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AI in Higher Education: Aiding Students’ Academic Journey

Progressively more, artificial intelligence (AI) is appearing in academia and is being used to help students succeed in their academic journeys. As an instructor with about 10 years of experience, I’ve come across many students who struggle, no matter how hard I’ve tried to help them. I’ve taught both hybrid and online courses and my students have ranged from teenagers straight out of high school to older adults.

Until recently, other teachers and I have had to rely on our own resources or tutoring to help these students. Out of my concern, I began researching how colleges and universities use AI to help students succeed in the academic journey. In a previous blog post, I talked about how students are using ChatGPT, but there are other AI tools that schools use that are not common knowledge.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence can take on a variety of meanings. In its simplest form, it is a simulation or imitation of human intelligence processes by computer systems or other machines.

According to the University of Washington, John McCarthy first coined the term “artificial intelligence” in 1956 when he held the first academic conference on AI. Since then, AI has appeared in educational institutions, healthcare facilities, retail businesses, workplaces and homes.

Examples of artificial intelligence include:

  • Deep learning
  • Self-driving cars
  • Virtual reality
  • Virtual assistants
  • Home automation
  • Chatbots
  • Pattern recognition

If you’ve ever used Google Maps or Siri, you’ve experienced artificial intelligence. Some other examples of AI include facial recognition, speech recognition and Amazon Alexa.  

How Are Colleges Using AI?

Colleges and universities use AI in many ways to help students succeed. According to authors Helen Crompton and Diane Burke, the use of AI in higher education has risen quickly in the last five years.

Some of these uses of artificial intelligence include:

  • Automatic grading and assessment 
  • Student assistance and support
  • Intelligent tutoring systems

Automatic Grading and Assessment

The need for automatic grading and assessment is prevalent. Often, college instructors are responsible for teaching at least two courses simultaneously, and most of the classes we teach have 25-30 students per class.

By using automatic grading and assessment, we decrease our workload to better serve our students. Also, automatic grading and assessment also reduces the time students have to wait for their assignments and quizzes to be graded.

As CodeGrade co-founder Devin Hillenius explains, an automated grading system is ideal for instructors who teach large classes. The typical time it takes to grade 25-30 assignments is too long, and it hinders learning.

However, when instructors use an automated grading system, students can receive feedback as soon as they submit their work. This process not only helps students learn and improve their skills, but it also gives them an opportunity to improve their grades.

For those instructors who have to grade papers, writing tools such as Grammarly and plagiarism checkers like Turnitin can help them by checking for spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as ensuring that students haven’t copied someone else’s work. As I have learned over the years, students really value the feedback that we instructors provide when grading papers because most of them want to do their best in the class.

Related: Student Engagement and Classroom Changes after COVID-19

Student Assistance and Support

One of the biggest challenges that colleges and universities face is being able to provide sufficient student assistance and support. As authors Chithira Johnson and others have noted, many students struggle in college. Some of the issues that students commonly face are depression, anxiety, stress and planning for the future.

In addition to those issues, many students are non-traditional and have both family and professional responsibilities. For instance, some adult learners return to college after being out of school for a long time. Traditional students have the opportunity to speak with a counselor on campus, but when students attend online college classes, that option may not be available.

Automated support is key to helping these students. Students can use AI tools to find help with counseling, career services and even registering for classes.

Similarly, colleges can utilize chatbots or automated kiosks to provide students with personalized, just-in-time feedback or assistance for their courses or to find out about other services on campus. The ultimate goal of these systems is to retain students and help them persevere in their academic journey.

Related: How to Become More Productive as a College Student

Intelligent Tutoring Systems

Teachers are often overwhelmed by trying to respond to each student’s unique needs. In some cases, teachers just don’t have enough time in the day to respond to each student.

By using an intelligent tutoring system (ITS), however, teachers can lessen that burden on themselves. As researchers and educational technology experts Miguel Cardona, Roberto Rodríguez and Kristina Ishmael explain,  an AI assistant can ensure that students have that support wherever and whenever they do homework or practice skills on their own.

An intelligent tutoring system involves software that aims to provide immediate and customized instruction or feedback to learners, often without the need for a human teacher. However, teachers can also program these AI assistants to provide customized feedback, or in some cases, the lessons students need to work on outside of the classroom. These systems ensure a win for both students and teachers using them.

AI Can Be a Valuable Helper for Both Students and Teachers

Teachers will always be at the forefront of ensuring that their students receive a quality education. However, we also need to be mindful that sometimes AI can be a valuable helper for instructors when we feel overwhelmed or overburdened. More importantly, AI can help us support our students when they need it most.

Dr. J. Chris Brown is an adjunct instructor in the information technology program at the University. He holds a bachelor of science in information technology with an emphasis in multimedia and visual communication from the University of Phoenix, a master of information systems from the University of Phoenix, and a doctor of education in organizational leadership with an emphasis in higher education leadership from Grand Canyon University. Dr. Brown has over 17 years of web design experience and his research interests include adult learning, e-learning, and technology in the classroom

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