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AI (Artificial Intelligence) Meets Higher Education

Dr. Jim Catanzaro, Executive Director, HERDI South

Image by Franz Bachinger from Pixabay

Right now, wherever you look, you run into AI-related headlines. It’s the acronym of the moment though it’s been around for quite a while. Remember when IBM’s Watson beat Jeopardy champions back in 2011? That was AI. IBM offered then a simple definition that still works: “Artificial intelligence leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.”

If you’re from higher education like I am, AI headlines immediately spark questions in your mind like:

  • “If AI can produce lengthy text-based responses to simple prompts, how will it not impact academic integrity?”

  • “Since students, likely en masse, are already using AI tools like ChatGPT and Bard, how must we change our pedagogies so they will learn through time-tested, productive struggles for knowledge?”

  • “If AI can immediately provide natural, intuitive responses to prompts including writing text and code, generating images, even animations, then how does this impact the work of our faculty, instructional designers, advisors, marketers, and others?”

As the moderator for a series of webinars sponsored by ACUE, our Higher Education Research and Development Institute (HERDI) partner, I explored these questions with three expert panelists. Read on to learn about their compelling insights!

AI and the Webinar

The first webinar I moderated was back in May, Reimagining Higher Ed Through AI and ChatGPT. To test out AI human reasoning tools myself, I used ChatGPT to help me paint my introduction. It worked well! In fact, I ended up following the delivered outline. So, what is ChatGPT? It’s an AI chatbot that interacts with users in an everyday conversational manner but with extraordinary reach. Launched late in November of 2022, this tool uses over 45 terabytes (45 trillion bytes!) of textual data to instantly call up the next words in any series of words or sentences in order to deliver remarkably comprehensive responses. Since November, OpenAI, the parent company for ChatGPT, has released ChatGPT+, ChatGPT4, now 5 with numerous browser integrations, plugins and apps for both iOS and Android mobile devices. Google's Bard is not too far behind. This is a fast-moving, transformational technology! Well, higher education has been busy, too. Our May webinar featured Julia Staffel, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder; Sunem Beaton-Garcia, president of Chippewa Technical College (WI); and Greg Jordan, former president of King University and founder and president of the company Seligo, AI.

The conversation was broad-ranging covering topics like academic integrity, edtech integrations that detect the use of AI tools, and strategies for faculty to adopt that will help students develop expected critical writing skills without first pulling up AI-generated text. One example that Julia shared was reclaiming the use of “reportatio” in the classroom. This is the Medieval assignment approach used in teaching philosophy that asks students to summarize a lecture or class discussion using their own notes from the experience. This helps students develop notetaking along with critical thinking and writing skills while assuring that all the work is their work.

Another strategy, shared by Sunem, is using AI tools for the development of curricular content. Nursing faculty at her institution are adopting these tools for copyediting, image creation, and even animation development for their OpenRN course materials. In this grant-driven project, Chippewa faculty are the subject-matter-experts. Their AI tools add both efficiency and creative resources to the development of the learning materials. The hard work was getting the prompts refined, Sunem reflected. All this has become much easier with the very recent release of ChatGPT5 which offers assistance in framing effective prompts.

At the close of the webinar, we heard from Greg, who took us up about 10,000 feet to view the broad potential for AI in higher education. He prompted us to think about how we could reimagine our institutions using AI across campus. Could these new tools enhance marketing and communications, instructional design, even instruction and counseling as they help us personalize our interactions with students? If so, should we upskill our colleagues so that they can collectively gain true AI literacy thereby amplifying their impact on students? So many possibilities for us to consider!

More to come!

This post covers only the first ACUE-sponsored webinar focused on the impact of generative AI on higher education. There’s so much more to share! Every day we’re moving deeper into this technology frontier focusing on how it can help higher education leaders and practitioners be truly transformative. I’ll be back to you in a few weeks with more thoughts and reflections. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your institution is doing with AI. Please share in the comments, reach out to me on LinkedIn or over email.



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