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Preparing for the Unanticipated: AI Applications in Higher Education

Generative AI (GenAI) has emerged and is developing far more rapidly than expected. How should universities prepare for the impact and changes that may not even be anticipated?

ChatGPT launched just one year ago on November 30, 2022. Since that date, with the infusion of tens of billions of dollars, tech companies around the world have launched multiple alternative versions of GenAI bots and applications using a variety of Large Language Models. The applications are many and the user base is surging daily. Clara Shih, CEO of Salesforce AI says “In my career, I’ve never seen a technology get adopted this fast. Now, for AI to truly transform how people live and work, organizations must develop AI that is rooted in trust, and easily accessible for everyone to do more enjoyable, productive work.” Salesforce AI released results of a snapshot poll in September, Generative AI Snapshot:

According to the research, generative AI users are a young, engaged, and confident group of “super-users,” meaning they use the technology frequently and believe they are well on their way to mastering it.

    • 65% of generative AI users are Millennials or Gen Z, and 72% are employed.
    • Nearly 6 in 10 users believe they are on their way to mastering the technology.
    • 70% of Gen Z report using the technology and 52% of them trust the technology to help them make informed decisions.

And, users aren’t slowing down anytime soon — 52% say their usage of generative AI is increasing compared to when they first started.

This is not merely casual, personal use of GenAI, rather business and industry has uncovered the efficiency and profitability of using the technology. A Harvard-led study released in September has found that using generative AI helped hundreds of consultants working for the respected Boston Consulting Group (BCG) complete a range of tasks more often, more quickly, and at a higher quality than those who did not use AI. Further, it showed that the lowest performers among the group had the biggest gains when using generative AI. The study which was conducted by data scientists and researchers from Harvard, UPenn’s Wharton School, and MIT, is the first significant study of real usage of generative AI in an enterprise since the enormous success of ChatGPT’s pubic release in November 2022 — which launched a rush among major enterprise companies to figure out the best ways to utilize it.

Lance Eaton, a writer, educator, instructional designer, educational and social media consultant in Providence, Rhode Island created a site at which faculty and administrators at more than 100 universities submitted examples of AI tool syllabi policies they have used for classes. The technology has already become too important for universities to merely respond in an ad hoc way to new developments from a world filled with AI-enhanced program developers. We must be not only reactive to developments, but we must also be proactive in preparing for those developments that are on the horizon.

Universities must create strategic, methodical, predictive processes that take into account capabilities, and reasoned responses, for adoption and support in our institutions. In this process, we have to engage a range of constituencies from experts and developers in this field to students and employers. Collectively, we can effectively share priorities that will enhance and streamline the development and adoption of the most relevant, efficient and effective applications as they become available. 

Identify and appoint a Leader to coordinate and vision the AI initiative

On October 15, Western University of Ontario took a leadership role among academic institutions by installing a Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer, Mark Daley. He is an AI researcher and leader in neural computation. He is charged with developing and implementing a university-wide AI strategy that supports Western’s academic mission and research objectives. Daley says of AI, “There’s a moral imperative for us to not just be aware of it, but to engage and lead. We’re at a very important moment in time where we need to have challenging conversations about everything from regulation versus open source to freedom of expression, as well as the moral, ethical and societal implications of this technology.” Identifying a coordinator and leader such as Western University has is the first step in the process of creating a framework for AI in an institution. It will be important to create such a C-level leadership position at each university to coordinate the policy-making, research, application, and the internal and external teams of experts who will serve to chart the course of AI initiatives. 

Identify and appoint a committee of internal and external experts and representative stakeholders

It is this group from both within and without the university that will identify opportunities and threats emerging in the field of Artificial Intelligence. This committee must meet often to keep the momentum going and to ensure that all emerging applications and practices are carefully examined to determine their relevance and importance to the institution.  The group should include:

  • Faculty and staff from related or interested departments and offices. These internal experts will be able to assess applicability of emerging technologies, practices and applications in the context of the university culture.
  • Top leadership and Human Resources leaders from businesses, agencies, and other entities that regularly employ graduates and certificate completers from the university. These external representatives should be in a position to share current and anticipated priorities for future hires.
  • It is anticipated that the committee will begin by creating a list of guiding principles and practices that will serve as a framework for decision-making about AI.
    • More than 130 higher education organizations, administrators, researchers and faculty members from 44 countries have collaborated to produce a set of core principles to guide development of artificial intelligence policies and practices at college and universities. The statement of principles was released Oct. 9, 2023, at the 18th annual United Nations Internet Governance Forum in Kyoto, Japan. Universities are asked to consider, revise and adopt such a framework:
      • People, not technology, must be at the center of our work
      • We should promote digital inclusion within and beyond our institutions
      • Digital and information literacy is an essential part of a core education
      • AI tools should enhance teaching and learning
      • Learning about technologies is an experiential, lifelong process
      • AI research and development must be done responsibly
    • A librarian who will curate the materials brought to and reviewed by the committee to assure that what will quickly become a large repository of knowledge, information, and perspectives can be effectively and efficiently reviewed and applied by internal and external groups and organizations. The librarian will oversee the process of assuring that faculty, staff, students, and interested or affected external persons and organizations are regularly and fully informed of the committee’s work.
    • Linkages must be created to IT support units, public information offices, academic governance entities, and the provost/VPAA, president/chancellor as well as the governing board offices.

Developing such an administrative structure cannot wait. New technologies and applications are released daily. Universities must identify and support the appropriate effective use and teaching of those technologies and applications to ensure that students are prepared to utilize them upon completion of degrees or certificates from the institution and so that the university can operate as efficiently and effectively as is possible. Who is leading this important initiative at your institution?  Are you as prepared as you believe you should be for the AI age that is upon us?


This article was originally published in Inside Higher Ed’s Transforming Teaching & Learning blog. 

A man (Ray Schroeder) is dressed in a suit with a blue tie and wearing glasses.

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

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