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Ramping Up AI Expertise in Your Organization

While it can appear daunting, AI has its place in higher education. But its proper implementation requires experimentation, safety considerations and recognition of the value it can bring.

In Part One, we addressed challenges, opportunities and fears around the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution. In nearly every organization, people are asking how to use AI most effectively to advance the organization. How do we understand, integrate, socialize and train our employees on AI to accelerate our embrace of the technology? These are big questions. AI crosses all disciplines and industries. As ubiquitous as it is, we have barely begun to leverage its power.

In higher education, AI is being applied to curricula and learning, new degree programs, research, scholarship, creative inquiry and business operations and processes. Integrating it into a higher education organization and introducing this type of broadly impactful technology to a campus community are daunting tasks. Here are some ways to get started: AI for Oone (self-learning on AI’s strengths, weakness and potential), AI for teams (especially transdisciplinary teams) AI for all (implementing organization-wide use of AI) and AI for good (avoiding pitfalls).

AI for One

The first step forward for most institutions is to offer employees an easy way to access central AI tools or a simple primer on signing up for an AI engine or subscription. We recommend engaging with AI daily, including fun conversations, for at least a month to become familiar with its capabilities. Try it out for common tasks. Tell it to write an essay on something you know, so you can evaluate its quality. Tell it to do something creative and check whether the answer feels fresh or conventional. Ask it to tell you a joke and see if you laugh. Have it edit and proofread for you. Does it correct grammar while retaining your voice or make more significant adjustments? Ask it to summarize an article or identify key topics from a set of responses on a survey. Tell it to write a children’s story or poem on a topic you make up. Some engines can create AI-generated images or art—ask it to make an image of something you know. Give it a math problem and check the answer. Ask it for citations on a topic and check whether they’re real and accurate. Paste it into an Excel spreadsheet and ask it a data question. Ask it to write a press release for your organization. Ask it to connect two divergent topics.

After a month, your employees should feel more confident using AI and be able to identify how it can help. You will also better understand its strengths and weaknesses—it has both. You will recognize ways it can help the teams in your organization.

AI for Teams 

Particular teams, especially in transdisciplinary collaboration, are leveraging AI for its benefits. AI can be helpful for repetitive tasks, enhanced decision-making, 24-hour availability, facilitating communication, training and onboarding, customized workflows, language translation, data security and compliance, predictive analytics and customer support. Many of these elements can free up time for individuals or teams to do more strategic engagement and planning. These areas are already being applied in corporate organizations.

Those topics translate easily into higher education. When freed from handling routine inquiries, our admissions team can focus quicker on more complex student issues that may require one-on-one personalized attention. Automating repetitive tasks frees faculty for more effective student engagement. University leadership teams can make better decisions. We can recruit international students with communication convenient for their time zones and native language. Our front-office workers can devote themselves to more sophisticated considerations rather than routine scheduling and notifications. Frequent training questions can be answered immediately, a feature that can also assist with flipped classrooms to enable more discussion. Education can be tailored to the student’s strengths and preferences. English-language learners can participate more fully in conversations. The vast compliance requirements in higher education can be more easily managed. Enrollment managers can use predictive clients to select and optimize classes.

AI technologies must be integrated to complement rather than replace human skills and decision-making. The team must remain vigilant in preventing harm or infiltration by bad actors through AI use. It must keep in mind the importance of ethics and transparency. Careful use of AI can elevate not only the team but also the whole organization.

AI for All

You can create a comprehensive approach to AI for your organization that includes how to implement the technology, ensures everyone has equitable access and training for the tools and comprises ethical and proprietary safeguards. Start by introducing AI concepts through symposiums, workshops, speaker events and individual access to experts for people who want to learn. Introduce your AI research, teaching and operations experts at a campus event. Focus on equipping faculty, staff and students with knowledge, skills and understanding to elevate comfort levels and foster appropriate use. Where you do not have resident experts, study the many articles available and invite external speakers to educate.

Create a task force or planning committee to address AI comprehensively or in particular areas such as classroom learning and teaching, research or business operations, as well as resource allocation. Review policies to ensure you have adequate guardrails for AI. Make sure you stay at the forefront.

Identify what you think students should know about AI in teaching and learning. Consult with partners about what the workforce will expect. Have students practice the one-month daily engagement you did. Should you require a course or credential? Consider AI as a tutor or professor. How can AI manage repetitive tasks to free time for more discussion, problem-solving and high-level professor-student engagement? Discuss AI’s impact on teaching and assessment and offer upskilling to faculty and staff.

In research and scholarship, AI itself can be the topic, but it can also assist in research across a host of topics. Make sure AI experts are on teams that impact research, including resource allocation and training. Take a cautious approach and check the work any LLMs you engage with produce. In addition, cite the use of AI tools in your work, so others may understand the implications and hopefully be curious about its use in their own scholarship.

In business practices and operations, leverage AI’s power in data analysis, decision-making, automation and predictive analytics, including stakeholder experiences such as student recruiting and marketing. Train employees to maximize effectiveness, minimize costs and position the institution for the future.

In strategy and governance, identify the opportunities, challenges and scope of AI use across campuses; establish clear principles including ethics, transparency and inclusive and equitable access; and ensure coordination, visibility and optimal resource allocation. Even if you are just beginning to engage with AI, it’s not too early to clarify these positions. Evaluate how your current policies apply to the new technology and what changes are required.

AI for Good

As we adopt this new technology, often awed by its power, we must be alert to issues that will arise. While we are leveraging AI at the institutional level, individual students will bring it into the classroom and use it in many different ways. Part of the class might have access to premium products, while others are left using free options. We must consider inclusivity and accessibility while we broadly and quickly shift to address AI usage across our curriculum. 

NIL—name, image and likeness—is a hot topic in college athletics, but AI takes NIL to a new level. The technology can create highly realistic images and voice imitations of an individual, called deepfakes, and manipulate them into videos to misrepresent the person. Institutions must be vigilant about nefarious actors who post damaging material on social media and the web.

We are in an awkward phase of the growth curve where we must run trials of our policies and procedures. Sample cases will help us figure out what to do when academic dishonesty occurs, how we want to handle data concerns, how we will address jokes and targeting of our institution with deepfake videos, and how we will address a host of other AI-related issues, some already here, some emerging, some unknown. To enjoy AI’s benefits, institutions are responsible for protecting ourselves and our people from its dangers with appropriate guardrails. While we grow our capacity to leverage AI as individuals, teams and organizations, we must stay alert to what might go wrong and be willing to adopt policies and guardrails to prevent it.

The massive potential and cascading information about AI can make the field seem overwhelming. Higher education is a vital place for its use to be studied, practiced and improved—for the good of the institution and society. Informed, intentional implementation by individuals, teams and the overall organization can avoid the dangers of AI while elevating its benefits.