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The Future of Education: How Generative AI Can Transform Higher Learning — Whether You Like It Or Not.
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The Future of Education: How Generative AI Can Transform Higher Learning — Whether You Like It Or Not.

Last Updated on July 17, 2023 by Editorial Team

Author(s): Myra Roldan

Originally published on Towards AI.

Photo by Emiliano Vittoriosi on Unsplash

Higher education is a fickle space that is eager to keep up with evolving technology but quick to drag its feet in adopting it. However, generative AI has emerged as a powerful tool, revolutionizing the teaching, learning, and research landscape. There are educators at higher education institutions (i.e., community colleges & universities) that are constantly seeking innovative ways to engage students and foster academic excellence — this is where generative AI presents exciting opportunities. However, if you’ve kept an eye on the development of generative AI, you may have caught wind of the educator uproar around students using generative AI to complete assignments, write papers, conduct research, and more.

One of the main concerns educators have is that students may use generative AI to cheat on assignments. With the introduction of generative AI, it has become easier than ever for students to generate original-looking content that could be considered plagiarized because it was written by a machine. According to a Plagiarism: Facts and Stats article that shared surveys on student plagiarism, 59% of high school students and 36% of college students admitted to plagiarizing content from the internet even before generative AI existed.

Another concern is that students may become overly reliant on generative AI and fail to develop their own critical thinking and writing skills. According to a survey conducted by Common Sense Media, 71% of the 685 teachers surveyed believed that technology was hurting attention span “somewhat” or “a lot.” About 60% said it hindered students’ ability to write and communicate face-to-face, and almost half said it hurt critical thinking and their ability to do homework¹. Additional concerns around the use of generative AI in education are ethical considerations. For example, suppose a student uses generative AI to write an essay for a college application. In that case, they may be taking away an opportunity from another student who worked hard to write their own paper, giving the student who used generative AI an unfair advantage, potentially widening the access and opportunity gap for minority students. There are also a lot of questions about who owns the copyright for content generated by AI — is it the student who used the software or the company that created it?

We need to address all of these concerns and others not mentioned to ensure the responsible and ethical use of generative AI in education. But how can this be done? Well, educators have always played a vital role in implementing strategies to prevent plagiarism and promote academic integrity — this is not a new issue. Some of the strategies include educating students about the importance of original work, teaching proper citation methods, and utilizing plagiarism detection software to identify potential instances of cheating. So what can be done to mitigate some of the risks of students becoming overly reliant on generative AI? Honestly, students will do what students do—we’ve all been there. However, one strategy that I recommend educators adopt is to create assignments that encourage critical thinking, analysis, and creativity, and encourage students to use generative AI as a jumping-off point; then, have students evaluate the content generated by AI and include their reflections in the assignment. Then engage students in a discussion about the quality, privacy, security, and ethics of using generative AI. Educators should not discourage the use of generative AI but rather integrate best practices for the use of generative AI into their lessons to guide students on the benefits, risks, and ethical considerations of using this technology.

When it comes to addressing the ethical considerations surrounding the use of generative AI in education, I believe that open discussions play a crucial role. Just telling students that they cannot use generative AI technology is not enough to deter their use, in fact, it will have the opposite effect—creating scenarios where students take it on as a challenge to see if the educator can even tell whether or not they used generative AI to complete an assignment. It’s the “they’ll never know” mentality. But if you engage students in conversations about the implications of using AI-generated content to create awareness and understanding of the ethical dimensions involved, you can build their awareness and equip them with the knowledge that they may not already have about how to use generative AI ethically.

It’s important to create a culture of ethical awareness. Educators can encourage students to critically reflect on the impact of generative AI on their learning and the wider academic community. By staying up-to-date with copyright regulations, educators can make informed decisions about the use of AI-generated content and ensure that proper attribution and intellectual property rights are respected. Incorporating discussions on copyright laws and responsible content usage within educational settings can further contribute to students’ understanding of their rights and responsibilities as creators and consumers of information.

Despite all of the concerns that educators have when it comes to generative AI use by students, we also need to recognize the potential benefits that generative AI offers educators. Here is my short list:

1. Personalized Learning:
Generative AI enables personalized learning experiences by analyzing student data, identifying knowledge gaps, and tailoring content and recommendations to individual needs. This can drive student engagement, motivation, and improved academic performance.

2. Enhanced Content Creation:
Generative AI empowers educators to develop innovative and interactive content. Virtual reality simulations, AI-generated visualizations, and intelligent tutoring systems captivate students’ attention, promoting deeper understanding and knowledge retention.

3. Efficient Administrative Processes:
Administrative tasks can be a point of contention for many educators. Generative AI-based tools can be used to automate administrative tasks, such as grading and content generation, freeing up valuable time for educators to focus on student support and more meaningful interactions.

4. Advanced Research and Data Analysis:
Generative AI can assist researchers in analyzing vast amounts of data, uncovering patterns, and generating valuable insights. It accelerates discoveries, enables evidence-based decision-making, and contributes to advancements across diverse fields of study.

Through thoughtful implementation, ongoing assessment, and ethical guidance, generative AI can truly enhance the educational experience, enabling students to develop essential skills for the future while upholding the values of honesty, critical thinking, and originality. Considering the current and future student population in higher education and the positive impact personalized learning technologies have on learning experiences, generative AI holds immense potential to modernize the education space and prepare students for jobs that are emerging in the workforce.

While generative AI has many potential benefits for education, educators have valid concerns about its use by students. It is important for educators to carefully consider the use of generative AI in their classrooms and to educate their students on the proper use of this technology. By finding the right balance between technological advancements and educational principles, we can ensure that generative AI serves as a valuable tool for student growth and learning.

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