The Rise of Ethical AI in Higher Education

The conversation around artificial intelligence (AI) is almost as nuanced and complex as the technology itself. But no matter how polarizing the topic gets, the trajectory of AI is undeniably impressive. ChatGPT was only released in late 2022, and it’s already widely used across industries.

In the higher education sector alone, AI has made its mark. A Spring 2023 survey from BestColleges revealed that 43% of college students had already used ChatGPT (or a similar generative AI tool) within just a few months of the platform’s launch. And half of those students used AI tools to help complete assignments or exams. The percentages are likely even higher now.

For many in the higher ed industry, it’s easy to read these statistics and consider AI a form of cheating (at worst) or a gray area (at best). For others, the adoption of AI is an invitation to experiment and grow. In fact, professors have argued at length about the ethical implications of AI in the classroom.

The polarizing discourse will probably continue. But one thing remains clear: AI is here to stay. Learners and leaders must figure out how to effectively – and ethically – use generative AI tools. This will look different depending on the institution and/or field of study.

How to address AI usage at your college or university

In a campus-wide letter, Brown University Provost Francis J. Doyle III addressed the potential impact of generative AI tools on things like academic integrity, citation, research, and intellectual property protection. Rather than establish University-wide policies, Doyle left it up to instructors to clarify AI usage guidelines within their own courses.

His work provides a good example for other likeminded leaders. Doyle wrote, “While the University is not prescribing specific AI policies, faculty should offer clear, unambiguous information about what is, and is not, allowed in their courses . . . AI tools will rapidly evolve in the coming months and years, and Brown is well positioned to innovate in this space. Experts from across our campus – from engineering, public health, medicine, the social sciences, the humanities, policy leaders and technologists – have already been incorporating AI into their work. I encourage all of you to experiment with AI to find ways it could be helpful to your academic experience.”

Doyle is one of many higher ed leaders navigating how AI can be used for good. Even if policies evolve over time, it’s wise for institutions to communicate their own usage guidelines. However, an alarming number of colleges and universities don’t yet require their instructors to address the topic of AI at all. More than half of the students (54%) who participated in the BestColleges survey revealed that none of their instructors had openly discussed the use of AI tools. And only 25% said their schools or instructors had specific policies on how to use AI ethically or responsibly.

AI will help higher education institutions stay innovative

This “wait and see” approach to AI is understandable, though potentially damaging. Over the past few years, institutions have struggled with a post-2020 enrollment and retention dip. With this in mind, colleges and universities can’t afford not to keep up with the changing landscape. Fortunately, there are resources to help educators do just that.

One such resource comes directly from OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT. Its Teaching with AI page suggests prompts to help instructors come up with detailed lesson plans and curricula that keep students engaged. It’s also helpful for instructors to test out ChatGPT themselves to experience both its potential and its limitations. Alternately, institutional leaders who remain resistant to AI may find it easier to use it outside the classroom first.

Chatbots, for example, are a form of AI that many have encountered during a virtual customer service experience or for tech support on various websites. As a recent article in EdTech points out, using ChatGPT to communicate via chatbots could help institutions do the following:

  • Tutor students to increase self-efficacy and persistence
  • Answer enrollment, registration, or financial aid questions
  • Maintain contact with students to increase engagement during slower seasons
  • Direct students to specific resources – whether educational, administrative, or health-related


Beyond this, AI can improve workflows on the administration side or enhance the way research is collected. In the next post, we’ll look at some real-life examples of how institutions currently benefit from ethical AI usage – in and out of the classroom.

The Rise of Ethical AI in Higher Education

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