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6 innovative ways higher ed can embrace AI

June 13, 2023, By Afia Tasneem, Senior Director, Strategic Research Abhilash Panthagani, Associate Director, Strategic Research

Within six months of its launch, AI tools like ChatGPT have swiftly moved from being innovative novelties to a staple in many of our daily lives. However, ChatGPT’s popularity—with 1.5 billion monthly visits to the tool’s site—is only the tip of the iceberg. AI promises to revolutionize nearly every aspect of our lives, from the way we learn, accomplish tasks at work, to how we seek entertainment. Beyond our day-to-day activities, AI promises to reshape entire industries from agriculture and healthcare to climate change and space exploration.

Our EAB research team spoke with dozens of higher education leaders—ranging from presidents, provosts, and CIOs–about the emergence of AI tools on campus. While some leaders expressed apprehension, most are eager to explore opportunities and applications of AI in higher education—from democratizing and personalizing teaching and learning to drastically increasing our operational efficiency.

To help inform ongoing conversation, this article explores six innovative ways higher education can embrace AI with examples from across sectors.

1. Infuse AI into every discipline’s curriculum

To prepare all students for the workforce of the future, the University of Florida (UF) is providing every student, regardless of major, the opportunity to learn about AI. As a part of an AI initiative launched in 2020, UF first began offering an introductory course teaching basic AI literacy and concepts to all students. Since then, individual colleges and departments have tailored AI courses to their specific needs and disciplines. For example, the business school now requires its majors to take an “AI and business analytics course” to fulfill the requirements for their degree.

This AI-for-all initiative has sparked innovative AI projects by students across campus in fields as diverse as agriculture, finance, and medical research. And holistically incorporating AI into teaching and learning will likely give students a head start to succeed in the modern workforce, given how AI tools are projected to augment job functions. UF currently has over 7,000 students enrolled in AI courses on campus (see course requirements for UF’s AI Fundamentals and Applications Certificate here).

2. Provide every student with personalized AI tutors

Studnt, an AI-powered tutor that offers personalized one-on-one tutoring and real-time guidance to students, is now available to students at a growing number of Canadian universities. Right now, Studnt supports approximately 20 classes per university, with plans to expand to 100, including Mcgill University, Concordia University, Queen’s University, and the University of Ottawa. Other companies like Khan Academy are also testing AI-powered tutors like Khanmigo, which will assist students in endeavors ranging from writing papers to coding applications. The Virtual Operative Assistant at the Neurosurgical Simulation and Artificial Intelligence Learning Centre at the Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital even teaches surgical technique and provides personalized feedback to students while they conduct procedures.

AI tutors like Studnt could become an essential pillar in every student’s academic journey, from coaching them through learning difficult topics to providing real-time feedback while completing daily assignments. Moreover, the more a student works with an AI tutor, the more it will be able to tailor its guidance for that particular student’s needs. This means explaining complex concepts in relatable terms and motivating them when they lose interest in a topic.

3. Give faculty an extra hand with AI teaching aids

Coursera recently announced plans to release an AI-Assisted Course Building feature this year that will help faculty structure lesson plans and generate course content based on recommended readings and assignments they upload. Another AI feature set to launch, Quick Grader, will streamline the grading process by using student assignments and rubrics faculty upload to review and provide feedback on individual assignments, using reusable comments and applicable hyperlinks.

These AI teaching aids can help faculty manage their teaching workload by serving as a valuable brainstorming partner during course planning to partially automating repetitive tasks like grading assignments. Faculty can then spend more time innovating in the classroom and finding productive ways to engage students, especially as use of ChatGPT in the classroom explodes.

Will ChatGPT ruin or improve higher education? In this podcast episode, EAB’s Michael Fischer and Ron Yanosky discuss whether ChatGPT represents an existential threat to higher education and how institutions are adapting.

4. Empower staff with AI-enabled insights from enterprise data at their fingertips

In an experiment to help its financial advisors more efficiently access organizational information, Morgan Stanley harnessed OpenAI’s GPT-4, training it on 100,000 of its bank and research documents. This helped financial advisors to quickly analyze large volumes of data and insights to answer diverse questions, ranging from general business intel to internal process details. This freed up time for financial advisors, who were then able to spend more time personalizing their client service.

Trained AI chatbots can similarly transform knowledge management in higher education, improving efficiency and decision-making across many functions. For example, a trained AI chatbot could help general counsel sift through large volumes of legal documents or support accounts payable by quickly filtering through past invoices.

However, to ensure data privacy and security, institutions should partner with vendors or other institutions to develop their own instances of AI chatbots with built-in guardrails. Organizations like Morgan Stanley and PwC have followed this approach, creating proprietary AI chatbots for internal use.

5. Boost enrollment and advancement teams with AI-generated personalized content

In an effort to hyper-personalize their newsletter content to subscribers while maintaining its organization’s tone, the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) International implemented’s AI system in April this year. Their smart newsletters boosted their membership’s engagement, spurring an increase in their ad revenue by 63%.

As institutions compete for a dwindling pool of students and funds, enrollment marketing and advancement teams can similarly leverage AI tools to multiply their reach and output. AI tools can help them craft engaging, personalized content at scale, spanning from social media posts, to email campaigns, to fundraising appeals. For example, if institutions can train AI on existing personalized emails, the AI could autonomously tailor emails to prospective students that align with their backgrounds and interests.

6. Expand use cases of helpdesk chatbots to conduct more complex tasks

In a HomeServe emergency repair and improvement call center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a conversational AI chatbot name Charlie has set a high bar by independently resolving 15% of all claims and helping agents answer customer inquiries in real time. During one storm, Charlie helped 10,000 customers schedule repairs and book claims on its own, while providing real-time suggestion prompts to agents as they handled their own claims and repairs.

With chatbot technology evolving rapidly after the introduction of ChatGPT last November, chatbots can now handle a lot more than the previous generations that could only handle the most basic inquiries with canned answers. The next generation of AI chatbots will be able to provide improved service in even more complex environments (both independently and as support for live agents) because of their advanced deep-learning capabilities, capacity to generate text themselves, and ability to sound like a real person. For example, an AI chatbot can help students with course planning by searching course catalogs, finding right-fit classes based on students’ backgrounds and interests, and then listing pertinent and available class sections.

Afia Tasneem

Senior Director, Strategic Research

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Abhilash Panthagani

Associate Director, Strategic Research

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