You can ask Alexa what the temperature is going to be before you walk outside. You can refer to Siri to find out how long your daily commute to work is going to be before your engine turns over. Your car can sense an accident before your bumper meets another. As human beings, we have outsourced thinking about future problems. We have artificial intelligence (AI) features like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana that will do it for us. Perhaps we rely on them because of their seemingly refined, objective knowledge. Perhaps their abilities allow them to see into a future unbeknownst to most human beings. And while we may never know why we trust the automated voice that answers every question we can possibly think of, we know we aren’t alone. Even higher education institutions look to AI for objective answers and solutions to long withstanding issues within education. From student outcomes, student support, and learning capabilities, postsecondary institutions are using their own version of Siri to solve tough issues.
According to Elana Zeide’s article “Artificial Intelligence in Higher Education: Applications, Promise and Perils, and Ethical Questions” AI can be broadly defined as “the attempt to create machines that can do things previously possible only through human cognition.” AI uses data and patterns to predict future events, such as temperature and traffic patterns. However, they can be used for more complex, human-related issues such as student outcomes and success. For example, “Universities Use AI to Boost Student Graduation Rates” cites an example of the University of Florida using AI to oversee students’ academic progress and pinpoint students at risk of failing. If a student is identified as at-risk, the university will ensure the student receives the assistance they need to get back on track. Ivy Tech Community College’s faculty and staff have taken student support a step further by using AI to identify students who have enrolled in a class they may be at-risk of failing. Before the semester starts, faculty and staff members call those students in and provide them with a list of resources, such as free math tutoring, that may be helpful to them if the class becomes too difficult. As a result, the entire school saw a decrease in the college’s failure rate by 3.3%.
Other higher education institutions use AI to assist in admissions and improve outcomes. For example, Georgia State University has adopted AI to decrease the amount of students who “who accept offers of admissions but subsequently do not show up for fall enrollment.” This common phenomenon is often referred to as summer melt. On a mission to decrease summer melt, GSU discovered that many of the obstacles to student matriculation were as simple as immunization records or help with class registration (according to Reduction of Summer Melt). However, with 2,000 calls a day during the start of a new semester, GSU couldn’t possibly reach every student and help them properly matriculate into their institution. To address this issue, Georgia State University developed “Pounce”, an AI chatbot to answer admitted students’ frequently asked questions. The chatbox answers questions at all hours of the day or night, allowing students to ask as many questions as they need at their leisure. The interface occurs over text message thus meeting students where they are likely comfortable and familiar. During its first launch, Pounce answered over 200,000 questions and decreased summer melt by 20% (according to Artificial Intelligence: Hero Or Villain For Higher Education?).
One of the most promising areas for growth within AI is its ability to customize and personalize students’ learning experience. Harvard’s Business Review’s article “How AI and Data Could Personalize Higher Education” discusses the many possible benefits of AI learning in the classroom stating “With a personalized learning experience, every student would enjoy a completely unique educational approach that’s fully tailored to his or her individual abilities and needs. This could directly increase students’ motivation and reduce their likelihood of dropping out.” While this information leans on the theoretical side, other schools are making AI-informed classrooms a reality.
Recently, The New York Times released an article titled “How Technology Is Changing the Future of Higher Education” in which author, Jon Marcus recounts example after example of higher education universities using cutting-edge technology to improve student outcomes and the higher education experience as a whole. Most notably, they discuss the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s immersion lab that features 360 degree projection on 15-foot walls. In it, students learning Mandarin are transported to the streets of Beijing, China. The system allows participants to “practice conversational skills, improve their vocabulary, pronunciation, and cultural knowledge” with AI characters (according to Rensselaer’s website). Marcus reports that students participating in the immersion lab master the language twice as fast as students in traditional classrooms.
The list goes on and on. Artificial intelligence is taking higher education by storm. From its practical uses in student support and enrollment to its personalized uses in the classroom, AI continues to improve higher education for institutions and students alike. It’s only a matter of time before AI can help students decide what major best suits their skills and goals. While we can’t see what lies ahead, the future of AI and higher education seems to only get better and brighter for our students.