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AI’s Growing Influence in Higher Education

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With AI use growing across higher ed, it’s important that institutions approach it as a tool to free up staff and faculty time for the work AI can’t do. 

With AI steadily integrating in the higher education space, leaders must stay abreast of emerging trends and work to understand the associated concerns and opportunities to effectively serve learners and adapt the institution accordingly. In this interview, Anthony Lee discusses how AI is shaping the higher ed space, some common challenges it presents and trends leaders should be aware of.   

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How are you seeing AI shape the current higher ed landscape? 

Anthony Lee (AL): Everyone’s been talking about AI for so long, with newer and newer generative AI emerging daily, especially in education. I have started testing GPT-4o to explore its different use cases, and it’s truly phenomenal. The accelerated progression of its functionality, development and usability has significantly advanced the realm of higher education and our instructional approach in many ways. 

Educators need to take a step back to see how they can leverage and utilize AI for student teaching and learning, not only within programs but also for organizational operations. The administration, leadership, staff and advisors can all benefit from AI use. It’s an incredible tool that enhances how we interact and support students—both inside and outside the classroom. 

Evo: How are you using AI specifically?  

AL: I used it, for example, to prepare for this interview. I considered the questions you might ask and the answers I might want to provide. I jotted down all my ideas and used AI to summarize what I had written. It helped me organize my thoughts more clearly and strategically. I’ve also used it in emails to adjust the tone, but there are tons of ways to apply the technology. 

Evo: What are some challenges or possible fears around AI and higher ed? 

AL: As a higher educational institution, academic integrity is paramount and ensuring students achieve their learning outcomes is crucial. One concern across the education sector is the potential for students to plagiarize. What is the ethical use of AI? How do you use AI to amplify the knowledge you are putting into it?  

That’s an area we focus on as an institution in terms of academic leadership. Our chief academic officer, deans and program chairs are all on top of this and working closely with our faculty to ensure our students use AI responsibly. We emphasize how AI should be used to support learning and what guardrails must be in place to ensure ethical usage.  

Evo: How do you see AI shaping student learning and its success?  

AL: We’re in the beginning stages of understanding how AI can enhance and benefit student learning. Personalizing the learning experience is huge. There’s immense potential to customize how we deliver education to students and how we can tailor it to their learning preferences. AI can help evaluate student comprehension and support their grasp of challenging concepts. By individualizing education to students’ career interests and offering relevant assignments, case studies and simulation scenarios, we can provide practical learning experiences. This approach helps students apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations, enhancing their career readiness. The more customized the learning experience, the more engaging it is for students. And increased engagement leads to better learning outcomes by homing in on what students need to improve and excel in. 

Evo: How do you think AI will shape student support services specifically? 

AL: On the admission and academic advising side, we have advisors talking to students all day, every day. Many of these conversations happen over the phone. By pulling the transcripts and performing conversation intelligence analysis, we can identify the biggest concerns students are discussing with advisors. Seeing the areas where students ask for the most support help us pinpoint the areas to focus on. 

AI can quickly analyze these conversations to determine what we’re doing well and where we need to improve. In student support, it all comes back to increasing engagement. When students feel engaged and supported, they are more likely to commit to the institution and complete their programs, which ultimately leads to higher retention and graduation rates. 

Evo: What are some of the ethical implications around AI and education, and how do you think higher ed should approach them? 

AL: It all circles back to plagiarism and ensuring students use AI appropriately. Of course, as the challenge of detecting plagiarism in the AI era grows more apparent, it becomes imperative that we cultivate academic integrity through exemplary behavior rather than rely solely on enforcement measures. That realization enabled our faculty to see the advantages of AI-empowered objective assessments that analyze both student and program learning outcomes. 

Another important approach is maintaining live human interaction. AI can’t replace the value of human interaction, so there still needs to be a human component to address concerns effectively. One advantage of AI is its ability to handle lower-level administrative tasks, freeing up more time to focus on the students. 

Evo: What are some trends you expect to see when it comes to AI and the role it’s starting to play in higher ed? 

AL: Conversation intelligence is huge. Efficiently creating content for both marketing and internal/external communications is essential. We need to ensure we are emphasizing the points that matter to students. 

Tutoring is another significant aspect. Having a virtual tutor available 24 hours a day will be highly effective in supporting student learning. We’re already seeing this with the latest versions of generative AI. Customized learning can also be taken to the next level, especially in preparing students for careers and jobs. 

The knowledge and analytics behind what students learn in classrooms and internships are crucial. We must ensure the skills employers seek are integrated into the classroom experience. The ability to use generative AI to create assignments, simulations, lesson plans and case studies efficiently will revolutionize how many institutions leverage AI. 

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add?  

AL: When discussing generative AI and higher education, the focus should remain on curriculum development, teaching and learning. However, higher ed institutions are also organizations, and it’s crucial for every organization to explore how AI can enhance efficiency across all departments. 

We’re using AI in the president’s office and across the leadership team, encouraging its use throughout the institution. Ultimately, this approach allows staff to focus more on students. By delegating tasks that AI can easily handle, staff can better support students, ensuring teaching and learning drive success.