AI is like any other new tool that has entered the arena of learning that enhances a student’s access to data and information to process and consume knowledge more quickly. Whether it be the Internet, the calculator, or even the printing press – all have entered social consciousness as disruptors with some wariness and skepticism, but were ultimately used to change how fast we can learn and share information to enhance the depth of information we pass on to future generations. One must be careful in its use and administration, but definitely not fearful, as it has the potential to do great good in the realm of practical distance education and online learning.
Use-Cases for AI in Education
At University of Phoenix, we are looking to use AI in the classroom that mirrors the practical ways students may use these tools in the workplace, especially where it can expand critical thinking skills or the evaluative judgment of the student. For example, in marketing classes one could create exercises where the student is tasked with asking AI to write multiple marketing messages or pitches for a given product. At that point the student’s assignment is to review and deconstruct the statements that the AI provided and share their feedback as to which pitch or message may be better than the others, with the ultimate goal of creating a final message that is curated from both the AI and the student’s thoughts. These types of exercises not only teach students how to leverage AI tools in their professional lives, but also helps to create a mental model for the student on how AI can be properly used in the classroom for learning. If students only hear about AI tools from University leadership and faculty as things that assist cheaters and plagiarizers, then this will be the limited use-case that is placed into student’s minds – when the opportunities and use-cases for AI are so much more.
Leveraging AI to Improve Efficiencies
Current AI developed as a linguistic tool and model can help curriculum designers enhance the framing around the tone and positioning of their messages or lessons. For example, if an instructional designer wants to take verbiage about nuclear fission that is very technical in nature, and have it presented in a more conversational tone within the classroom for first year students by asking AI to adjust the verbiage or tone to fit the needs and levels of the learners. From a corporate training perspective one can even ask AI models to take important concepts like workplace diversity and frame these concepts at an executive or new hire level to build curriculum or quiz questions that feed the outcomes for the learning being created. Using AI in this manner can help save time with the creation of more personalized learning materials and can allow instructional designers to do more with their content to serve different parties and their learning needs. So far, our experience using AI in curriculum development has been more akin to having another partner in the office to review your work to give you suggestions or different ideas to ponder, rather than a replacement for human capital.
Given that AI is a reflection of the data it has consumed and is able to process, there is still the opportunity to have holes or gaps in the accuracy for the output of the AI depending on the type of information being requested or how concise the prompt has been written when asking for something. For example, some AI models have limitations on how old or new the data is that has been provided to the model for processing. In those instances, the recency of information about new events can be limited or inaccurate. Additionally, when asking AI to write biographies about people or individuals with shared names, traits, or demographic information it can generate incorrect information and combine two people into one – especially if the prompt or request is not very specific. Ultimately, what hasn’t worked well is when a user asks for very general and non-specific information in their prompt to the AI, and then also assumes that the output from the AI is error free. We are still at a place where this technology is emerging so over or underestimating its capabilities and not checking output from a request can be problematic.
Pros and Cons
Many of the pros and cons for usage of AI are already listed above. The Pro is that it can enhance the work generated by individuals to be consumed for and used in different applications. Moreover, the use of the tool to read and review the output of a specific ask can create learning within the reader – given they are consuming new information and knowledge they may not have had before. The learning can be expounded upon even further when the learner is asked to use the results of the AI to help them complete a specific task or job, as now that knowledge is put into action. Cons related to the use of current AI tools are when individuals don’t understand the scope and limitations of the tool or have misperceptions on the primary use and function of it. Additionally, a con is when users think that the output of the AI model needs no revision or review. AI definitely produces good content, and does an excellent job for many different linguistic and written uses, but it is definitely not perfect nor 100 percent accurate. Additionally, as administrators and teachers we definitely must be aware of the ways these tools can be misused for plagiarism and as a result find ways to place students and learners onto a better path; but this is only one of the myriad of uses we need to consider given the opportunities AI creates for all of us to consume information in different ways and become competent in more things is much greater.
How Employees are Reacting to AI
Currently most individuals in the instructional design space for us view AI with much curiosity and interest – especially for what the evolution of AI can look like. For our institution, AI has not taken the place of personnel, and we also see AI as a tool that can help us make the content from our designers richer or be leveraged for practical assignments within the classroom that would mirror asks in the professional environment. Because of this, there is actually a bit of excitement to see what innovative ways it can be leveraged to create a deeper learning experience and create cool activities for students to engage in with a new technology that is likely to ride alongside us for some time to come in our personal and professional lives.
About the Author
Dr. Marc Booker is Vice Provost for Strategy at University of Phoenix. With over two decades of experience working with online and distance education students at the post-secondary level in admissions, registrar, and academic administration roles, Marc brings a unique perspective on the trends in higher education from a post-traditional student lens. As Vice Provost for Strategy at University of Phoenix, Marc oversees critical path academic initiatives to improve the student experience such as learning platform implementations, curricular enhancements, developing innovative academic program designs, and creating empathetic solutions to drive improved student outcomes. Marc is a regular speaker, author, and contributor to national higher education associations, and in 2020 Dr. Booker was awarded a Hall of Fame award from Blackboard for Providing Thought Leadership and Innovation in higher education.