Must Read Blog October 31, 2023

Artificial Intelligence in Higher Education: Trick or Treat? 

If you have been at any higher education events lately, AI has been the top item on conference agendas. Reactions throughout the academy have ranged from, “the sky is falling“ to “AI is the solution to everything.” So, as a leader at your institution or organization, how should you be thinking about the potential of AI as one of the items in your “bag of tricks” to achieve better institutional outcomes and efficiencies at your organization?

It’s helpful to consider this question in context: our postsecondary education experience is not delivering on its promise. Completion continues to be a persistent challenge with only 62% of those who start completing their degree in 6 years, and only 44%  of Black students and 50% of Latinx and Native Students completing on this timeline. In this moment, we have an opportunity and imperative to consider how AI can be part of future models as we improve as a field.

AI offers a new set of “tricks” or tools to apply to our teaching and learning infrastructure and approach

So, what tricks do now widely-available Generative AI tools offer us as we seek to improve the ways that institutions and the technology vendors who serve them better support students? Fundamentally, as illustrated in the chart below, AI gives us the ability to generate words and images and powerful tools for predicting the most likely outcome. These tools enable innovation in teaching and learning, greater efficiency across academic and administrative tasks, and the ability to more quickly predict and to take action to improve student and institutional outcomes.

But today, instructors are not using those ingredients at the rates they think students will need to use them

Building on the Time for Class (T4C) report released in Spring 2023, Tyton (in partnership with funding partner Turnitin), conducted a pulse survey this fall, reaching over 1,000 higher education faculty and 1,600 current postsecondary students. We see that adoption of generative AI tools has been steadily increasing since the spring, but faculty and students are not adopting equally. Notably, we now see half – 49% – of students tell us they are using Generative AI tools regularly. Only 22% of faculty note they are using them regularly, pointing to an enormous experience gap between these two user groups.

This varied experience level matters. As our past work has demonstrated, AI users are more likely to have a positive outlook on the potential of generative AI tools on student learning. Exposure to and experimentation with AI tools matters – and those faculty who are using these tools report using them to create more engaging in-class activities and generating assessments as well as for tasks that let them be more efficient such as generating syllabi, rubrics, and responding to student questions.

Regardless of their own use and familiarity, most faculty believe that students must learn how to work with AI tools for professional success and see learning about AI as an institutional responsibility.

Overall, half of faculty believe students will need to know how to use AI for professional success, with GenAI users even more likely to believe this than to non-users. Similarly, half of faculty note that they see it as the institution’s responsibility to teach students about GenAI. Yet only 1/3 of faculty report that they are teaching students how to use generative AI. This points to a significant need for AI literacy and support across institutions, and support for faculty, staff, and learners to understand the uses and implications of these tools inside and outside of the classroom.

Students and faculty do not see eye to eye on the use of AI in the classroom

Across the field, we have seen institutions and faculty scrambling to provide guidance and policies for responsible and acceptable use of AI as part of the training of students, staff, and faculty. A look at the juxtaposition of how students report using generative AI tools to support their understanding and completion of coursework points to this disconnect.  Whereas students and faculty agree on the use of AI tools for brainstorming, outlining and editing, there is a disconnect between students who are using generative AI to draft portions of assignments and faculty who view this as unacceptable use.

Outside the classroom, there are a range of places AI can be used to better support students

While our focus to this point has been on Generative AI writing tools and contexts for use within the classroom, there is also significant opportunity (and precedent) for these technologies to play a role outside the classroom. There have been many organizations that have used AI-enabled chatbots for years to routinize lots of tasks while continuing to provide a personalized experience for users. Consider, for example, the impact these tools have on the huge gap in current levels of availability, awareness, and utilization of key student support services across campus illustrated below. Our Driving Towards a Degree work highlights these gaps that result directly in students stopping out and lost investments in these services, as well as reduced sense of belonging. AI offers us tools that can better support students in finding and accessing resources at point of need, can support staff and faculty in identifying points of struggle, and can provide additional support additive to human connection and support.

So, given the state of AI adoption and its potential, what should you be doing at your organization?

  • Experiment with these tools yourself as mechanisms to generate content, engage learners, and save time on brainstorming and grading tasks.
  • Focus on near term ways to support educators and learners in the classroom through experimentation and knowledge sharing of use cases for AI tools.
  • Consider the key challenges and barriers across the student journey – in your course, department, or institution – and identify the places you can experiment with AI as part of holistic solutions.
  • Consider the risks and ethical uses of tools and ensure stakeholder understanding of their potential and limitations.

As you navigate how you can integrate AI tools into your organization and products to support better student outcomes, we welcome you to download our recent GenAI report.

In addition, consider joining other institutional and corporate leaders at an event we will be participating in December focused on AI and teaching and learning  – Empowering Learners in the Age of AI (ELAI) 2023 Conference.

And as always, to continue the conversation or discuss your organizational strategy, reach out to us.