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Was this written by ChatGPT or a person?
Getting past the hype about ai in higher education
Suddenly ai or artificial intelligence seems to have become a major cause of concern in higher education. A few months ago, discussions emerged in many academic groups about the wonder of an artificial intelligence (ai) tool, ChatGPT, that could even write a student paper. A recent search of New York Times articles netted 10 recent articles on ChatGPT, beginning in December 2022. The Washington Post topped that number with 23 articles over a similar period. Higher education news sources also had coverage. For example, a search of Inside Higher Ed turned up around 15 articles.
ChatGPT is not the only ai application impacting education. Notion is a collaboration space that many academics and students use to organize work. The application now has ai in alpha with functions for writing or even some coding.
Despite the recent attention and hand-wringing over “the end of education as we know it,” the future may not be so bleak. Will ai totally disrupt education? Probably not. To get past the hype, we need to think holistically about ai in higher education.
Riding out the hype cycle
The Gartner Group is one of the leading thought leaders in tracking technology trends. One analysis that Gartner publishes is called the “Hype Cycle.” The cycle plots technology over time, looking at five stages of diffusion, starting with an innovation trigger and ending with fully productive technology deployed in the mainstream.
As Gartner notes, technology goes through a hype cycle before moving into the mainstream
In late 2022 Gartner published an updated hype cycle for artificial intelligence. What is telling about the latest analysis is that most ai applications are poised to enter the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” which is followed by the “Trough of Disillusionment.” The positioning of the bulk of ai technologies in this part of the hype cycle is telling.
We’ve been here before—chasing the hype.
Education and higher education are not immune from jumping on a hype cycle with new ed-tech technologies. The benefits of learning management systems and “online learning” were overhyped at their introduction around two decades ago. Then, of course, there were the stories of how MOOCs were poised to displace the entirety of higher education.
Even ed-tech funding groups chase hype.
Recently, I was in conversations with an ed-tech incubator group in the U.S. We had submitted a proposal focused on supporting faculty through ai technologies to develop dashboards for academic coaching. The proposal was ultimately not funded, so we asked why. The answer amazed us. We were told that our proposal was not for an ed-tech “gadget” and thus was “not the right type of project.” We had made the “mistake” of involving “humans” paid a salary in the model to interpret data and work with students. We were amazed at the answer, but it illustrates how even funding sources follow hype cycles by chasing technology for the sake of technology.
To make sense of what ai may mean for higher education, we need to pull back from the hype and think of what may be some actual benefits.
Thinking constructively about ai in higher education
Professionals designing and delivering educational curricula can be hostile to new technology. As far back as refusing to allow pocket calculators, educators had looked to the past when developing courses. The resistance to change did not stop with calculators. It continued through areas as recent as opposing e-books, attempting to suppress mobile technologies in classrooms, and making wild claims that online learning could never match in-person classes. We need to move beyond technophobia and actively look for ways ai should be a part of designing what is taught and how students learn.
Technology amplifies what we do, whether it is good education practice or not. If the learning interactions are effective and engaging, technology accents the positive elements. If, however, learning interactions are boring, ineffective, and hapless, technology will make things even worse. If anyone has watched traditional faculty trying to replicate boring in-person lectures in Zoom meetings, the effects of technology amplification should be evident. When looking at the potential of ai, new opportunities should be leveraged to enhance learning interactions, not just automate existing practices (and end up amplifying what is wrong with them).
Looking at ai with a growth mindset is critical to leverage its potential in education.
Many articles decrying ai point to student papers written by tools such as ChatGPT as creating a snake pit of student cheating. Those same articles fail to note the positive and helpful use of ai is already in place. Tools such as Grammarly, Turnitin, and FeedbackFruits already use ai to assist with improving writing, checking for plagiarism, and providing rapid feedback. Ai can support and enhance a growth mindset of improvement and move beyond the outdated fixed mindset of “correcting” student work.
We think too narrowly about the nature of education.
Focusing on ed-tech or ai as a new “gadget” also neglects the reality that education is essentially a social matter. We learn and improve by relating to others, imitating others, and engaging in dialogue. Done right, education can be thought of as a societal version of the scientific method. Education should first look to explain what works and what does not and then spread that knowledge.
Ai done right can support and enhance the social nature of learning. Also, one of the exciting facets of education today is learning about how we learn or meta-cognition. Ai can support this society-wide version of the scientific method.
There are many difficult-to-solve issues in need of grounded solutions. Attempts to understand such issues are often made in isolation of siloed institutions. This isolated learning is often followed by a parochial approach to teaching what a teacher knows as “the truth.”
Ai, with its broad reach across internet resources, can become a bridging or meta-technology to move beyond parochial approaches to discovery and teaching. The speed of machine learning can also help tackle the tendency of education to address problems too slowly.
Decidedly different approaches to learning are needed to cope with and leverage ai. We need to look at what we teach (curriculum), how we teach (learning interactions), and how we are convinced that learners have learned (assessment). The power of ai points to the need to learn how to navigate knowledge rather than teach students as they are just a storage container of facts and figures.
Leveraging ai as a new ed-tech platform.
As noted above, ai is already in use in many ed-tech platforms. It already helps students rapidly improve writing through instant formative feedback. reasoning, and retention of complex concepts. It’s time to expand those uses and look for more.
Beyond current uses, technologies such as adaptive learning could see a major boost with more rapid adaptation. For example, tools such as Area9 Lyceum’s adaptive learning Rhapsode platform already offer highly advanced adaptive learning approaches. The addition of ai tools could allow more rapid, evidence-based adaptation of the learning materials.
The power of rapid adaptive learning also allows a course correction to avoid confusion, learning the wrong thing, or just abandoning learning. Ai could accelerate and enrich the process.
In sum, it’s time to embrace and leverage new technologies rather than react too narrowly or with unnecessary resistance.
As a quick note, this article was not written by ChatGPT, should someone want to know. The tools of Grammarly, an ai-assisted writing tool, are used as I author these pieces. What may happen, however, is that this article on ai tools may end up sampled by ChatGPT and end up in a future ai-written article on the topic.
If you enjoyed this content, please forward it to others and feel free to leave a comment. Please also jump over to Student360.Report for the next article on holistic assessment. In that article, we will explore how we can know what our students actually know and learn. As a hint—it’s more than tests and exams!
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