AI in Higher Ed: Challenges and Opportunities

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is rapidly changing the landscape of various industries, and higher education is no exception. In higher ed, AI offers a wide range of opportunities to enhance the learning experience, streamline administrative tasks, and personalize education to individual student needs. However, the integration of AI into higher ed also poses numerous challenges such as job displacement, unequal access to technology, and ethical considerations. Members of the UNINCORPORATED team sat down to discuss how AI is poised to impact the future of higher ed, and its potential impact on students, educators, and institutions.


Ian believes that ChatGPT is going to make it more difficult to check whether a student’s work was plagiarized. Also, what if essays aren't even the best way to assess knowledge or to teach learning outcomes now that we have this tool in place? Ian's challenge to marketing, branding, and communications professionals is to not use AI to generate all of the necessary marketing verbiage. As a word of caution, if you lean too heavily on AI to do all of your writing and communication, then you will stop developing that ability along with other abilities, such as critical thinking, that add value to you and your profession.

Robert predicts that when it comes to using AI for blog creation, the market will decide what's good and what's not. Google tracks time on page, number of visits, etc, so if Google is seeing people visit blog posts and engage with the content, that is a positive sign to Google’s algorithm, whether the content was created by an AI or a human. When it comes to AI-generated art, Robert feels that AI art is not particularly "good." It sometimes generates something interesting, but it's not generally what would be considered "high-quality art". But when it comes to ChatGPT, he expects that could be an artist's dream, because it can free up artists from doing administrative tasks in their careers, and give them more time to spend on art itself.

Rebecca notes that someone who is in an "artsy" space will probably look at it as "AI art" versus "creator-made art.” ChatGPT's text output can often be very bland, with it just regurgitating the same ideas in different forms, and at present, AI art is doing much the same thing.

Torr predicts that maybe one day AI art will evolve, but that right now it's as if you're looking at art created by just one artist. A lot of people's affection for AI-created art is merely based on the fact that it was created by AI.



Robert: I'm gonna throw a curve ball, which is one of your favorite things to do because that's true. I want to talk. Maybe not discuss it in detail, but I want to ask about AI. We've seen it a lot in the news. We've seen it a lot on Twitter, and I think we're starting to see it come up in higher ed when it comes to people using AI, you know, ChatGPT, being maybe the more popular one right now to generate papers and content, students using it as a way to complete assignments. So I'm curious what each of you might be thinking in terms of how it'll continue to be used and what might happen in terms of regulating it in higher ed. How will students be able to, or not be able to use it to do coursework? 

Rebecca: I feel like you should go first as the professor of the group.

Ian: I was gonna say, as a professor who reads papers and has to assign a letter grade to everything that I read, chat AI is gonna make it really difficult to know what's original; what is, actually coming from the student's mind. And I think the best thing we can do is maybe just give everyone an "A" written assignments [laughs]. No, my prediction is going to be simply stated: It puts a lot more pressure on the professors to check and make sure that the concepts that are being shared and written are original and authentic to the student. But also I think there's gonna be a trend moving away from written assessments and finding other ways to really spot-check the learning outcomes that each student is pursuing.

Torr: There's an article in The Atlantic the other day called, with the title The College Essay Dead. It mentions how, right now, professors have systems where you put the essay into it and it'll check it against the catalog to see if it can find similar ones it could have been plagiarized from X, Y, Z. But the thing is with chat GPT, which is the name of the big super popular one right now, that anyone can go create an account on and access. There's kind of a slight misunderstanding about it with some people out there. They might think that that tool is searching the web and bringing back content out there, but it's not. What it's spitting back out at you is what it has created. So what it sends you is not something that already exists online somewhere. It's not something that professors are gonna be able to easily check to see whether or not it was plagiarized because it's not technically plagiarized as, as we've come to think of that what that term for meaning.

Ian: Yeah, it's not. It's an original transcript, but it did not originate from the student's mind. Yes, exactly. And imagine a world where you have, in the other arts and sciences, you have a world where the digital artist is having AI generate the design for their project, where you have maybe even a robot doing your painting, your oil painting in a painting class, or imagine a lab and you have a machine or some AI generating the answers for your physics exam or in your chemistry lab. There is really no end to the amount of enablement that is going to continue to find its way into higher education. I think the ways that we actually check... and this is probably similar too, to how people felt when search engines just came on board. It's like, okay, what does that mean to the research process now that I can just search for any article or, you know, cite Wikipedia in my research? So we'll continue to evolve, especially as machine learning and AI-generated thinking and results continue to be part of our process.

Rebecca: I think from a design point of view, it's super interesting because I have played with ChatGPT, to be transparent, I actually used it for some placeholder web copy the other day because I was like, I need some paragraphs and I can't get 'em from the client, so let me just pull something from this entity that'll be sort of sufficient. The thing that I feel like I've seen is just that it's also super bland, honestly. It just kind of repeats and regurgitates the same idea with different words and it never really has a specific point of view. So I think as we start to play with artificial intelligence, we still need to value the creator and like the original thoughts and minds that do have that distinct point of view. And I'm hoping that'll help professors as you said, Ian, kind of ensures that they're understanding concepts and not just putting the same mix of words together, which is kind of where chat GPT currently is. It might evolve past that, and at some point, it probably will, but for now, it definitely seems to be, I would say, like a starting point, but not an end result from like a design and like technical writing perspective.

Ian: My prediction as it impacts marketing and communications teams, and this is my challenge to all of you mar-com professionals out there listening or watching, my challenge to you is not to use these chat-enabled AIs to generate marketing language for your website or you know, marketing pros for your ad campaign. But I do think that there will be a trend of resources being depleted and continuing to be strapped and under scrutiny when it comes to budget and personnel. And so what are you gonna do? You're gonna leverage the tools available in order to get the job done. So I think we'll see a trend in its usage, across the board. My challenge is to use that maybe as a starting place, but don't let it replace any of your own original thinking and writing. One thing too that we didn't really talk about but it does touch brand, it does touch web design, and it does touch marketing, is how will Google assess the search equity or the search value of the words that are now being scrubbed? You know what, what's to prevent me, let's say, from generating a thousand articles on the music industry, and careers in music, and then launching a thousand freshly created blog articles on my program page? How was Google going to know that that's actually usable, genuine, good content for the prospective student? So I think Google and its search algorithm also have to figure out the ways that this might be manipulated and used.

Robert: I have thoughts on this topic. I think maybe the market will decide what's good and what's not. Google tracks time on page, number of visits, et cetera, as part of SEO. It used to be keyword stuffing was the thing, and that's what people would do. They would just write a thousand blog posts using the words "careers" and "music", even though it didn't make sense. But I think if Google is seeing people visiting these a thousand blog posts and spending a lot of time and reading dozens of them at the same time; to them, it's just literally an algorithm, there's no like, "I feel like this isn't okay, therefore we need to dock these posts." So I think in some ways the market will determine, by how much time they spend and whether or not they visit and whether or not they exit; if the content is usable. And brands will decide, or not to, continue using these tools to create blog content if it's not working. If they create a thousand blog posts and generate, you know, 10 visits, it didn't help them at all. So I think that will also skew them or potentially sway them away from using tools like that. Going back to the idea of ChatGPT and AI more generally. So you brought up the example of when Google came out, right? People could just search for whatever they wanted. I wonder if professors at that time were like, "This is unfair. They don't have to go to the library and spend hours scouring all these different books for citations and, and resources and all this stuff." It probably felt very similar. Go back even further again, I'm getting out of my depth, but when it comes to the calculator; when the calculators were first introduced you could bring it to class with you, it wasn't this big thing. You don't have to do it on the chalkboard or on paper anymore, you could just type in the numbers and it would spit out the answer for you. I'm sure they also felt like that was cheating in many ways. So when it comes to essays and generating content for essays, using a chatbot, it almost feels like we're solving for the medium, not for the advancement in technology. So to Torr's point, what if the essays aren't the best way to assess knowledge or to teach anything now that we have this tool in place? Math classes aren't gonna teach you how to do long-form math on paper. I would assume. Again, I don't know this, I imagine they will allow you to use the tools that are at your disposal, aka using a calculator. I'm gonna teach you how to solve these problems using a calculator, not how to draw it out longform on a chalkboard potentially. So, are we solving for the medium or are we solving for the future of what the, what learning might look like?

Ian: Yeah. Or maybe we're not solving anything, we're just evolving into a new inflection of learning. You made me think and imagine, law school, right? And practicing lawyers. There might be a time when you don't wanna hire a human attorney, you would rather have an AI represent you in a court of law, right? So what does that actually change to? What kind of impact does that have, not only on teaching and learning but on career outcomes and how does that shape the market? And I think you're absolutely right, the market will continue to play a major role. We hear of this, the market factor or the market influence on higher education, and it certainly will continue to shape that.

Robert: I was talking to somebody about this the other day and I want to hear Rebecca's perspective on this as it pertains to art because we talked a lot about content and maybe solving problems, solving math problems, or writing a legal document. But when it comes to AI-generated art, I don't believe; and I don't know that anybody else that I've talked to believes that it's good. It's unique, it's interesting, and sometimes it generates some cool stuff, but it's not generally "good." And maybe that'll get better, I'm not sure. But from my point of view, I almost feel like chat AI or the ChatGPT and that type of stuff would be an artist's dream because now I don't have to worry about writing content for my website or generating legal documents. Obviously speaking down the road, maybe not right now, but I can just focus on the art. No one's gonna replace the way that I paint a painting or that I shoot a photograph. I don't have to worry about any of the other kinds of math and science stuff of potentially being an artist, I can just focus on being the best artist of what I want to do, which is kind of cool.

Rebecca: Yeah, it's interesting. There are a couple of different conversations happening around AI and art that I've seen and I think it does go back to the market or the masses and what do they deem good enough? Cause I think someone who's in an artsy space, whatever that means to you, could look at AI-generated art versus creator-made art and know which one they perceive as better. But if the masses are okay with AI-generated, then that artist's stance, kind of starts to drop. Like they know their product is no longer something people are seeking out. AI is also getting so evolved that people can say, "Paint me this in this style," right? So a lot of indie artists are like, their art is being scraped to build these AI databases. And so their art is almost losing value because AI is now putting art out that looks exactly the same; they're mimicking style. I'm just hoping that people can perceive enough of the soul of a piece to understand the difference, I guess. And that's really where I think all this is going to, is the soul of like, if a blog article isn't some Pulitzer Prize-winning thing, I think that's fine. But if you're gonna sit down and spend a few hours with a novel, I want that to be a more intentionally designed experience, I guess. And so the same thing with art and the same thing with content, any type of content, video, content, whatever it is. I think we're in this space where we both consume bite-size, small pieces of content to just either distract ourselves or to just get a little bit of base knowledge about something, but also long-form content that we spend time with and want to consider and see all the sides of. And so, I don't know if AI will ever replace that kind of more intentional art or content space but it definitely does seem like it might start to replace that kind of bite-size, snack-size content. So it'll be interesting. It'll be interesting to see how people's perceptions and understanding of these spaces evolve as the space gets more flooded with AI-generated content. Maybe we're training a generation that can't tell the difference.

Ian: So a couple of quick points on this. Maybe you guys have felt as if you're now seeing all of those renderings or self-portrait renderings, like, oh my gosh, not another set of 12 photos that all have that same look. We, we can sniff that out. We the viewer is actually quite sensitive to it, and I think now with the saturation of it, we just dismiss it immediately like so. The shiny object of what once was is now tarnished and we're gonna just swipe right past it, right? But relating it, so that's point number one. I do think we are becoming more sensitive to it, and we're going to dismiss it outright because it doesn't have much value.

Rebecca: Is that "we" as in this team here, or "we" as in the entire population? 

Ian: I think collectively the trend will be, "Oh, that's AI art, pfft, who cares?" It's like, "I don't care how cool it looks, it's done by an AI bot." It's like, give me some, gimme a raw sketch of something," you know? Show me a process where someone's actually cutting out a piece of paper and making a collage. That's what.

Robert: I almost wonder if it'll show your work, but I almost wonder if it'll look like, you know, how everybody responds to stock photography, how everybody responds to stock music.

Torr: That's how I feel right now. Because like you said, all the friends and everything posting, "Oh, I uploaded my photo and it created versions of me as like a gladiator" or whatever, all that stuff. My issue is, maybe AI art will evolve, but right now it's as if you're looking at art by just one artist and not just one artist, but I feel like you're looking at art by just one artist during one particular period of their life and style. I also feel like a lot of it when people go, "Oh, that's so cool." A lot of that comes from the fact that it was prefaced with, "Oh, look what AI created for me." Whereas if someone was just presented with, look at this picture of me as, as a gladiator, they'd go, "Uh, that's very, very cheesy looking." That looks like something maybe a caricature artist at an amusement park would've done. So I feel like the context in which people are presented with this art is coloring people's perceptions of it.

Ian: Definitely. And Robert, you make a really good correlation to stock photography because how long have we had stock photography now? Like 25 years or longer? like stock photo companies still don't know how to get a genuine photo look, right? That's still a coveted asset. When you can like go and search for a stock image that doesn't look like stock. Right. And that's 25 years in the making. So at what point does AI actually be able to render the raw kind of fresh hand-felt image, the warmth image, similar to a warm, handcrafted stock photo?

Robert: But look at platforms like Unsplash where it's kind of come full circle where like artists, photographers who do like photography in a certain style put out photos now as being stock. I've even seen some who will put out a collection of photos using their friends, using models, or whatever that looks very organic. They look like something that, you know, a photographer friend might shoot of a weekend dinner. So I think it's almost come full circle where people are. Maybe there's a lack in the market of good stock photography and artists, photographers who are skilled in their craft go out and shoot what people need and want. You might start to see that same type of cycle happen.

Ian: Definitely don't give me an AI-generated image for my next ad campaign. Give me an illustrator who can generate a real illustration of what the concept is. Whatever the case is, it's always gonna come back to the point of view of the maker or the communicator and what concept they're generating. You know, knock on wood, AI isn't to the point yet where it can generate original concepts and also have a distinct, unique point of view.




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