Higher education's move beyond initial concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) to focus on the technology's practical, concrete opportunities was a recurring theme at the U.S. Digital University Conference, which concluded Wednesday in St. Louis. .

This week's conference was co-hosted by Inside higher education and times higher education In collaboration with Washington University in St. Louis, we brought together hundreds of university administrators and education technology company stakeholders to explore the opportunities and challenges of digital transformation in higher education.

“I've been working on digital transformation for over 20 years. The first lesson is that it doesn't happen overnight,” said Arizona State University's Chief Information Officer, who kicked off the second day of the event. Lev Gonik said, explaining the science-focused virtual reality lab's partnership with OpenAI.

Gonick said ASU's digital transformation has taken decades, but when it comes to AI, there's no time to spare. ASU needs to move “from online to AI” within about three to four years, he said.

artificial intelligence

Not surprisingly, generative AI was a hot topic at many event sessions. At a packed workshop on “Why Universities Are Slow to Adopt Technology,” attendees cited AI as an important higher education technology trend that will continue to emerge over the next five years.

When it comes to accelerating academic processes with AI, “a lot of the new work for us is figuring out what we want to measure along the way, not just at the end,” says Douglas, associate dean and clinical professor at New York University. Harrison said. . “Ends have been a very reliable measure of learning for a long time. But now we have to measure at the middle — we've been saying that for decades, but now we have to measure at the middle. We are under pressure.”

In another session, Robbie Melton, interim president and vice chancellor at Tennessee State University, warned of the dangers of bias in AI results. She explained how AI-generated images of underrepresented groups, even those with a sad or serious bent, can result in negative portrayals. Multiple prompts may be needed to create a positive, happy AI-generated image, she says.

“The digital divide exists, and if underrepresented groups don't have a seat at the table, the digital divide will get even bigger,” said Melton, who is also vice president of technology innovation at SMART Global Innovative Technologies Division. Stated.

Badri Adhikari, associate professor of computer science at the University of Missouri-St. emphasized the importance of Adhikari also emphasized that AI is not yet reliable enough to be used without human checks in the resulting applications.

“There is a gap between solving the problem of bias and avoiding it. terminatorAnd I will continue to work within that role,” he said.

The University of Florida, which works hard to train faculty to help students use AI ethically and practically, has refrained from using it to build assessments due to similar concerns, according to its director of strategic initiatives. Vice-Chancellor David Reid said. He said even a promising initial predictive analytics program had been halted as teams investigated its possible impact.

Neil Richards, Koch Distinguished Professor of Law at Washington University in St. Louis, joked that he was invited to be the “resident contrarian” on a panel discussing the ethical and legal implications of AI. Richards pushes back against the idea that technology regulation and innovation are at odds, arguing that technology and law have long been intertwined, and that powerful technologies find ways to accommodate sound ethical and legal guardrails. did.

ASU's Gonick said a key way to quickly deploy AI is to focus some employees solely on implementing the technology, whether it's a two-person team or a 20-person team.

“When they wake up in the morning and go to bed at night, all they think about is AI acceleration at ASU,” Gonick said of the AI ​​acceleration team. “If you're adding it to someone's existing agenda, you're on board, but it's hard to imagine spending the necessary resources.”

Equity and inclusion

AI wasn't the only topic at the event, the official theme was “Digital First: Access, Equity, Innovation.”

“One of the really great things about the online space is that it gives us an opportunity to really think about creating learning experiences with diversity in mind,” said Purdue Global's vice president of organizational culture and chief diversity officer. said Tiffany Townsend.

“What we're doing with technology is really thinking about how learners emerge from the beginning. How do they emerge and learn in different ways?” And how do we incorporate that? And how we build courses from the ground up,” she said.

When defining access and equity in online spaces, boiling ideas down to a single definition can be limiting, says Quality Matters, a nonprofit organization focused on online and blended learning. said Rachel Brooks, Director of Implementation Solutions.

“We need to rely on the expertise of our students to identify ways to continue to expand the definition of learners, rather than to prevent them from experiencing difficulties,” she said. “Keep in mind that we grow and learn. Keeping that in mind will help us expand the definitions we choose.”

Explanation of losses due to the new coronavirus

University leaders also touched on the importance of addressing the learning and emotional losses that have occurred during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a session with leaders from minority-serving institutions, Maurice Tyler, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Bowie State University, a historically black institution in Maryland, spoke about the current Students stated that their development in building social relationships was delayed compared to pre-school students. Pandemic.

“We can clearly see the cliff, but we don't know what to do about it,” Tyler said. “How can he fast-forward someone's brain six years into the future without forcing them into a lot of social interactions that we don't really have?”

As part of Bowie State University's response, we have increased the frequency of support from our student support team and moved up potential intervention checkpoints from the fifth week of the semester to the second week.

“Having these timelines in place was helpful because it helped me stay ahead of the problem rather than trying to catch up,” she said.

Wendy Ducasse, director of field education and clinical assistant professor at Saint Louis University, spoke in a separate session about the impact the pandemic has had on students' mental health, with some students thriving in an online learning environment while others. noted that existing mental health challenges were exacerbated. The tendency for young people to access a near-constant stream of news about world events on social media can create experiences of “vicarious trauma,” she said.

Tameka Herrion, senior director of programs at the St. Louis Scholarship Foundation, told Educators that 85% of funded students are eligible for Pell Grants. Apps like Headspace and Calm give you access on the go. ”

Sara Custer, Colleen Flaherty, and David Ho contributed to this article.

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