Generative AI in Higher Education: From Frustration to Personalization 

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Artificial IntelligenceOnline Learning
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Research from Pew shows that nearly six in ten (58%) U.S. adults are familiar with ChatGPT. Just 14% of U.S. adults who have heard of it say they have used it, and those under 30 are far more likely than older adults to have experimented with the technology. In higher education, generative artificial intelligence (AI) is still formally in its infancy, but this emerging and often controversial technology is giving pause to many faculty members and looks set to disrupt higher education as we know it. 

In our 2023 Faces of Faculty report we asked educators about the challenges they’re facing this year. Managing changing student norms and expectations was at the top of their list. One of those new student norms seems to be blurred lines around academic integrity. With greater numbers of young people experimenting with tools like ChatGPT, the tendency for students to use AI for plagiarism and cheating – in addition to using it for less contentious purposes like for studying or finding inspiration – seems to have grown. Here are a few things we heard from faculty members: 

“ChatGPT has made [combating plagiarism] exceedingly difficult. Students submit computer generated work that is unoriginal and earns zero credit. I use [AI-checker] websites. In-class assignments are helpful as students must write something in class and cannot rely on a computer for “help.” – Associate Professor 

“Due to the creation of ChatGPT, the university is accepting that this type of cheating is going to happen and cannot be fully stopped due to lack of available software for catching it. It is more or less based on an honor system now.” – Lecturer


The generative AI in higher education debate

Students using technology to cheat is understandably top-of-mind for educators, but it’s really just the most obvious layer of the generative AI in higher education debate. An equally, if not more, important facet of this quickly emerging technology is its power to enhance personalized learning for students. Whether it could function as a study, tutoring, advising or assessment tool, or even as an intervention aid for at-risk students, the untapped potential of generative AI to facilitate highly adaptive, student-centric educational experiences is incredible. Depending on who you ask, the use of AI in those contexts might sound daunting, exciting or something in-between. The reality right now? Generative AI is here, its use among students and faculty is growing. 


Possibilities on the horizon

A University of Florida professor explained to ABC News, “There’s a natural progression. New tools like the calculator, Grammarly and editing tools that came out a number of years ago that made all of our writing better, including mine, right? Those are things that are just going to keep on coming…”

With widespread AI adoption on the horizon, many higher education leaders are quickly looking to build policies governing its use on campus. Any such policies will need to be comprehensive. They will need to account for AI both as a source of disruption to the classroom in the short-term and as a powerful tool that has the potential to unlock exceptionally personalized learning experiences in the longer term. In other words, policies will need to be rigid enough to account for the realities facing faculty today, and flexible enough to allow for the unwritten possibilities of higher education’s tomorrow. 


Clearly, generative AI is an evolving area in higher education. Many faculty members have pressing questions and concerns about how they can use it as a tool to benefit students. Are you one of them? Explore our Empowered Educator webinars, including Embracing the Power of Generative AI, which shares strategies that you can consider for using and dealing with AI in higher education. You’ll get first-hand experiences, perspectives and insights from a grassroots panel that includes a student, administrator, instructional designer and instructor.