Riding the AI ‘tidal wave’

Colleges must overcome the “fear factor” inherent with fundamental change — an understandable concern with AI reshaping so many facets of modern life, says Fred Lokken (center), a professor of political science at Truckee Meadows Community College. (Photo: TMCC)

Jarret Orcutt teaches basic English to a class of native Spanish, Farsi, French and Mandarin speakers at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) in Nevada. Orcutt integrates generative artificial intelligence (AI) into his lesson plan, a process that includes reorganizing words his students know, then introducing new vocabulary into day-to-day instruction.

“AI is an exceptional research tool,” says Orcutt, also studying education at TMCC. “It aids in understanding and interpreting assignment requirements and guiding me toward relevant resources. It’s far more efficient than traditional Google searches or sifting through academic journals.”

This article is an excerpt from the April/May issue of the Community College Journal, published by the American Association of Community Colleges.

Interest in AI is booming across industries, with higher education weighing the benefits and pitfalls of the technology for educators, administrators and students. Excitement about its potential is tempered by ethical concerns and discourse about the innovation’s place in the classroom.

Gathering info, resources

The Instructional Technology Council (ITC) — a tech-focused affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges — understands that AI is here to stay. The council formed an AI Affinity Group last summer to address the technology’s merits, with a special focus on community colleges and distance learning programming intensified by the Covid pandemic.

The group listed best practices for AI in distance instruction, identifying strategies around implementation, policies and relevant resources. While group members agreed that mastering the ever-evolving innovation is impossible, creating a database of shared policies is a starting point for the conversation.

Essential questions around AI remain: How can the technology be incorporated into instruction and used ethically by students? In what ways can AI promote learning at the community-college level?

Although these queries won’t be answered immediately, AI is a vital tool that administrators cannot ignore, says Fred Lokken, a professor of political science at TMCC, an ITC member college.

“Any community college should have some sense of what they’re doing for staffing and equipment (around AI),” says Lokken. “It would be a horrible mistake not to get started. If you don’t engage with this technology and empower students and faculty, you’re not only going to be left behind, but institutions that don’t step up risk being irrelevant.”

No ‘fear’

Use cases will emerge with dedicated training for learners and staff, says ITC’s affinity group. Administrators can support their campuses now via key policies, strategic planning, earmarking financial resources and finding the right provider (Google, Microsoft and more) for their needs, Lokken adds.

Just as crucially, colleges must overcome the “fear factor” inherent with fundamental change — an understandable concern with AI reshaping so many facets of modern life, Lokken says.

“You can second guess until next Tuesday if you want to, you just need to take the step,” he says. “It’s about getting people thinking about it; a safe haven to have a discussion about academic integrity. This is a ground-shaking change that requires patience, listening and compassion, because none of us deal with change very well. To make it less unknown, you need to be reassuring.”

Related article: 10 things your campus should be doing to launch generative AI

In the short term, ITC is creating a dashboard of AI resources that encompasses relevant articles and podcasts as well as a list of consultants. A forthcoming webinar series will serve as a training module and best practice resource for colleges determining how AI should be used.

Pikes Peak State College (Colorado) prohibits the use of AI “for any written or spoken content unless explicitly permitted in writing by the instructor,” according to its online institutional syllabus. Yet, AI still has a part in fostering knowledge, understanding, independence and honesty in academics, notes Cynthia Krutsinger, dean of online learning at Pikes Peak, another ITC participant.

“One-hundred percent use of AI is against academic integrity, but there are levels to it and ways to use the technology as a teaching tool,” Krutsinger says. “Where a college stands on that is the No. 1 thing that ITC can provide. People must understand what their policy is before they know where to go.”

Read the full CC Journal article here.

About the Author

Douglas Guth
Douglas Guth is a writer based in Ohio.
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