In April 2023, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) undertook a national survey to ascertain how and why postsecondary institutions are using Artificial Intelligence to support instruction and learning, what policies are in place, and what are the perceived barriers to, and benefits for, its use. Guiding research questions included:
How and to what extent are postsecondary institutions across the U.S. using AI?
Where is the greatest uptake, use, and impact of AI within and across institutions?
What key issues and challenges are affecting AI use for institutions?
What is the potential for its use?
What types of AI are most likely to impact higher education?
Upon analyzing the over 600 responses, Sebesta and Davis developed several key findings and insights around AI utilization; support, incentives, and training; strategy, planning, and policy; and the challenges and benefits of AI. Some of those key findings include:
Using AI to support instruction and learning is nascent on many campuses, although some have been using it for this and other purposes for years.
Concerns about AI and academic integrity – i.e. preventing cheating – are a focus for many institutions and the top reason given for not using AI.
At the majority of institutions, use of AI to support instruction and learning at the institution is on the radar or scattered but there is no systemic action yet. The highest percentage of existing, planned, or considered use is for detecting AI-generated content or plagiarism, with editing and content creation close behind.
Support, Incentives, and Training
Online and Distance Education Administrators and Staff, including Instructional Designers, are the primary roles who are leading this work on their campuses, with faculty and Chief Academic Officers and Provosts (as well as Associate and Assistant CAO/Provosts) close behind. Additionally, on some campuses leaders at the highest level are being engaged in work around AI – and some are including students in AI policy development and practice as well.
The overwhelming majority of institutions do not offer incentives to encourage faculty to use AI, and a majority also reported no faculty development or training around AI.
Strategy, Planning, and Policy
The majority of institutions lack official strategy around the use of AI but have or will be developing policies, primarily around academic integrity and instructional use.
Some institutions are adapting existing policies to include the use of AI.
Challenges and Benefits
The primary challenge to using AI was lack of expertise among faculty and administrators, followed closely by lack of policies and guidelines and concerns about protecting academic integrity.
A majority of respondents identified both teaching critical digital skills and learner engagement as the top benefits to using AI to support instruction and learning. Interviews confirmed a need for a new, “digital literacy 2.0” – for both students and faculty – as well as an imperative to include industry in conversations and planning to prepare students for a workforce already using AI. But a new version of the “digital divide” may result from lack of access to training and skills acquisition around AI.
Overall, attitudes about the use of Artificial Intelligence to support instruction and learning range from optimism and excitement about the possibilities, to skepticism and even fear.
A number of respondents expressed that they just don’t know enough about the technologies to be able to predict their impact on the landscape of higher education. One respondent captured what seems to be a common sentiment: “It is the wild wild west. And we don’t have any horses.” And one interviewee argued that AI will upend the very nature of what we do: “The bigger question becomes: What is learning? What is a college education?”
Based on the findings of the survey, as well as interviews with six higher education administrators, staff, and faculty, we have developed a number of recommendations of best practices for the use of AI to support instruction and learning. We understand that each institution and organization has its own unique situations and, therefore, these recommendations may not apply to all. Nevertheless, we hope they will help institutions better plan for, develop, and implement Artificial Intelligence to support student success.
Create clear, consistent, well-developed policies around the use of AI for faculty, students, and others not only to address academic integrity but to anticipate the range of potential instructional uses, intellectual property issues, and others relevant to your context, being sure to include students in policy development.
Provide a secure environment around the use of AI, addressing growing concerns regarding data privacy and AI, through policy, training, and practice.
Leverage AI as a powerful tool to support increased equity for learners, ensuring learner accessibility as well as adequate campus resources, and mitigate impediments to equity in the use of AI.
Develop and teach digital literacy centered on the use of AI to better prepare learners for its utilization in a wide range of workforce sectors.
Review and update course and program curricula regularly to ensure alignment with current, relevant AI skills students will need to succeed in the workforce.
Allocate resources, where possible, to offer ongoing, diverse trainings, both formal and informal, on using AI to support instruction and learning to address the gap in knowledge of AI for faculty, staff, administrators, and students as well.
Engage as many disciplines, departments, and offices internally across the institution and organization – and externally in industry – as possible to develop policy, train, and build a community of practice around AI.
Offer low-risk, collaborative and exploratory opportunities for faculty, students, staff, and administrators to explore and discuss Al.
WCET recognizes that institutions often have limited resources to experiment and collaborate. But as some of our survey respondents pointed out, the use of Artificial Intelligence in higher education – and in other sectors and society in general – likely is not going anywhere and might be well on its way to ubiquity. As one administrator suggested:
[AI] is maybe different in magnitude, but not kind, from the internet. The internet also made plagiarism easier, etc., but it brought great benefits for, say, connecting with students. All advances have drawbacks — I think it’s critical that higher education be thoughtful in our use to try to promote student benefit and avoid abuses.
WCET is committed to assisting its member institutions and all in higher education with navigating those drawbacks while taking full advantage of the advances. You can find existing posts, papers, and webinars on using AI to support instruction and learning on the Artificial Intelligence Resource page on the WCET website. Stay tuned for additional upcoming initiatives and resources on supporting instruction and learning through AI, including an October 25, 2023 pre-conference workshop for WCET members at our Annual Meeting in New Orleans.
Van joined WCET in 2021 as chief strategy officer where he is responsible for all aspects of WCET’s strategic planning; artificial intelligence research; diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts; and assisting the team with policy and research efforts.
Van is a valuable asset to the team, having over 25 years of experience in higher education as a faculty member, academic administrator, state policy maker, and edtech leader. Van holds a PhD in 20th century US history with an emphasis in civil rights from Vanderbilt University, and his commitment to education is evidenced in both his professional and personal successes. Additionally, Van led the creation of the Texas adult degree complete project and the development of the first competency-based bachelor’s degrees at Texas public institutions of higher education during his time on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
Van lives outside of Austin, Texas, with his beloved wife Lisa and two cats and, when not working, spends time collecting Lego models and dreaming of the day he can complete his western US camping trip. Van’s favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and his favorite movie is Dr. Strangelove.