EdSurge: Reflections on “Who Controls AI in Higher Education and Why It Matters” and the Impact on Education Science

edsurge AI higher education PowellNote: This article is Part 6 of a multi-part series.

EdSurge recently hosted a live thought leadership video discussion led by Jeffrey Young, an EdSurge senior fellow. This live video featured Dr. Mark Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning and Dr. Candace Thille, a professor at Stanford University. The focus of the video was “Who Controls AI In Higher Education And Why It Matters.”

Since the transcript is available at the EdSurge site, my focus here is to reflect upon what I heard and concluded. I first discussed this topic as part of my related Educause posts, primarily because of the conference’s focus on technology and its essential and continually emerging role in higher education.

While artificial intelligence (AI) is the focus of this article, let’s not confuse it with virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), all emerging technologies of significance for education. According to Webster’s:

  • AI is “the capacity of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.”
  • VR is “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (such as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.”
  • AR is an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (such as a smartphone camera).”

AI was the subject of this presentation and of several conversations at Educause that focused on education science, data, student retention, and persistence. What does it mean for a college campus today or of the future? Imagine a campus where:

  • Student advising is guided by an intelligent assistant who can respond to standard questions and assist students with course selections and program plans.
  • Teaching assistants and faculty are supplemented with intelligent assistants who teach and/or reinforce areas of learning to ensure learning outcomes are mastered and/or to grade writing assignments.
  • Instead of library assistants, an intelligent library aide assists you in finding resources and materials as it is able to search a variety of databases.
  • Siri or Alexa are at your beck and call as a faculty member or student to assist with research, study, or complex questions.

No doubt, interesting images come to mind with significant potential for change!

“Who Controls AI and Why It Matters” is of utmost importance as we visualize possible scenarios where AI could be utilized on the campus. With each scenario alone and combined, it is apparent that AI would transform campus interactions. Students in this world may be engaged in more intensely personalized learning geared to their specific learning needs and areas for development guided by an intelligent advisor (perhaps), who assists them in selecting their program of study and and/or courses.

Faculty may be both freed and frightened as AI enters the classroom experience and assumes some of their work. Would an instructor be necessary for grading routine work? Essays? Perhaps their work would evolve to focus more on program outcomes and outcomes definition, of coaching and mentoring students in ways requiring human intelligence and analysis, of assisting with critical thinking and problem solving versus simple transmittal and assessment of information. Defining these new roles for faculty needs study and analysis.

AI has the potential to transform the university, teaching and student experience. It is a tool and, as such, it can be used both effectively and ineffectively. Learning scientists need to work together with technologists, faculty, and students to proactively define the ways AI can best serve students and assist faculty.

Dr. Thille commented that learning scientists are currently active in this area. Their leadership is essential as AI technology evolves and is implemented in various sectors of life and work. For AI to be effectively used on campus, we need the analytics of AI. As members of the academy, we need to take the lead in defining when and how machines can effectively interact and where human interaction remains essential both from both an outcomes and ethical perspective.

I am fascinated by these questions and the emergence of this tool in our college experiences. I am also reminded that AI is a “tool” for us to use creatively and wisely.

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