Opportunities and challenges of AI in higher education

Nhi Nguyen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
|
May 16, 2023
Table of Contents

The emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI), specifically AI generative tools has spread fear across the education sector over the past months. Institutions share one primary concern that AI adoption would challenge the existence of valuable academic paradigms: assessment, course design, activities, and more.

However, focusing on the challenges only distracts us from the many benefits AI can bring. Instead of neglecting AI, educators should take time to explore and experiment with this new technology, thus helping students to do the same thing. Most importantly, a smooth AI adoption process requires tremendous support and responsibilities from institutional leaders. What do these responsibilities entail?

According to the latest EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: Adopting and Adapting to Generative AI in Higher Ed Tech, most respondents revealed the AI tasks that educators take on can range from developing policies and guidelines for appropriate AI use, creating institution-wide strategies, consulting faculties on AI applications, to producing training and resources for faculty, staff, and leadership.

To address these responsibilities, institutions would require access to several support sources, including peer-based examples on the adoption processes and policies, up-to-date knowledge of AI, communities of practices, how to build trans-departmental collaboration and advocacy for the values guiding the use of AI.

In this article, we aim to highlight the challenges and opportunities of AI, to help faculties in crafting policies and strategies surrounding AI adoption.

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Opportunities of AI

“AI technologies are increasingly a viable way for institutions to save money and improve efficiency and workflows. The potential is growing for AI to address more complex and higher-stakes tasks.”

This is what has been emphasized in the Educause Horizon Report 2023 | Teaching and Learning edition when reflecting on the growth of AI.

Along with the increase in popularity, attitudes towards AI in higher education have gradually improved, as revealed in Educause QuickPoll. Educators and faculties have been taking the initiative to explore and experiment with AI, discovering plenty of use cases where AI can be utilized. In the QuickPoll, the respondents highlighted “4 common areas of work” in which generative AI can greatly benefit: Dreaming, Drudgery, Design, and Development. These use cases are also applicable to AI in general.

Furthermore, the potential of AI expands across many other educational segments, such as data analytics, productivity, and more. In the next section, we will explore the areas in higher education where AI can be a powerful aid.

AI for creativity and content Design

AI can be a wonderful assistant in curriculum development, by generating study content, examples, lesson plans, presentations, assignments, assessment rubrics, and more. For example, you can ask ChatGPT to develop a lesson plan based on the learning objectives you provide or create plenty of examples to support explanations of study concepts for students. Furthermore, several AI tools can help with creating or editing multimedia study content (images, videos, and documents). Ethan Mollick, Associate Professor at the Wharton School wrote a practical article on how AI tools can be used in different ways in content creation. Check the table below for suggestions of several tools for the idea and content generation process.

AI tools for content creation
Some AI tools for content creation. (Source: How to use AI to do practical stuff)

“AI is perfect for idea generation and can be extremely helpful in overcoming thought-blockers.” Educators can use AI to create plenty of new ideas and suggestions on learning activities, quiz questions, assessment criteria, and more.

Assessment is another area in which AI has proven to be extremely helpful. Drafting course rubrics, creating quiz questions, or case study scenarios are just three of several assessment aspects that AI can support.

Having AI generate initial ideas or the first draft of a lesson plan or course syllabus can save educators tremendous time throughout the course design process while exploring novel ways of teaching and learning. Overall, the use of AI tools for content creation and idea generation can be an effective way for educators to improve their productivity, efficiency, and creativity.

Promote inclusivity and accessibility

Quote image showing: The promise of AI-enabled applications is that they might facilitate a transition from“one size fits all” technology to scalable implementations of personalized learning experiences. – Educause Horizon Report 2023 | Teaching and Learning edition

The abrupt online transition over the past two years has prompted institutions to make many important realizations. Chief among these is the need to build an inclusive and accessible learning environment that addresses students’ diverse needs and mitigates learning barriers. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have been considered among the key missions at many institutions to achieve quality education. This means that faculties need to ensure students with different learning backgrounds, needs, and preferences have access to meaningful, equitable learning opportunities, as well as receive timely support and aid.

However, addressing these action points is undoubtedly challenging. Within a large student cohort and learners attending classes from various geographical locations, instructors face a large workload of time-consuming tasks such as grading exams, giving feedback, and assigning groups for collaborative projects, which leave them little time to personalize the learning experiences.

The capacity of AI tools to take over these laborious tasks and give faculties space and time to engage with students and focus on more challenging pedagogical tasks like nurturing real-life skills, analyzing data, and student evaluation. Below are some approaches in which educators can leverage AI to create inclusive, accessible learning experiences.

Provide instant, formative automated feedback on technical aspects of students’ writing such as grammar, spelling, citation, and content structure. This encourages students to actively review their work and make improvements while allowing instructors to tackle higher-order writing aspects like reasoning or argumentation. FeedbackFruits Automated Feedback is an example of a tool that harnesses AI to generate automatic writing feedback.

Answer lower-order questions from students, such as providing explanations, definitions, or examples of certain study concepts. Unlike search engines, AI presents the option to interact with the tools by asking follow-up questions until a satisfactory answer has been reached. Not only do students practice asking questions and autonomy, but they also need to critically evaluate whether the answers are correct or not

Increase productivity and efficiency with AI

Besides teaching and learning tasks, AI can be utilized to enhance many strategic and operational tasks in higher education.

Image illustration for increasing productivity with AI

24/7 student support. AI chatbots that can answer simple questions from students can be great assistants to IT help desks, which usually face a huge amount of queries every day. As these tools become more accurate and helpful, they can be adopted across faculties to help students access basic information and troubleshoot, allowing the IT team to investigate more serious cases.

Data-informed practice. AI technology is capable of gathering and processing large volumes of institutional data, thus generating holistic insights from these disparate data points. Using AI to identify and respond to potential dropouts has resulted in significant improvements in retention rates at Nova Southeastern University in the USA. Similarly, the University of Sydney implemented a comprehensive AI strategy that resulted in improved service and learning experiences for both current and prospective students, as well as staff members. These examples are just among many other successful use cases of utilizing AI for data insights.

Existing challenges

Regardless of the many benefits, AI presents institutions with certain ethical and pedagogical concerns to be considered.

Biased information and hallucinations

Since AI is trained on data, the underlying data could carry implicit or explicit biases that could result in discrimination against certain groups of people, such as minorities and women. This could reinforce existing societal inequalities and undermine the principles of equal opportunities and fairness in education.

It is easy for AI to create hallucinations or plausible facts, which are completely false content that look convincing. In other words, AI-generated content can be unreliable, and faculties as well as students need to establish the ability to critically evaluate these responses.

Data privacy

There is also a growing concern over data protection and privacy. The use of AI in higher education may require the collection and analysis of sensitive personal data, such as student's academic performance and behavioral patterns. The institutions that implement AI systems must ensure that the data collected is used for its intended purpose and is not misused or shared with third parties without consent.

Assessment change

“Nobody learns, nobody gains. If ever there was a time to rethink assessment, it’s now.” – Mike Sharples, in New AI tools that can write student essays require educators to rethink teaching and assessment
Quote image from Mike Sharples

The rise of AI has prompted institutions to depart from traditional assessment practices and switch to holistic evaluation practices that promote authenticity and lifelong learning. Such a transition indeed enhances the quality of assessment, yet it entails an increased workload for faculties regarding communication with staff and students, implementation of different assessment methods, documentation of assessment results, and such.

Employment

The integration of AI in higher education could result in job displacement for institutions, leading to ethical concerns regarding the impacts on the academic workforce. It is crucial to address these ethical concerns while adopting AI in higher education to ensure its responsible and equitable use.

Embrace the opportunities and challenges of AI

How can institutions embrace AI potential while minimizing the pitfalls? The best approach is to make sure faculties and students have a good understanding of AI and adapt the curriculum to embrace AI technology.

Focus on digital literacy training for both students and faculty

‍“Students are going to think and use this chatbot (Chat GPT) as if it is a know-all. That’s because it's a technology that is creating these things that sound really legitimate, they are going to assume that it is and take it at face value.” – said Austin Ambrose, a middle school teacher in Idaho.

Every second, a new digital tool, or technology is introduced, opening up new ways to access information, to complete time-consuming tasks. The ability to appropriately evaluate, assess, and utilize the technology and incoming information – or so-called digital literacy has emerged as a critical skill set for students. Accordingly, the curriculum needs to be adapted to help students develop this essential skill.

“Information literacy is the single most important skill to develop if we are to counter the misinformation that convincing AI-generated text can produce.” – Nancy Gleeson

In this article, we introduce a step-by-step guide to help faculties create and implement a successful AI introduction to students.

An adaptation of curriculum also requires proper professional training to help instructors develop a thorough understanding and skills to integrate advanced technologies. With the continuation and normalization of hybrid/ online learning, it is important that faculties develop certain mastery over the use of different technologies, including AI. Many institutions are investing more in training efforts so that faculty members can improve their instruction and course delivery.

Accommodate AI technology in the curriculum (teaching and learning)

Instead of seeing AI technology as a threat, many educators view this intervention as a great opportunity to enhance and scale effective teaching. Nancy Gleeson, Associate Professor at New York University Abu Dhabi reflected on the need for an AI-integrated curriculum:

“We need to embrace these tools and integrate them into pedagogies and policies. Lockdown browsers, strict dismissal policies, and forbidding the use of these platforms is not a sustainable way forward.”

When we held a webinar on learner-centered course design last month with Marine Roestel, Associate Director of Learning Systems Support at Central Michigan University, an attendee asked about the role of proctoring in ensuring the integrity of online courses, Marnie responded (and we fully agree):

“There are a lot of great tools and technology out there as a cheating deterrent. There is no foolproof system, unfortunately. If students are determined to find a way to cheat, they will find a way to cheat, unfortunately. Incorporating a variety of strategies into your assessments to deter cheating is probably the best method and setup.”

So how can institutions respond to the rise of AI technology? Marnie again gave an excellent remark:

“Rely on not just one tool but rely on several things: creating tasks that are open-ended questions or essays is probably a great strategy; randomizing questions and randomizing answers so that no two students are getting presented with the same set of questions or in the same order that's another way (...) Just depends on the goals and achievements of a particular assessment. Consider maybe changing the activity entirely where students work together, collaborate, and learn from each other. Discuss a particular question, and arrive at the answer together.”

There are many ways educators can incorporate AI technology into the curriculum to enhance the teaching and learning experience. In Chapter 3, we will dive into several practical strategies that utilize AI in the curriculum.

Conclusion

AI use in higher education is set to grow by 40% between 2021 and 2027, it is clear that institutions need to have a serious plan for adopting and integrating this technology.

Image illustration for embracing opportunities and challenges of AI

Nancy Gleeson, Associate Professor at New York University Abu Dhabi reflected on the need for AI integration in education:

“We need to embrace these tools and integrate them into pedagogies and policies. Lockdown browsers, strict dismissal policies, and forbidding the use of these platforms is not a sustainable way forward.”

Despite the challenges and ethical concerns that arise with the use of AI in higher education, the benefits of this technology are numerous and cannot be ignored. AI can play a significant role in enhancing learning experiences, improving productivity and efficiency, and promoting inclusivity and accessibility. Therefore, it is important for institutions to carefully plan and integrate AI while ensuring its responsible and equitable use. By harnessing the power of AI and new technologies, faculties can create better learning environments that are inclusive, flexible, and responsive to each and every student.

AI technology is never going to bring an end to education, it only offers great potential to accelerate the educational transformation. It is time that institutions harness the power of AI, of new technologies to create better learning environments that are inclusive, flexible, and responsive to each and every student.

Institutions will have to strategize on how to use AI to enhance efficiency, encourage learning, foster creativity, drive innovation, and facilitate growth while ensuring that fairness and equity are preserved.

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