The Use of Generative Artificial Intelligence in Higher Education: Too intimidating or my new and improved virtual assistant?

Written by Marcie Kamb June 13, 2023

Greg Nagy, Applications Developer for the Center on Education and Training for Employment, demonstrates how to use virtual reality technology as a generative artificial intelligence assessment experience.

The College of Education and Human Ecology’s core value of innovation emphasizes “the continuous process of discovery that is solution focused and community based.” In a time when employees openly discuss work burnout and a desire for more work-life balance, why not consider embracing tools for efficiency and working smarter, especially in higher education?

Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one solution to consider. Instead of following a set of predefined rules, generative AI models learn from a vast amount of data to understand patterns and generate something entirely new based on that knowledge. This process is often accomplished using an AI “neural network,” which mimics how human brains work by simulating interconnected neurons. Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT are based on natural language processing techniques, allowing them to output human-like text.

E-mail exchanges have replaced phone calls and the unsatisfying game of phone tag. Online meetings often replace in-person meetings, reserved conference rooms and complicated parking. Electronic-shared calendars replaced paper calendars, allowing scheduling with fewer headaches. But what about AI tools like ChatGPT, an AI program that uses machine learning algorithms to respond to various queries and tasks? Can it live up to the hype?

As a translational research center, the Center on Education and Training for Employment (CETE) is no stranger to embracing emerging technologies. CETE urges people to consider how the selective use of generative AI tools (including ChatGPT) can help organizations — particularly higher education — reshape education, drive research, increase productivity and foster high-quality workplace interactions.

Generative AI’s Supporting Role in Enhancing Learning Experiences

Generative AI is revolutionizing education by personalizing learning experiences, supporting educators and expanding access to knowledge. Adaptive learning platforms leverage language model algorithms to analyze students’ performance data, tailoring educational content and pacing to meet individual needs.

By adapting to learners’ strengths and weaknesses, AI can often enhance engagement and improve learning outcomes. Rather than waiting for a professor to respond to an e-mail while students are working on their assignment, virtual tutors can offer real-time assistance, providing immediate feedback and guidance. Professors can also use AI to synthesize learner interaction in online classes and tailor future lessons based on this interaction to better meet students’ needs.

AI also enables content curation, offering a wealth of educational resources that are accessible, helping to facilitate the lifelong learning experiences learners are currently seeking.

Ana-Paula Correia, PhD, professor of learning technologies in the Department of Educational Studies and director of the Center on Education and Training for Employment, said AI plays a key role in a Learning Development & Training organization.

“At CETE, we recognize the transformative power of generative AI tools. Driven by our commitment to excellence and innovation, we are becoming proficient users of these technologies,” Correia said.

Jennie Long, Assistant to the Director of the Center on Education and Training for Employment, uses ChatGPT to generate a list of recent trends in workforce development to create content for social media posts.
Jennie Long, Assistant to the Director of the Center on Education and Training for Employment, uses ChatGPT to generate a list of recent trends in workforce development to create content for social media posts.

“We are experimenting with these tools to boost productivity by leveraging their capabilities to expedite work processes, streamline workflows and maximize efficiency. The increased efficiency frees up our team to dedicate more time and resources to impactful research and practice, fostering a culture of excellence within our translational research center,” she said.

Other CETE associates, including Sean HickeyFan Xu, and Greg Nagy are exploring the use of generative AI tools in assessment, learning design and curriculum development, to name a few.

Exploring research tasks with a critical lens: How can generative AI lend a hand?

Many academic scholars spend quality time with a dataset. Generative AI can accelerate the data analysis process by using algorithms that can analyze large volumes of data. They do so with remarkable speed and accuracy, uncovering patterns, relationships and insights that may elude human researchers who have competing priorities. This data-driven approach can help scholars make informed decisions and develop innovative solutions to societal problems. Using AI in these ways can help free scholars’ time for critical thinking, scholarly writing, creative endeavors and developing collaborations with the communities they serve.

“CETE’s associates and faculty are positioning ourselves to deliver outputs at unprecedented levels of quality,” Correia said. “By tapping into these tools, we can also enhance the scholarly and creative works to further CETE’s mission.”

Maximining time at work using generative AI

Employees can level up their productivity using generative AI tools. For example, in responding to requests for continual data-driven decisions, AI algorithms can analyze large datasets and identify patterns and trends while generating reports for strategic planning and decision-making. AI-based systems also can automate document organization, retrieval and categorization. This eliminates manual efforts and allows employees to locate critical information quickly, saving time and reducing frustration. AI-driven collaborative workspaces can also help coworkers work together seamlessly on shared projects and documents. These spaces offer features such as version control, real-time editing and task management, which promote efficient collaboration and reduce duplication of efforts.

Generative AI certainly can’t replace the value of an inspiring professor providing thoughtful feedback to a manuscript draft, a scholar making a personal connection with person in their research community or a team-building water-cooler chat. Still, it can provide ways to work smarter and give time for richer experiences that motivate us to do what we do best — translate research into reality.

For more information on examples, uses, and limitations of AI, access CETE’s expertise brief on The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Learning & Development: Understanding ChatGPT, A Quick Reference.