Is Artificial Intelligence Pushing Universities & Colleges Into A New Era?

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has rapidly been advancing and is making its presence felt across various sectors. One of the most significant areas where AI is making a profound impact is in tertiary education.

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Technology has always been a driving force when it comes to growth and development in various sectors. Now with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), we are once again witnessing how industries continue to evolve with the help of new technologies.

AI language models like ChatGPT, Colossal Chat and Chat Sonic have recently taken the world by storm and has grown rapidly in the education sector, particularly tertiary institutions.

Should institutions embrace these AI programmes? What are the ethical considerations of using AI in education? What impact will AI have on the role of educators?

All of these questions along with the fears of student plagiarism are hotly debated.

Institutions Embracing ChatGPT

Professor Yudhvir Seetharam Head of Analytics, Insights and Research at FNB Commercial says that AI integration in education offers opportunities to enhance student learning this include critical thinking and problem solving.

Seetharam says ChatGPT is a is a great tool to help students learn how to deal with uncertainty or ambiguity whilst still having their lecturers to guide them and show them.

We need to approach it with caution to ensure that as we embrace the technology and embrace the benefits that the technology can bring to us.

He gives an example of how he has been using applications like ChatGPT to come up with case studies. “It allows me to go and provide case studies has either have a 100% factual information in which case I can then show to my students, or it provides information some of which are inaccurate.”

It can help students understand and figure out how to critically analyse those responses to then determine what is right and what is wrong according to the methods we covered in the textbook.

Managing AI plagiarism

In terms of academic integrity and implementing appropriate guidelines and policies, it is crucial that the higher education sector address the opportunities and challenges surrounding ChatGPT and other AI programmes.

While it is suggested that these programmes are embraced by both students and educators, it has highly advisable that it is to be done in a responsible way. Some universities have already noted instances where students are using ChatGPT to cheat and plagiarise on assessments and during tests. 

Seetharam says that with regards to plagiarism it is quite key that every single learner or graduate understands ethics and how to apply it in their particular field.

“What I mean by that is not allowing students to use it for an ethical practices but actually embracing it as students as lecturers so that we can use it to not just enhance how we teach but also enhance how our students learn,” he explains.

Incorporating AI Into Education And Training

While speaking at the 2023 Higher Education World Forum Ministerial Exchange Session on Artificial Intelligence in May, Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande acknowledged the need to incorporate artificial intelligence into education and training.

The Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation is leading in the 2019 - 2024 Medium-Term Strategic Framework, and the White Paper for Post-School Education and Training acknowledges the need to incorporate AI into education and training provision.

Nzimande stressed that it is crucial to implement AI responsibly and ethically, focusing on enhancing the teaching and learning experience for all students.

This has also highlighted the need for future university or college students to carefully evaluate which career paths they want to pursue once graduating high school. Choosing a career path today means navigating through a digital landscape where Artificial Intelligence is a central player.

Currently, universities, such as the University Witwatersrand and the University Johannesburg offer courses in AI, mainly as a branch of computer science.

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When it comes to rapid technological advancements, Artificial Intelligence has so far proven that the dawn of a new era is upon us. This is more-so the case for education which appears to be among the sectors that are poised for disruption by the development of various types of AI.

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