Three ways artificial intelligence is transforming higher education
Universities are already tapping into the power of artificial intelligence. Source: Shutterstock

Artificial intelligence (AI) is already having a major impact on a range of industries – hot on the heels is education.

While AI can fuel some form of uncertainty and anxiety in people in regards to jobs, with one report predicting that automation will threaten over 800 million jobs worldwide by 2030, there are reasons to believe that AI can bring some positive change in the education realm.  

So how exactly is AI shaking things up in higher education? 

Robot teachers

Earlier this year, The Philipps University of Marburg unveiled a humanoid teaching assistant – Yuki – in Germany. The robot is Professor Jürgen Handke’s assistant, who helps with teaching and learning.

According to DW Documentary, Yuki can get a sense of how students are doing academically, what kind of support they need and also have them take tests. Professor Handke insists Yuki is merely an assistant, and will never replace him as a lecturer.

So, can robots revolutionise university-level teaching and learning? The technology is still in the developmental phase, but it’s possible they may lighten or even replace certain workloads for academics in the future.

AI chatbots

AI chatbots are not only useful in answering student queries, but they can also potentially help with their well-being.

Staffordshire University in the UK is using Beacon, an AI education tool, to assist students and answer their questions, in addition to handling general queries.

According to a report in The Guardian, the chatbot can be downloaded via a mobile app where students can chat with Beacon through text or voice conversation. As its use increases, the bot becomes smarter.

Beacon is said to enhance the student experience by answering timetable questions and suggesting societies to join. It can also apply for an exemption from council tax, order new student cards and connect users to lecturers. The report notes that eventually, the chatbot will be able to remind students about classes and deadlines.

Bolton College also has its own chatbot – Ada – which is available 24/7 to answer students’ questions, measure attendance, grade profile and measure whether students are performing on par. Students tell Ada they’re feeling depressed or allude to self-harm are informed that the information will be shared with the college’s mental health team.

Research impact

A report by Elsevier and Ipsos MORI found that the research ecosystem will undergo rapid and profound changes in the future, fuelled by factors such as “advances in technology and funding pressures to political uncertainty and population shifts”.

Rapid advances in AI and technology can mean that it may be easier to access and showcase content, while they note that for researchers, “the developments in technology and consolidation of analytical services have revolutionised the way research is performed, enabling many to work independently of institutes and even funders – ‘science-as-a-service’ is emerging as barriers to entry are reduced or removed.

“The advances in AI and technology have also provided new methods of generating and communicating results. While research quality is still an important measure of performance, journal publication plays a diminishing role in determining a researcher’s career progress. Increasingly, research is assessed against agreed societal impact standards,” the report notes.

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