Several institutions have realized the potential of AI in the form of chatbots, which can respond to students’ questions by analyzing previously asked questions, study materials, digitally published guides, and university forums.

AI also demonstrates capacities to be a personal tutor for students, which guides students in giving feedback, explaining the key concepts, or highlighting room for improvement. Automated Feedback Coach is a plug-in that automatically provides tips and suggestions for students to deliver quality feedback. For example, Khan Academy is testing Khanmigo – an AI-powered assistant to help students with different study tasks.

7. Prepare students for the AI world

“AI breakthroughs are already changing the way we work and it's crucial students get the new skills they need to build a fulfilling career… And if you reach the point of banning AI on campus, you’ve deprived your students of the opportunity to develop what will likely be an extremely marketable skill in the future. That may even put your students at a disadvantage compared to competitors.” - Michael Vaughn

Without a doubt, the demand for AI skills will only increase in the future as companies are realizing the benefits that both AI and the ability to utilize this technology can offer. AI literacy; therefore, should be considered a key competency that students need to develop throughout their learning. So what skills does AI literacy involve and how can institutions help nurture these?

Organizing AI courses and providing resources are effective ways to cultivate a strong understanding of the technology among the students. The University of Florida has been providing an introductory course on AI for every student regardless of their major. At the University of Sydney, the students were even involved by instructors in creating an AI resource for themselves.

Effectively using AI to complete different tasks is another critical skill within AI literacy development. Faculties can organize activities where students need to deliver a final product (video, essay, presentation, etc.) with the help of AI tools. Most importantly, students should receive detailed instructions on how to adopt the technology, at the same time be motivated to explore the tools on their own.

Not only do students know how to use AI, but they must also be able to analyze and identify the biases in the AI content critically. That’s why the learning activities should be designed to promote critical evaluation and feedback on AI. Nathan Riedel, Instructional Technologist at Fort Hays State University proposed several example tasks that involve self, peer, and group assessment to encourage students to reflect on AI content and modify them.

For more suggestions and tips on how to equip students with AI skills, you can read up on the following resources:

8. Foster open conversations on AI

Educators have been increasingly adopting AI, as well as sharing their experiences on their personal platforms. Such effort and its impact can be multiplied with the support from institutional leaders. Open AI conversations, where faculty staff and students engage in exchanging opinions and ideas to embrace AI should be significantly encouraged at both departmental and institutional levels. Florida University’s Professional Development Webinars have kickstarted the ChatGPT and Generative AI in Education Series, which gathers educators to discuss the role and implications of AI in teaching and learning. Lance Eaton, writer, educator, and instructional designer at College Unbound shared that his team launched an anonymous student survey to study the use of ChatGPT, at the same time involving students in developing AI usage policy.

Concluding thoughts

Instead of a threat, AI should be considered a promising factor in creating quality education that fosters inclusivity, equity, and lifelong learning. As long as institutions make an effort to understand and learn to master the technology, they can greatly optimize the teaching and learning process, by saving plenty of time from arduous tasks while offering students personalized, meaningful educational experiences.

For more insights, best practices, and success stories about AI implementation in higher education, check out our ebook "Leading in the age of AI: A guide for higher education".

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