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Why Higher Ed Instructors Can Benefit from the Use of AI

Note: This article is Part 2 of a two-part series about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in higher education and the steps that higher education professionals can take to enhance their classrooms with AI.

In Part I, I explored some of the criticisms around using AI in higher education. But AI in higher education can have its benefits as well.

For example, instructors in higher education can utilize their creativity to face the challenges posed by AI. They can create a hybrid learning environment that embraces AI and uses this technology to improve teaching and learning in an ethical manner that benefits a higher number of students.  

AI Provides Students with the Means to Cheat, and Instructors Need to Be More Creative

Almost every conversation about AI centers on students’ misuse of AI to cheat on their tests and scholarly papers, and these concerns are real. For example, students may use AI to generate answers to many traditional assessments, and written assignments will necessitate long-overdue educational innovations. In this new educational landscape, however, human-to-human interaction will continue to form the basis of the education system. 

While the incorporation of AI into the educational system will take time, current educators can use various, time-tested techniques to authenticate student submissions today. For example, online discussion boards provide online instructors with a way to create assessments requiring student-to-student and instructor-to-student interaction.

An online discussion board allows instructors to engage in nearly real-time conversations with their students. These discussions also provide instructors with a better understanding of how their students’ understanding of classroom material.

For instance, teachers can use follow-up questions or center their discussions around topics that come from a closed universe of sources or from issues related current news headlines. For these discussions, AI software would be less likely to easily duplicate or create content.

Also, online discussions provide a transparent interface that allows all participants to assess interactions. That way, any improper use of AI would be easier to identify.

In the past, I have written about how discussion boards in online courses can be used to create highly interactive exercises that include debates, case study analyses and group projects. These methods have even more relevancy in the current educational landscape, where there is a need for brick-and-mortar and online instructors to know their students to assess the authenticity of student submissions. It is likely that the future of education will increasingly become hybrid as brick-and-mortar universities adopt many of the methods used by online schools and classes.

In addition, discussion boards provide instructors with a useful interface to create group and teamwork assignments. These group and teamwork assignments offer another method to check the authenticity of student work while forging deeper connections between students.

Additionally, online and in-person instructors may incorporate other techniques to ensure that AI cannot be misused, including:

  • Virtual synchronized sessions
  • Peer-to-peer critiques
  • Virtual breakout rooms for students to interact with each other and with a professor in real time
  • Assessments like in-person and virtual presentations

AI Will Transform the Role of the Educator 

Using AI to grade some assessments and assignments can also free up instructor time. However, critics argue that the use of AI to grade any student assessments raises a collection of ethical questions, according to Christina Wyman of Wired.

According to this line of argument, AI will replace human instructors on a large scale, rendering human instructors irrelevant. Such concerns assume that all aspects of the educational system will remain the same in the face of higher education challenges posed by AI.

Instead, it is more likely that skilled educators and forward-looking educational institutions will adapt their instructional methods to include AI in the future. The critiques of AI often ignore how AI includes adaptive learning platforms, data analytics, and simulations, as well as how they can enhance the educational experience.

Future use of AI in grading would likely mimic the current use of multiple-choice questions that test the basic knowledge of students. At the same time, human instructors will remain the primary assessors of student work that requires a more subjective appraisal, like grading essays and original assignments.

Also, assessments in the future will likely differ in style and substance. These assessments will likely require human grading and mentorship in their creation.

Why AI Won’t Replace Human Instructors

There is another simple reason why AI will not replace human instructors. It is necessary to remember that higher education is a marketplace. Students have a choice between educational options, and it is unlikely that students who have a choice will pay for an education where non-human actors play the primary role.

Similarly, leaders in education will probably not embrace a grading method that dislocates professors and replaces them with automated grading software. So for the foreseeable future, the marketplace will likely limit AI’s role despite its capacities. 

While AI will not replace educators, the presence of AI will transform the educator’s role as the role of the instructor will likely move from a grader of student work to a mentor and facilitator of student learning. Instructors in the future could probably embrace a mentorship role as they work with students to develop a personalized learning experience.

For example, tomorrow’s instructors will likely become more involved in:

  • Creating and participating in individual experiential learning experiences
  • Advising student groups
  • Helping students develop a personalized approach to learning aligned with the student’s particular skills and interests
  • Moving beyond today’s standardized education format  

Instructors Will Be Compelled to Transform Their Teaching Methods 

Students’ widespread use of AI tools will force professors to become more creative in creating their classroom assignments. Rather than asking students to complete projects easily created by text-generating AI tools, instructors will need to build assessments that ask open-ended questions and don’t have a clear answer.

Educators can also create assignments that force students to utilize their creativity and individuality. For instance, instructors can ask their students to engage in reflective tasks that require students to provide their perspectives on certain topics and explore ethical issues and topics ripped from news headlines. These assessments are relevant and would be difficult to produce using the current generation of AI software. 

In addition, instructors can create assignments based on a closed universe of sources that require students to interpret classroom material. Students could be asked to work in teams, create role-playing tasks, and stagger writing projects that require students to submit various parts of an assignment at different stages of the writing process. 

Experiential learning and team projects will likely take a more prominent role in the future. These assignments will maintain the human-to-human interaction at the core of the educational experience. Technological advancements will allow these human-to-human interactions to take place via any number of platforms, connecting students from all over the world.

Related: Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in the Classroom

The Real Dangers Derive from Faulty Assumptions and Depriving Students of Access to Valuable Technology

While some people may argue that my assessment of the impact of AI downplays the many critiques of AI and paints a too-optimistic portrait of the future, such commentary may derive from a faulty understanding of AI’s future use. These critics argue that AI raises privacy concerns and that the formulas and databases that AI tools rely upon are biased.

However, AI isn’t likely to be used in the manner that most contemporary educators believe. As I previously mentioned, students in higher education are unlikely, if given a choice, to opt for an educational experience that replaces the human educator in the grading process. It is also doubtful that elite educational institutions will replace their instructors with chatbots or non-human grading systems any time soon. These institutions have slow-walked technological advances, including the adoption of online education, over the past generations.

More likely, educational institutions will use AI to supplement and personalize a student’s educational experience rather than displace instructors. This outcome is expected partly because it may be viewed as adding value to the student experience, especially at prestigious academic institutions.  

Related: AI in Higher Education: Aiding Students’ Academic Journey

Bans Will Only Harm the Students That Would Benefit the Most from AI

Unfortunately, I fear that the students who would most benefit from AI, predominantly minority and underserved communities, will likely be deprived of access to AI technology for several reasons. First, faulty assumptions about AI and its use will deny students access to the wealth of information that it provides students.

For example, the New York City Board of Education barred students and educators from using ChatGPT in January 2023, citing concerns about how AI can disrupt the educational process. After further study, the New York City Board of Education wisely reversed course.

However, the initial blanket ban was based, in large part, on the unwillingness and inability of the current educational institutions to modify student assessments and assignments in the face of AI.

Simply put, bans on AI constitute an implicit admission that AI can easily reproduce current student tests and written assignments. This information isn’t shocking as current AI tools have been trained to answer existing assessments and assignments.

Second, advocates of bans often argue that the bans seek to prevent an exacerbation of existing disparities in education. Admittedly, large segments of the population don’t have access to computers, high-speed internet, or other technology at home or in their schools. Using AI may worsen existing educational disparities.

However, reducing student disparities requires increased investment in underserved communities and advocacy for a systemic change in the educational system. Educators in underserved communities will need to be trained in the benefits of AI’s use, rather than depriving their communities of access to AI technology. 

Embracing the Transformative Nature of AI

Even though AI has been with us for several generations, the debate over AI often has alarmist aspects in recent months. While there are several valid criticisms of the increased role of AI in higher education, educator fears of AI primarily derive from the fear of the unknown or displacement. 

AI will compel instructors to become more creative in assessing students, transforming the classroom and the instructor’s role. It’s possible that this transformation will occur over a generation. That gradual change will provide current students and instructors with enough time to adjust and resolve some of the problems raised by AI in higher education, including how the use of technology by some but not all student populations may exacerbate existing disparities. 

But in the face of uncertainty, educators should embrace the challenge and shape AI’s future use in the higher education system, rather than depriving students and educators from using the technology as in New York City. While it is encouraging that cooler heads have prevailed and New York City’s ban on ChatGPT was recently removed, the initial ban reflects a common aversion to adopting technology and may deprive underserved students of AI’s benefits.

It is essential to understand that AI encompasses many other tools besides chatbots and automated grading. AI allows educators and students to:

  • Experiment with new teaching and learning
  • Resurrect previously used and effective teaching methods
  • Create personalized learning experiences
  • Transform student-to-teacher and student-to-student relationships in foreseeable and unforeseeable ways

For example, AI can be used to provide individualized tutoring and identify student weaknesses and strengths. It can also be utilized to allow students to pursue their academic interests outside of the classroom.

Rather than shying away from or discouraging the use of AI by teachers and students, concerned educators should discuss its use, experiment with AI, and research its pros and cons. These proactive measures will benefit students and ensure that the current and largely alarmist assumptions about AI’s role in higher education don’t become the future’s reality. 

James Barney 3

Dr. James Barney is a Professor of Legal Studies at the School of Security and Global Studies. Dr. Barney has been the recipient of several awards. He teaches undergraduate and graduate law and history courses. In addition to having earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Memphis, Dr. Barney has several master's degrees, including one in U.S. foreign policy and a J.D. from New York Law School. Dr. Barney serves as one of the faculty advisors of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity and the Model United Nations Club, and he is the pre-law advisor at the University. He is currently writing a book on the politics of New York City during the administration of David Dinkins, New York City's first African American mayor, 1989-1993.

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