A group of higher education academics said on Monday that while artificial intelligence (AI) does have its risks, universities and schools should be leveraging the tool to maximize student learning.  

“[AI] is really challenging our practice in many ways. It’s forcing us as educators to rethink our instructional strategies, to rethink our assessments to be able to utilize the strengths of these tools to maximize student learning,” said Brenda Bannan, a professor at George Mason University (GMU) and a founding member of GMU’s Center for Advancing Human-Machine Partnership. 

“There’s a reconsideration of how we learn,” Bannan said during a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) webinar on Dec. 18. “And there’s also a potential of these tools to impact educational research. There are many different ways to capture behaviors and interactions with some of these tools that we’ve never had before in real-time at the moment that can perhaps help us learn a lot more about learning and teaching.”  

Bannan partnered with Alan Shark, an associate professor at GMU and the executive director of the Public Technology Institute, to publish a NAPA report on the use of generative AI in public education.  

“We were learning as we went through this process,” Shark said of the report. “We believe that AI in education is probably one of the most fundamental shifts that have occurred in at least 100 years.” 

“I can’t think of anything else more profound, that affects more disciplines. In fact, the whole field of education and the way we teach, the way we do research, and the way we learn,” he added. 

The October report offers 10 advantages of generative AI in public education. The Associate Vice President for Research and Economic Development at SUNY at Albany, Theresa Pardo, said during the NAPA webinar that AI can help tackle certain challenges, like workforce needs.  

“The introduction of AI as a cross-cutting technology is really important to our ability to think about how do we leverage the existing capabilities of our research universities and potentially, how do we reorganize those institutions so that we can in fact fully maximize the potential of the primary disciplines but how we bring those primary disciplines together with technology – in this case, AI but certainly other technologies as well – to address these societal challenges,” Pardo said. 

“Educating the workforce is in fact one of our challenges,” she added. “We have to have a better understanding of how best to do this, and I think AI itself could potentially help inform our decisions about how best to organize our institutions so that we can leverage technology in new ways and leverage the interdisciplinarity that’s so critical for these complex social problems.”  

The report also highlights 10 disadvantages of using generative AI – like ChatGPT – in public education, including risks like plagiarism and misinformation.  

“A classic [challenge], which a lot of educators get concerned about is when is it plagiarism or not? When is the evidence presented real evidence or when is it disinformation or misinformation and a lie,” said Jerry Mechling, a former fellow at Harvard University. “We’re focused on that, but that’s not the only thing we need to be focused on. If there is a mistake we could be making, it may be the things we weren’t thinking as much about. And so, I would like to keep a balance between what we’re paying attention to and what we aren’t.”  

The report concludes that “rather than outright banning GAI, public education should develop AI literacy, policies, and guidelines, spelling out how this technology can or can’t be used.”  

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