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Dealing with AI in Academia, Focus on The Positives

By focusing on the positives of using generative AI in the academia, everyone can stay ahead of the technology (Solen Feyissa - Unsplash)

By Professor Dato Dr Ahmad Ibrahim

In a recent podcast, two academics offered their views on the use of AI, artificial intelligence, in universities. Such public discourse has become common lately. Admittedly, the encroachment of AI into higher education is unstoppable. In fact, many see AI as the new disruptive force in business and government. Instead of discussing how to prevent AI from assuming prominence in higher education, many suggest embracing it with caution. All agree AI has both the positive and negative sides. Embracing AI poses risks. At the same time, it offers benefits never before possible. Dealing with AI therefore calls for measures to mitigate the risks and capitalise on the opportunities. In academia, generative AI like ChatGPT has emerged as the tool that has been at the centre of much debate.

Professor Dato Dr Ahmad Ibrahim

Generative AI is the use of artificial intelligence to create new content, like text, and images. AI uses machine learning to learn the patterns and relationships in a dataset of content input by humans. They  use the learned patterns to generate new content. With promptings by humans, the technology can create new content fast. Many worldwide see the benefits of AI in education. One of its most significant advantages is how it can help automate administrative tasks allowing academics more time to focus on high-value student interactions. The most commonly reported benefit of generative AI tools was saving time. Many are already using generative AI to create lesson plans and develop student learning tasks.

Lecturers can use generative AI to create curriculum summaries, assessment rubrics, discussion topics, student lesson plans, learning resources, and classroom activities. Generative AI can be used together with the university management system to streamline tasks.  Using AI tools alongside CQI can significantly reduce teacher planning workloads. Generative AI increases the efficiency of marking and feedback. It’s not only the lecturers who can gain from using generative AI. Studies have shown the potential for generative AI to personalise lesson plans for students with literacy and learning challenges. There have been reported positive outcomes of such approach.

The biggest fears talk about the rise of cheating and the tendency for AI to give misleading answers. Many worry generative AI might hinder attempts to improve students’ critical thinking. Sceptics argue there is a possibility that AI will lead to a permanent downgrading of human skills. They say AI poses a bigger threat to creativity. The use of generative AI could also lead to complacency. There’s a risk that students may become dependent on AI technology. There are additional concerns around ethical issues such as inherent bias and data privacy. But many feel generative AI can benefit the student learning experience and creativity. This means schools need an AI policy which should include guidelines on responsible use, including the potential risks of using AI, and what responsible use looks like. It should also cover bias and errors, including any ethical considerations related to plagiarism and the proper use of secondary sources. It has been suggested that the policy must clearly state how the faculty is using AI tools and show  commitment to using them fairly and safely. Lecturers should know what’s expected of them and how they can effectively use AI in the classroom to support learning.

For example, ChatGPT can be treated the way calculators are treated, allowing it for some assignments but not others. Another approach is allowing students to use generative AI for part of the task. For example, students can use ChatGPT to create outlines for their essays, then put their devices away and write them independently. This teaches students how to interact with AI and ask the right questions. And for today’s students, who will graduate into a world full of generative AI programs, these are critical skills to learn. It’s worth remembering we’re in the early days of AI, and the technology is in a perpetual state of evolution. By staying informed about the latest advancements, everyone can stay ahead of any critical changes and adapt accordingly. Whatever it is, we need to deal with AI to create more positives for education.

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