July 4, 2024
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Navigating artificial intelligence in higher education


By Gerhard Apfelthaler

I would like to begin this article by emphasizing that it was written entirely by a human, but improved by ChatGPT! In a world where artificial intelligence (AI) is capable of generating greeting cards, thank you letters, job applications, rejection letters, project briefs, blog posts, and even scholarly articles, it has become increasingly challenging to distinguish between human and AI-generated content, and I want to be open about and honest about that.

So, what do the recent developments in AI mean for higher education? The answer: everything. Recently, one of my professors shared an email that left him both amused and alarmed. The email read, “I just got ChatGPT-ed.”

It turned out that a student, whose performance my professor had observed over several months of in-person instruction, had submitted a paper that deviated from their usual style and exceeded their demonstrated abilities. The professor confronted the student and gave them a second chance.

In the weeks following, colleagues engaged in informal and formal discussions about AI. Initially, the knee-jerk reaction was to restrict, prohibit, and penalize the use of AI by students (but surprisingly not by professors). However, as we deliberated, doubts arose, and we recognized that resisting this technology was futile.

We needed to embrace it and encourage its meaningful use. We still expected honesty and ethical behavior from our students (and faculty colleagues), discouraging them from passing off AI-generated work as their own. Simultaneously, we arrived at a strong belief that AI presented opportunities for innovation, transformation, and improvement.

The era of professors as the sage on the stage has long passed, and AI has the potential to enhance their role as a guide by the side. Responsibly incorporating AI into education enables students to generate ideas they can further develop, improve their self-composed texts, critically assess AI-generated content, produce Powerpoint slides based on their own input, maybe even turn their papers into video content, and so much more.

Professors can help them along that journey. Naturally, leveraging AI in productive ways necessitates a fundamental shift in how we teach and assess students. You may argue that if AI can write essays better, faster, and cheaper, what then is the purpose of requiring students to write? However, haven’t similar concerns been raised in the past when calculators were introduced? The tremendous advances in science and technology since then have invalidated such fears.

Even if you believe that we need to continue to emphasize certain abilities, humans may find themselves outperformed by chatbots in this competition. And then what? In the pursuit of our ideals, we may ultimately have failed to serve our students.

Beyond instruction, AI offers opportunities in various aspects of higher education. It can streamline routine administrative processes, handle repetitive communication tasks, personalize learning paths, provide analytical insights beyond human subjectivity, and contribute to making higher education more inclusive.

Certainly, AI brings challenges and risks, but the revolution is upon us, and we cannot afford to miss it while clinging to centuries-old university traditions. We have a responsibility to prepare our students for a future in which AI will be omnipresent, both in society and the workforce. The better we equip our students now, the brighter our chances of creating a sustainable and prosperous future.

In conclusion, we stand at the forefront of an AI-powered era, where human ingenuity and the capabilities of AI can coexist and propel us toward new horizons.

Embracing AI in higher education holds immense potential to enhance the learning experience, reshape instruction, improve administrative processes, and prepare students for the AI-driven world they will inhabit. Let us seize this opportunity to navigate the challenges, harness the advantages, and forge a path toward a future where humans and AI can thrive in harmony.

Gerhard Apfelthaler is Dean of the School of Management at California Lutheran University.