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The Impact of Gen AI on College Leadership, Teaching, and Technology



Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

4.14.2024


I believe we are at an inflection point.  While recognizing the threats artificial intelligence presents, is it now time to collaborate with AI in its many productive forms – drafting documents of all sorts, creating images, optimizing communication flows, streamlining processes institution-wide, and perhaps most importantly, individualizing learning?   Yes, college leaders and faculty face formidable challenges today, but the challenge of the hour, I believe, is this: how to integrate radically new and explosive generative AI tools into the enterprise while protecting academic and institutional integrity.  Put differently, can AI become our trusted partner, streamlining our work, reducing costs, and improving teaching, learning, and student outcomes?   

These heavy matters were top of mind when I gathered three panelists for the latest ACUE webinar, the fifth in our AI and Higher Education series. (You can find my previous posts about this webinar series here.)    

 

This event drew over a thousand attendees; the agenda was shaped around this question:  How can ChatGPT4 become our everyday partner in making informed decisions in our rapidly changing education landscape? 


Panelist Perspectives

Our expert panel included Dr. Flower Darby, Associate Director of Teaching for Learning Center, University of Missouri; Dr. Stephanie Bulger, President of Lane Community College (Oregon); and Rob Ferrilli, CEO of Ferrilli Higher Education Technology Consultants. Each speaker shared a valuable perspective, which I’ll now highlight. 


Let’s start with Flower’s thoughts on using generative AI tools in the classroom. Teaching and learning are central. 

AI Tools for Teaching and Learning

In her work at the University of Missouri, Flower investigates the value of generative AI tools in instruction, beginning with how we can use these tools to advance equitable learning outcomes. For her, the starting place is AI literacy -- ensuring students become universally versed in AI alongside gaining academic competence. In fact, students will need to know the underlying fundamentals of a topic to use AI most effectively. At the same time, she argues, “We must emphasize the need for students to do their own work.”  As a coach might say to a track runner, taking a scooter around the track may get you there faster, but this will not make you a stronger athlete.  

 

Flower shared that AI can be used to develop scenarios, case studies, and problem sets to help students conceptualize challenging concepts.  AI can help faculty with teaching preparation to provide richer, more robust learning experiences for all types of students. Flower calls these tools “creative companions.” When the tools are used well, faculty can open up what truly matters – time with students.  


Rethinking our daily institutional practices

Rob Ferrilli, a prominent consulting group leader, is focused on providing technology expertise to colleges. It was great to hear his thoughts. Rob shared how generative AI tools can improve campus technology management. “AI can be applied to almost anything, not only large language models but photography, video, audio, and more.”  When you consider AI, he counseled, please think about how many staff on campus could leverage this technology to support their work!  The result: the major problem this technology can help solve, therefore, is productivity. He pointed to research showing that, with these tools, employees see a noticeable improvement in writing and programming. Developers at his company, Ferrilli, are using Microsoft Co-Pilot in their work. This has exponentially improved their productivity.  In higher education, we need to be asking, how can we rethink our daily processes using these tools?  

 

Rob observed that some higher education leaders are already using generative AI to assist in registration, advising, and enrollment. For example, using AI, it is now possible to develop a drip email campaign for prospective students using large language models. And this is just the beginning!  He offered this good news: most prominent tech firms are racing to develop the best AI models and integrate them into their existing systems. Adobe, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Google are a few companies in the race. Given occasional “hallucinations” and misinformation, the human editor is key. Students must be trained on these platforms to become editors and to be productive in this new world wherever they land.  

 

Flower stepped in to share that we could also foster critical thinking and reasoning by evaluating generative AI outputs. Students need to be engaged citizens who critically analyze almost everything they see and hear these days, including in media and videos. 


Leading an institution through AI exploration

It’s time for me to share Stephanie Bulger’s perspective as president of Lane Community College in Oregon. As an institutional leader, she’s taking some exciting steps with AI.

   

During the webinar, Stephanie shared that her generative AI journey started with an article in The Atlantic – The College Essay is Dead. Then, her head of communications came and told her they had created a press release using ChatGPT. They then translated it into Spanish, double-checking it with a native speaker for accuracy. Amazing! Next, the Vice President of Academic Affairs came to her, sharing that they wanted to do something about AI. So, a campus-wide two-year task force was created including students and faculty, representing both skeptics and champions of generative AI. They have grappled with use cases, privacy issues, misinformation, and bias. Lane Community College policies will be included in the work of this task force. New courses and curricula may, as well.    


Stephanie sees clear opportunities in employing AI tools. “We can use them to form deeper relationships with students, donors, and places with limited staff. We can create personalized, customized support for students. These tools can reduce time spent by assisting with the brainstorming of solutions.” Stephanie recently spoke at the Phi Theta Kappa induction ceremony and used ChatGPT4 to get started on what to say!  


Technology, institutional culture, values and goals

From an institutional perspective, Stephanie shared that AI tools can be used to scale up student support, such as advising. However, Lane Community College still needs an institutional blueprint for generative AI. Stephanie shared that adopting these technologies has to fit within her institution’s culture and its strategic goals. Her college’s values need to be applied to the technologies they adopt. Both faculty and students can use tools to facilitate this. Stephanie understands that preparing her people to use these tools responsibly must be based on the college’s mission and goals.   


How does generative AI work?

During our conversation, the panelists and I all remarked on the growing capabilities of this rising technology, leading me to prompt ChatGPT4 to explain itself -- “Please share how you come up with your answers?”. I got a staggeringly impressive response. It included details on how the platform collects, analyzes, and fits data to formulate its most effective responses. So, I encourage readers to put a prompt like this into your generative AI tool and try it! I am sure you’ll be taken aback by how this technology responds.  So concluded another excellent webinar! I appreciate you reading until the end of the end of this post, and I look forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments here, on LinkedIn, or via email.    

 

Best wishes,   

Jim Catanzaro 


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