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The Implications of AI in Higher Education

AI tools can serve as a meaningful asset to both instructors and learners in higher education, but general guidelines, broad accessibility and workforce applicability must be kept at the forefront.

As AI continues to gain traction in the higher education market, initial skepticism must give way to acceptance and adoption. To ensure future-proofing, higher education leaders must prioritize the establishment of robust procedures and ethical guidelines that enable effective and responsible use of AI technology. In this interview, Mansureh Kebritchi discusses the evolution of AI over the past year, the challenges leaders are grappling with and how to best adopt AI.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How has AI evolved within the higher education space over the past year?

Mansureh Kebritchi (MK): A new era of AI-powered education began in the world of higher education with the emergence of ChatGPT in November 2022. While some institutions initially dismissed its potential in higher education, the features and capabilities of these tools became apparent and a wave of panic swept across the sector. The reactions of higher education institutions varied widely, with some forbidding the use of AI tools, while others remained neutral and left the decision up to instructors and students. A small percentage of institutions were proactive and had already started incorporating AI before ChatGPT was introduced, while others decided to adopt AI but without putting any guidelines or regulations in place. 

As time went on, by mid-2023, many institutions began to change their attitudes towardAI adoption and started developing guidelines for their use. These guidelines were carefully crafted and shared with instructors and students and, in some cases, publicly posted on institutions’ websites. 

Toward the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, higher education institutions’ position on AI had undergone a significant transformation from outright denial to mostly acceptance and adoption. This change represented the broader sector’s stance on AI, from one of skepticism and fear to one of embracing the potential of these powerful tools to enhance and improve the learning experience. This evolution of higher education institutions’ position on AI tools may provide promising results and improve the quality of teaching and learning.  

Evo: What are the main challenges to adopting AI in higher education?

MK: Some of the primary challenges faced in adopting AI technology are provided below. 

Policies and Guidelines. One of the biggest hurdles in integrating AI into education is the need for comprehensive policies and guidelines that both instructors and students can use. Evaluating the capabilities of generative AI tools and determining how to integrate them into existing curricula and grading systems is a time-consuming process. The tools’ rapid evolution makes it even more difficult for higher education institutions to create guidelines that remain relevant and effective.

Adaptability. Adapting the existing curriculum to integrate artificial intelligence capabilities is a significant challenge that requires careful consideration. It involves a considerable amount of effort and time to revise the curricula and incorporate AI tools effectively, a process that is further complicated by the rapidly changing nature of AI tools and technologies. To ensure curricula remain effective and relevant, educators must keep pace with these developments and adapt the curricula accordingly.

Evaluation. It is becoming more challenging to evaluate students’ abilities and thoroughly measure their skills through assignments when they use AI tools to produce assignments. It is particularly difficult to distinguish between the work students create and the work AI creates when it comes to papers and other written assignments. Plagiarism detection tools are frequently inaccurate and may incorrectly identify AI-generated work as being the work of a student or vice versa. 

Ethics. AI use in various fields has brought significant advancements, but it has also raised some ethical concerns. One of the most challenging issues related to AI is plagiarism. The improper use of AI tools to generate assignments that are not original poses a significant ethical risk. Students must be transparent about their use of AI tools in completing their assignments to avoid such risks. The accessibility of AI tools is another significant concern. While AI tools can help enhance learning experiences, some students may not have access to them due to financial, social, or cultural reasons, which creates an inequality situation. Therefore, it is essential to ensure AI tools are equally accessible to all students to avoid any form of discrimination. 

Evo: What are the best practices to overcome obstacles in AI adoption in higher education? 

MK: In today’s rapidly evolving world, it is important to address the challenges related to developing policies and guidelines for AI use. To develop effective guidelines, it is better to avoid focusing on the specific features of a particular AI tool, since AI tools are rapidly improving. Instead, it is more effective to develop guidelines related to basic and stable generative AI features that different tools share. These guidelines should be flexible. Additionally, it is easier this way to organize the guidelines in a way that benefits students, faculty and assessment. 

To address evaluation challenges, instructors may use alternative and innovative assessment approaches. Instructors can use authentic and personalized assessment methods that ensure students, not AI, generate assignments. These methods include asking students to focus on real-life examples, using contextually specific situations meaningful to them, giving students complex instructions that involve long text that does not fit typical AI prompts and asking students to write about the most recent events that are not reflected in the data used to train AI tools. Instructors may also focus on familiarity with student writing styles to detect student versus AI-generated assignments. Students can submit a handwritten essay at the beginning of class that instructors can use as a benchmark when evaluating essays during the course.

Additionally, instructors may use alternatives to essay-based assessments such as video presentations, which can help them better evaluate students. To address ethical and plagiarism issues, teaching styles must shift to reinforce the student’s understanding that using AI tools for cheating devalues the educational experience. Moreover, to improve transparency in AI use, students should learn how to cite the tools. And instructors must ensure that AI tools are equally accessible to all their students, regardless of their background or abilities. 

Evo: What opportunities does AI present for teaching and learning in higher education?

MK: AI-powered tools in education can bring numerous benefits to both instructors and students. One of the significant advantages of incorporating these tools is the reduction of the instructor’s workload and the elimination of errors. By automating routine tasks such as grading quizzes, AI-powered tools can save educators time and reduce the likelihood of mistakes. AI-powered tools can also assist instructors in developing course materials and help students having difficulty with the course material, which can lead to a better learning experience for students while making the instructor’s job easier. 

In addition to saving instructors time and reducing errors, AI-powered tools can provide students with real-world experience and improve their academic communication skills. Adopting these tools can motivate students who typically struggle with writing and encourage them to put more effort into their work. AI tools with their interactive features enhance the self-learning experience for students. Students may use AI tools as a tutorial to practice lessons and prepare for exams, enhancing their performance and ultimately course retention. Some studies suggest that using AI tools can also enhance students’ critical thinking skills as students get immersed in forming and revising AI prompts and receiving and analyzing various responses. Such a process fosters critical thinking and analytical skills.     

Furthermore, using AI-powered tools in education can promote the development of skills necessary to interact effectively with AI, a valuable asset in today’s technology-driven world.

Incorporating AI-powered tools into education can prepare students to incorporate AI into their future careers. By learning to interact with AI, students can develop skills that can be useful in various industries and job roles. 

Evo: How do you see AI shaping the future of higher education, and what advice would you give to leaders looking to embrace AI? 

MK: The field of higher education is rapidly changing, and AI tools are playing an increasingly important role in it. By embracing these tools, educational institutions can better prepare students for a future that involves routine interactions with AI. AI technology is becoming more prevalent in both higher education institutions and workplaces, making it a significant component to consider for higher education leaders, scholars and business professionals. 

Furthermore, emerging AI tools can significantly improve global accessibility to higher education because they can be used to provide an immersive and interactive learning experience for students, regardless of their location. By leveraging AI tools, institutions can expand their reach beyond their physical campuses and cater to students from all over the world, opening new opportunities for higher education institutions to serve more diverse students across the world. 

It’s important to note that AI tools should not replace instructor expertise. Instead, they should be used to complement instructors and existing teaching methods and help students develop familiarity with AI technology. Instructors may use an AI tool as a teaching assistant. To ensure AI technology is used in a safely, ethically, and effectively, many universities have established AI research centers to keep the institutions updated about the latest AI technology. Additionally, there should be a research-based AI teaching and learning group within higher education institutions to continuously develop effective practices for adopting AI tools. Training should be offered to both instructors and students to inform them about effective practices and the proper use of AI tools, ensuring students are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a world that is increasingly reliant on AI technology.

Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Phoenix.