Everybody is talking about it – but have you actually tried it?
ChatGPT and other examples of Generative AI have captured the attention and imagination of students, workers, educators, employers, and policymakers in all industries – higher education included. This is the next iteration of AI as we build smarter technology. It’s part of a progression from IBM’s Watson launched in 2014 to Generative AI to whatever the next progressions will be. It will be intriguing to see how rapidly Generative AI in higher education moves through the cycle of Diffusion of Innovation formulated by Everett Rogers – and how adaptation varies among administrators, faculty, staff, learners, and other stakeholders.
Higher Education communities are engaged in many conversations about what ChatGPT is, what potential impact and implications are inherent in the technology, and how to get ahead of the trends with policies and practices. EDUCAUSE conducted a quick poll in February 2023 to help institutional leaders, technology professionals, and other staff to address the pressing challenges. The poll results provided information about how institutions are currently thinking about the impact. The focus is on the major advancements of GPT3, which allows people to easily generate content that is comparatively sophisticated and increasingly difficult to discern as having been written by a computer.
EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results
The following Quick Poll excerpts describe the current state of mind of the higher education industry concerning the challenges and opportunities arising from Generative AI. The EDUCAUSE excerpts are in italics, with my commentary following.
Theme 1: Still Trying to Figure it Out
Despite the fact that GPT models have been around for a few years, recent attention has resulted in considerable conversation. They state that “as a society, we’re still trying to figure out how we want to use generative AI, and this uncertainty is creating some tension among higher education stakeholders. Faculty seem firmly divided; some are excited about leveraging generative AI in the classroom, while others are banning its use. Administrators are rushing to put together institutional policies governing generative AI use.“
ChatGPT is one of many AI and technological advances that will be a part of society, including education. Conversations and dialogue are important to determine what is the best way to maximize the potential. Not unpredictable, some feel they can ban or control the widespread use. Others are exploring the positive impacts, like how teaching writing will change for the better. Thinking of Chat GPT as a teaching tool rather than an enemy is a great approach.
Theme 2: Common Challenges
Cheating and academic integrity are of top concern. Respondents are also concerned about overreliance or trust in the output, generation of inaccurate output, AI-generated content being indistinguishable and replacing human-generated content, lack of best practices for policy, data privacy, and security, and an overemphasis on enforcement and punishment.
Critical thinking will become even more important. The ability to access, assess, and analyze information for validity, honesty, and positive use. Some teachers are inviting students to explore the ChatGPT essay products and critique the style, depth of knowledge, and accuracy of the content.
Theme 3: Looking Ahead to Policies and Support
The respondents said that the “impact of generative AI would be felt by most areas of the institution in the future and that there would be broad challenges in areas such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the overall impact on student learning, ethical issues surrounding data, legal issues, and a lack of training, support, and policy” are on their minds.
While many conversations on campuses revolve around how to control the use of ChatGPT, trying to ban its use, and adding it to the list of academic dishonesty practices, others are trying to determine the best uses of the tool to improve the teaching of writing and research skills.
According to an article in the Chronicle, “colleges are responding by creating campuswide committees. Teaching centers are rolling out workshops. And some professors have leaped out front, producing newsletters, creating explainer videos, and crowdsourcing resources and classroom policies.”
Theme 4: Opportunities from Generative AI Use
Respondents believed that generative AI holds real potential for the future of higher education. More than three-quarters identified the potential to improve the efficiency of human work. They also felt that generative AI can be used to develop or improve personalized and adaptive instructional tools and to improve the quality of human work.
AI tools aren’t limited to writing reports and assisting with research. AI will impact institutions across the entire enterprise. AI can assist in focusing on what matters in learning, in student success practices, recruitment and retention strategies, and the overall approach to students, faculty & staff, and the overall higher education environment. One faculty member sums it up: “Artificial intelligence tools present the greatest creative disruption to learning that we’ve seen in my lifetime.”
Use Generative AI as a Lens to Understand Higher Education’s Future
Extrapolating from the findings from the EDUCAUSE QuickSurvey, the following insights and actions can be considered:
AI and ongoing technology advances are not going away – they cannot be ignored.
Expect AI to impact all areas of the institution in some form or fashion.
Realize that Generative AI will influence job expectations of employers across all industries.
Develop and support ongoing critical thinking and skills development that can be enhanced and enriched with AI.
Claim the opportunities of the potential of AI for the future of higher education while being aware and responsive to the risks and challenges.
Avoid the temptation to over-regulate.
Seize the day – engage the university community by using Generative AI as a lens for understanding the future of knowledge creation, learning, and work and how that shapes today’s strategies and plans. This is truly Thinking in the Future Tense and Planning from the Future Backward, as we describe in Transforming for Turbulent Times.