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Understanding Artificial Intelligence in Higher Education

Most of us have heard the warnings. Artificial intelligence or “AI” is here and is expected to rapidly impact the ways in which we live and work. Every industry and organization ranging from healthcare, entertainment, business and of course, education seems to be talking about AI.

But with the onset of COVID-19, it’s time we invested a few moments into preparing, understanding and responding to the impact AI will have on education. The topic of AI can certainly conjure up lots of intimidating thoughts that involve killer robots, and how they could replace jobs or even control humanity, but that view is primarily due to science fiction.

The reality of artificial intelligence is that it can be used on the premise of improving lives. While some may argue that the use of robots has replaced some jobs, that could not be further from the truth in the world of education.

If you are optimistic about the future of AI, you should be eager to learn about how AI may compliment your teaching, research, and scholarship activities. If you have more concerns than hopes for AI, you might be worried a robot may replace you in the near future.

In either scenario, there is no better time than the present to become more familiar with AI and its potential impact. Leadership in education is needed to chart a course for AI so its function will be to positively impact learning outcomes. Education is built upon personal interactions and making provisions for social settings. So, while the education system is experiencing more use of technology than ever before, properly harnessed, AIs purpose could be to assist educators, not replace them.

But first, let’s define what AI is and is not.

What Is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence is defined as “the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans.” The research contained in artificial intelligence involves the programming of attributes that replicate the human ability to include problem-solving, accumulation of knowledge, perception, and planning.

The feasibility of incorporating common sense and reasoning skills into machines is quite difficult and requires immense supervision to ensure proper classification and analysis.

Bottom line, in order for artificial intelligence to be possible, it must have access to necessary information in order to get the correct answer. This is true in regard to a mathematical equation, answers to geographical questions or the solving of any problem. Furthermore, the access to the information is provided by humans.

While we may hear about artificial intelligence more frequently in the news, it is not brand new. Fewer than ten years following World War II, in 1950 mathematician Alan Turing, posed the question: “Can machines think?” Thus, began the quest of determining if machines had the ability to imitate human intelligence.

In today’s world, artificial intelligence is already a part of our daily lives. From vehicles that offer the self-driving and lane assist features to the convenience of receiving feedback from inquiries made to Siri or Alexa for obtaining details regarding the current weather forecast, or providing information for nearby restaurants, shopping or hotels, and then of course there is the use of GPS navigation systems that most everyone has become acclimated to. All of these platforms incorporate artificial intelligence and most of us enjoy the conveniences offered through its use.

In regard to artificial intelligence, there are two primary categories, which are weak AI or strong AI. An example of weak AI would be Siri or Alexa, or virtual personal assistants as a whole. Weak AI is also inclusive of computer programs that incorporate reasoning skills into online games played against a computer or the current capacity of self-driving automobiles.

This form of AI is programmed to tackle specific tasks that fall within designated categories and is the replication of human intelligence in the form of reasoning and correction.

What’s Next for Higher Education?

Computers have largely been a part of our lives for the past four decades and during that time, the advances in machine learning have quietly integrated artificial intelligence into our lives. AI has made an entry into education, both in theory and in practice.

When the use of AI is not accepted into our educational system, ultimately it will be students who pay the price. An absence of student career readiness and instructional personalization are already degrading the quality of education today. Overall, AIs main benefit is found in the time-saving nature of the technology in action. Through careful utilization of AI, low value, time-intensive tasks can be automated.

This paves the way for higher ed institutions to let students be self-service, a must for the new world of asynchronous learning. As a result, students will rely less on teachers and staff to answer questions, allowing for a deeper connection they’ve always wanted.

Higher ed institutions are now primed to re-focus their energy on personalizing education and improving the total student experience. There is a logical fear that AI will strip us of meaningful human interactions.

Relationships are crucial to human development and teachers play a major role in that growth process. AI won’t steal our personal relationships, in fact, AI may offer a means to improve them.

By embracing the benefits of AI technology, what’s next for education is exciting and promising.