In 2023, generative AI (GenAI) amazed the world with the release of several large language models (LLMs) that provide accessible real-time responses. The first public release, OpenAI’s ChatGPT, amassed 100 million users within two months. The release of other systems quickly followed, with fewer hallucinations and more focused uses. The challenge for all of us in higher education is to harness the considerable capabilities of these tools to more effectively serve our learners. Confession: I asked Duet AI to suggest improvements in this blog’s Google draft. It is better for it.
In higher education, recent data shows a disconnect with and resistance to GenAI, despite most Americans now believing it is necessary for students to learn AI-related skills for their future careers. This disconnect is complex but suggests that American students are already falling behind those in other nations in the use of GenAI. Further research suggests that, without instruction and guidance, they’ll explore GenAI on their own, learning narrow, bad habits and be less competitive when they graduate.
The time for higher education to lead the way in the meaningful use of GenAI was a year ago. If we are to fulfill our mission of preparing students for their future, however, we will need to work together to make up for lost time, creating use cases, faculty training, and evidence of innovative teaching. This work should be focused on three areas: deeper learning, transformational teaching, and achieving the promise of academic equity.
We have long known how access to more engaged, meaningful learning is an equity issue, and although researchers use different frameworks to address deeper learning, few would disagree with DiSessa’s (2000) idea that students experience it when they“learn much more, learn it earlier and more easily, and fundamentally, learn it with a pleasure and commitment that only a privileged few now feel toward school learning." Our own summative research suggests that this requires ownership, encourages engagement, and is social, contextual, and active. GenAI tools provide entry into these possibilities anytime needed, in personalized ways never possible before, and to transformative teaching and curricula.
How can GenAI support students’ access to a deeper learning experience?
Providing personalized learning paths and tasks that meet the students where they are in their individual progression, thus promoting self-directed inquiry into content.
Facilitating anytime/just-in-time support through interactive platforms and personalized tutoring. See new work already happening at Khanmigo.
Enhancing understanding while helping students identify their own strengths and weaknesses and guiding their individual learning journey.
Allowing students to pursue exploratory learning paths and approaches, fostering metacognitive awareness.
GenAI as a discipline is needed in the curriculum and across the curriculum. Higher education is uniquely positioned to transform itself, if it chooses, to a new, digital, and knowledge age. It is past time for higher education to imagine seizing on the possibilities ahead. Society is asking us to adapt to its changing needs and to create institutions that can retrain and reskill all of us (students, faculty, staff, society) in an AI-driven Age of Collaborative Intelligence that combines the best of human and artificial intelligence.
How can GenAI support faculty in designing GenAI-infused, transformation teaching?
Improve student outcomes: AI-powered curriculum design could lead to better retention and graduation, better academic performance, better equity, and increased student satisfaction.
Enhance faculty productivity: GenAI can already better handle repetitive tasks like grading with personalized responses, freeing up faculty time for student interactions and exploring new teaching strategies.
GenAI has been demonstrated to provide best-of-class curriculum, content, and assessments in general education courses and beyond. Teaching and Learning Centers should be offering workshops to show teachers how to design best-in-class courses and content efficiently and effectively.
GenAI will potentially lead to institutional cost savings and resource optimization at a time when the majority of higher education (especially the liberal arts) struggle with rising costs, falling support, and calls for change.
As teachers and learners, each of us has the ability to access summative, self-paced, individualized knowledge. This will require all of higher education to do the work to adapt, adopt, and let go of (some) of its 1,000-year-old traditions.
ACHIEVING THE PROMISE OF ACADEMIC EQUITY
The national nonprofit, The Learning Accelerator (https://learningaccelerator.org/), emphasizes "equity" and "agency" as foundational principles and keys to successful learning “where everyone learns faster and changes systems together.” They believe ALL students, regardless of background, should have opportunities to experience success in their educational journey. Our national enrollment and completion numbers show us that significant effort has not equaled progress in these equity issues. Significant change is needed, and perhaps GenAI can help. If adopted with intentionality, it could:
Provide personalized, self-paced, independent learning experiences that cater to students’ diverse learning needs and preferences, thus helping to mitigate the achievement gap.
Offer alternative formats, translations, and new accessibility tools that ensure all students can engage with learning materials, regardless of starting point, language barriers, or disabilities.
Provide FirstGen students access to the processes, expectations, services, and navigational support that are too often covert and lodged within tradition, seldom made explicit. Decoding these for the student could provide a new channel for FirstGen support.
A TIME FOR TRANSFORMATION
Strategic Initiatives has long argued for a transformation of higher education to meet the needs of a changing society. This includes a more inclusive approach to teaching ALL students, including our diverse, disadvantaged, struggling, and older new traditionals going to college. Infusing a more personalized, just-in-time, learner-aware set of GenAI tools throughout the teaching and learning experience could be transformational. It could change student success rates and better prepare them for a world and workforce transforming before our eyes.
Why not start right now?