It is inevitable that students will use AI in some way or another in their learning – perhaps even inadvertently as it becomes integrated into the technologies that mediate the daily work of writing, reading, and thinking.
This is particularly pertinent as the sophistication and ubiquity of of AI-powered tools increases, such as the new version of Microsoft office 365 Copilot, which has integrated ChatGPT. Banning AI is not viable, especially since students are already being exposed to the AI landscape and will need to use those tools in their future careers. Therefore, the only alternative for educators in universities is to actively promote the use of AI in an inclusive and ethical way.
There are a number of ways that AI-powered tools can support students’ learning currently – and more will emerge as the technology continues to develop. Chatbots and virtual assistants offer immediate guidance and support to students, regardless of their location or time.
OTTER, MS Team, and Zoom with embedded transcription functions, can help address communication challenges. By providing automatic transcription, students can focus on listening and understanding the lecture while also having a written record of the material presented. This approach can help students with disabilities, as well as those from underprivileged backgrounds, to engage more effectively in their learning and achieve academic success. Grammarly and Wordtune can also assist students who are not fluent in English language with grammar checking and proofreading, allowing students to focus on higher-level writing skills.
But right now, these tools are not equally accessible to all students. ChatGPT 4, for example, can only be accessed via a paid subscription. Students from underprivileged social and economic backgrounds who cannot afford the advanced version of AI might be disadvantaged compared to their peers who can afford and know how to use them. Students’ digital literacy and access to devices is also variable, and differential access to AI technology could aggravate these differences.
Therefore, to ensure a level playing field, universities should create policies that make provision for the following:
AI resource investment: AI should be made accessible to all students, regardless of whether it is the free or paid version. Universities need to invest in AI and the necessary resources, digital devices, and reliable internet, ensuring equitable access for all students. We also advocate for prioritisation of accessibility features for students with disabilities, such as speech recognition, text-to-speech, and image captioning.
Guidance of ethical usage of AI: Universities should set up guidance on AI usage for learning, research and assessment and be clear on the principles that govern the usage of AI and the conduct of students in using it. Students’ understanding of AI tools and their application in learning and teaching should be assessed and monitored.
Staff AI training: To effectively integrate AI into subject teaching, it is important to consider the specific pedagogy and assessment needs of the subject area. Educators must recognize both the advantages and disadvantages of AI-powered tools and their potential contribution to subject teaching and be prepared to discuss these with students. Universities should provide guidance and training in university-level policies, and support subject academics to come up with a shared plan of action that meets the needs of their own subject discipline.
Students AI training: AI competency development should be included in universities’ agenda as it becomes an important digital skill in the workplace. Students need to understand both how to use AI powered tools in learning and assessment ethically and appropriately, but also how these skills may apply in the world beyond university.
But the pace of change we are currently seeing suggests that no single policy framework or training programme will be sufficient to encompass every possible current and future use of AI. Beyond these fundamental provisions, students and staff will need encouragement, support, and “permission” to engage with new tools as they emerge, and keep knowledge and practice up to date.
So as well as keeping policies under review and evaluating the impact of AI tools on the institutional learning and teaching landscape, and student engagement and success, universities will need to work out how to remain open to a steady stream of novel tools, and be prepared to continue to absorb these into learning on an ongoing basis.