AI and Higher Ed: An Increasingly Common Combination
Artificial intelligence functions in almost all the layers of the education system. That’s no surprise considering that much of the inspiration and groundwork for AI sprang from University halls. And as AI performs more functions within education, it’s clear that teaching people to learn will depend more and more on artificial intelligence. We’re here to provide a refresher on the state of AI in higher ed and education as a whole, with a little insight into where this long-term relationship might be heading.
ChatGPT and Higher Ed
Nothing has brought the AI conversation to higher ed halls quite like ChatGPT. Its arrival is probably a big reason why many of you are here reading this blog. This large language model released by OpenAI in November 2022 is AI’s best attempt to replicate authentic human communication…and the results are fairly astonishing.
For decades this sort of language generation tool looked like a pipe dream, a punchline for content generators (like me!). But when you combine immense processing power with 178 billion parameters and around 300 years of training (condensed to a span of 9-12 months), you get ChatGPT. It’s a powerhouse in content generation. It can code apps based on simple commands, write excel formulas, and–you guessed it–produce fairly sophisticated written pieces (like the ones professors would prefer students write themselves). Needless to say, it’s not a punchline anymore.
That being said, ChatGPT has its limitations. Its voice hits a little stilted and generic, and it can’t really communicate new information–just reorganize information that already exists. And since ChatGPT was trained on data sets from 2021 and earlier, it’s not drawing on the most up-to-date data and information. Also, user beware, because sometimes ChatGPT misrepresents the sources of its information–even misattributing made up quotes–which is a definite no-no in scholarship. For these reasons, ChatGPT isn’t really designed to replace humans, just to offer them a tool that helps maximize efficiency.
It can be leveraged in so many ways: to help summarize information, brainstorm ideas, conduct research, generate content, even code an entire app–the possibilities are endless. Halda, a company that helps education institutions personalize their website experience for each visitor, even uses a large language model to auto-generate specific, personalized content. It’s the kind of progressive thinking that leverages new large language models into more efficient communication and marketing processes. Advances like these, however, are built on a sturdy foundation of AI in higher education.
Early AI in Higher Ed
Automated AI processes have been used by higher ed for decades to facilitate tasks. Good Ol’ Fashioned AI (GOFAI)—where humans input rules to dictate how programs carry out specific tasks–have populated higher ed processes for years. Now those have combined with neural networks and deep learning to optimize a number of processes and tasks. Here are just a few ways AI has become a part of the fabric of higher ed:
- Teaching/Tutoring– Especially in the post-Covid world, people are hungry for innovative, convenient ways to learn. AI helps that through three distinct models:
- AI-directed, learner-as-recipient- AI directs the learner through specific learning pathways that deliver content. Paths are predetermined, goals are prearranged, and feedback is static.
- AI-supported, learner-as-collaborator- AI works with the learner to adapt to their individual needs and interests. Learners can interact with the interface to better understand the reasoning behind its responses.
- AI-empowered, learner-as-leader- A form of augmented intelligence that uses deep learning to allow the learner to guide the inquiry process.
- Chatbots (meaning Chatbots with built-out conversation trees and predetermined responses.)
- Student Record Management
- Interactive Learning Games
- Facilities (managing areas like power, water, etc.)
- Personalized Learning– Learning that assesses students’ needs and strengths, then serves content and media that adapt to their individual situation.
- Data Analytics– AI helps educators and higher ed marketers analyze data related to their students, learning process, and performance.
Any exhaustive list of AI’s applications in the education space would make for a very long piece, but suffice it to say that artificial intelligence has a long-standing and meaningful place in the industry. These more traditional applications aren’t necessarily going anywhere, but the newest AI in higher ed is changing the game in some key ways.
AI Advances in Higher Education
In a few main areas AI has really taken off. From helping teach students to recruiting them to campuses, AI– especially the kind powered by deep learning–is helping revolutionize traditional higher ed tools.
Tutors & Teaching Assistants
You’ve probably heard of Jill Watson, Georgia Tech’s AI-powered teaching assistant released in 2016 as a kind of online class concierge. Jill so effectively responded to thousands of message board questions that the students didn’t realize she was AI. Since most of the questions were relatively similar and repeated, Jill could continuously learn and remember proper responses and answer them conversationally. Schools like Staffordshire University, in England, and Deakin University, in Australia, have also produced similar student assistants to recommend reading materials and suggest more efficient ways to engage with campus.
The latest from the innovative folks at Georgia Tech is Agent Smith (a nod to the replicating villain in The Matrix), a scalable version of Jill Watson that can recreate Jill for other classrooms and schools around the world.
As a sort of tutoring-adjacent function, recent artificial intelligence can also help students personalize the learning process. AI can sort and draw conclusions from data about students’ activities and learning habits, then suggest content and media that they’ll respond to most favorably.
Higher Ed Marketing & Communication
AI has been a part of marketing practices for decades. Leveraging automation for the sake of efficiency and personalization is just part of the gig. However, there are some novel ways that higher ed marketers are leveraging artificial intelligence to reach out to and interact with prospects.
Reaching out to students is great, but sometimes it’s best to start with keeping the students you already have. Georgia State University (what’s in the AI water in the Peach State?!), another Atlanta-based school, has released an AI chatbot called Pounce to combat summer melt–when enrolled students drop over the course of the summer. Pounce’s constant communication and availability catered to the concerns of a drop-heavy student population to increase retention.
One size does not fit all when it comes to building relationships with prospective students, which is why some schools are leveraging AI–through companies like Aible–to find the best ways to reach out to leads. AI can sort through data–demographic information, academic standing, family history–to determine which leads will respond to certain types of communication. Then artificial intelligence can help personalize that communication strategy.
With the help of AI, web personalization is more accessible and scalable than ever. And since today’s visitors appreciate personalization efforts, it’s an AI-powered strategy that’s easy to implement and effective for recruiting. Halda, for instance, uses AI to personalize the content experience for website visitors. Basically, Halda leverages artificial intelligence to build individualized content environments based on information about each website visitor. Personalization strategies, like these, can impact lead generation dramatically–often increasing lead inquiries by 300-500%. And thanks to AI and automation, personalization has ironically enough become an imminently scalable endeavor.
AI is just one of the ways Halda uses advanced tech to help higher ed build a meaningful rapport with the right students. To get to know a little more about our personalization tools, or ask us any questions about how we incorporate AI in our business, feel free to visit Halda. We’re always interested in a (non-artificial) conversation.
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