CARIB | May 21, 2023

AI in higher education: Guardrails needed for students, not bans

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 3 minutes
A smartphone with a displayed ChatGPT logo is placed on a computer motherboard in this illustration taken February 23, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

With the eruption of artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT, higher education experts are concerned about where these tools fit in the academic space. 

The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) virtual Vice-Chancellor’s Forum on ‘Artificial Intelligence (AI): A Blessing or Curse for Higher Education‘ held on earlier in May, placed education experts on a panel to discuss the unfolding issues.

At the discussion table were Professor Justin Robinson, pro vice-chancellor, Board for Undergraduate Studies, The UWI; Dr. Emma Sabzalieva, Head of Research and Foresight, UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC); Arianna Valentini, Research and Foresight, UNESCO IESALCA; Dr. Margaret Niles, manager, research insights and products innovation, Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC); and Patti West-Smith, director, customer engagement team, Turnitin.

Professor Robinson, moderator for the forum, opened the session introducing the topic on behalf of Vice-Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles and showcased the ability of ChatGPT using the trial version to write a poem based on keywords.

Panellists then jumped into the topic discussing whether AI was a blessing or curse for higher education.

The consensus was that AI is neither.

It now provides the opportunity to “improve the quality of work for educators and meaningfully impact the learning outcomes for students” said West-Smith, to which her fellow panellists agreed. The panel also cautioned that AI tools are dependent on information produced by others in order to create and as such are inherently biased.  

Building on the point, Valentini gave the example of gender bias, stating “if you asked ChatGPT to give you a list of 10 modern philosophers, it will most likely give you a list of male philosophers coming from the west.”

Artificial Intelligence words are seen in this illustration taken March 31, 2023. (Photo: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

The panel also discussed the extreme option of banning AI from higher education on the grounds that the tools could constitute cheating and encourage unoriginal thinking. The experts were unified in their position that with the technology already in use and likely to continue, the idea of banning AI tools likely comes from a place of fear. They believe it should instead be used strategically to empower students to think originally and critically.

West-Smith commented, “If we don’t give students the guardrails around how to use these tools effectively and ethically, who will? In many cases they will create their own ethics and ethos around what is appropriate and ethical, and I think we all know that can lead to some challenges.”

Sabzalieva further encouraged educators to ‘take a breath’ and not rush to the conclusion of banning the tools.

“Your core job is teaching and learning and finding out new things such as how this piece of technology works without rushing to worry about immediate bans” she said.

Commenting on the opportunity for re-envisioning the approach, Dr. Margaret Niles offered that humans determine the success of AI and now higher education needs to reinvent the curriculum to include more critical thinking, critical reasoning, and soft skills.

She proposed concentrating on transversal skills, “…where we now focus on lifelong learning and taking our students to the point where they can comfortably adjust and adapt to the vastly fluid world that they will enter into as workers.”

Niles also noted that the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) has accepted that ChatGPT and AI are here to stay and now the focus is on authentic assessment. She said that syllabi and curricula moving forward will have to be adjusted to include AI and assessments like school-based assessments (SBAs) will need to be adjusted to combat the changing environment with a focus on soft skills.

Dr. Margaret Niles, manager of research insights and products innovation, at the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC). (Photo: Contributed)

Offering closing words, Professor Robinson said “there is this powerful new tool that is available, it offers great potential to advance education, but it comes with risks. We must use the one thing these models don’t have, which is our human creativity to really manage this in a way that maximises the potential and minimizes the risk.”

He committed that The UWI would continue to engage with internal and external stakeholders on the issues developing from the use of artificial intelligence in higher education.


What To Read Next