“How many of you are using AI tools in your work every day?” In a room filled with approximately 100 people, almost every hand shot up when Kara Eldersveld asked this question during our panel discussion on the use of AI in higher ed at the recent UPCEA MEMS conference.
I was surprised to see so many people say they use the tools in their day-to-day work, because it ran counter to the findings from a recent survey we distributed at Primacy exploring the adoption of AI among marketers. While 75 percent of respondents said they’d used AI tools in their personal lives, only 25 percent said they were regularly using them in professional settings.
But this is the nature of the moment we’re having in AI right now: nothing stays stable for very long. Professional use of AI tools is low one week and off the charts the next. Mind-blowing new tools and capabilities are available every day. Sam Altman is the CEO of OpenAI one day, the next day he’s not … then he is again.
Between the panel discussion and a preconference workshop I led with Eldersveld, the energy and instability of AI in 2023 were palpable last week. Following three days of sessions, roundtables and dinner conversations, here are five recommendations (plus a bonus) for marketers seeking to navigate the dynamic and evolving possibilities of AI in higher education.
- Think first of AI as an efficiency creator. AI tools can create incredible efficiencies that can free you up to focus on other things—think of it as being given a 20 percent larger budget or team. The Mayo Clinic is testing Microsoft Copilot to take mundane, repeatable tasks off the hands of clinicians so they can focus on patient care; early results are promising. Identify the tasks in your work that AI tools are particularly well suited to streamline.
- Experiment with the tools. Given all the hype surrounding AI right now, it is understandable if you’ve tuned out or ignored it altogether. But the fact remains that AI will soon be part of every technology you use, so it’s best to try out the tools, see what they’re capable of (and not capable of), and start thinking about how they might positively impact your work and life.
- Use AI strategically—just as you would with any other technology. There’s an overwhelming amount of noise around AI right now, and it’s really easy to get caught in a “shiny object” moment with it. Look at it through the lens of your brand, your strategy and the problems you’re trying to solve. Then align tool evaluation, selection and usage based on what will help your organization meet its goals.
- Use AI tools to facilitate more personalized website experiences. During our panel discussion, I suggested that websites as we know them may no longer exist in five years due to the potential for AI to facilitate one-to-one interactions with users. If we start to see websites as tools that create a truly personal buying experience instead of a repository of everything there is to know about our institutions, what might that look like? I’d hazard a guess that it wouldn’t look anything like the vast majority of higher ed websites today.
- Get started on the sticky stuff. AI tools are exciting, but there’s also the potential for copyright infringement, data privacy exposure, unintended release of proprietary information, hallucinations and much more. Start work today on your organization’s policies, procedures, privacy approach, etc. Don’t just look at AI through a marketing lens; involve many different stakeholders in conversations about how the tools will be used, because it will impact your organization in many ways, most of which you can’t foresee today.
Bonus (and maybe the most important) tip:
- Use AI to facilitate human interactions. On my flight out to Portland, Ore., for the conference, I realized I had forgotten my Mac laptop charger. I was already at 33 percent battery and had a presentation the next morning—there was no way I’d survive without a charger. I logged on to Apple support and was first greeted by a bot. It accessed its database of problems and solutions and realized it couldn’t help me, so it handed me off to a human agent. As it turns out, his name was Hank—my father’s name—and we joked about how all Hanks are great people. Hank searched for my specific Mac cord and found it at the Mac store in Portland. I purchased it from the plane and when I landed took an Uber directly to the store, where the cord was waiting for me. Crisis averted.
This is a small example, but one that shows the potential for AI tools to connect people with each other in more helpful and meaningful ways. As I wrote earlier this year, the ideal scenario is something called “collaborative intelligence,” where computers and humans each get to do what they’re best at.
With the constantly changing landscape of AI, it is difficult to predict where this is all headed. I believe that by keeping humans front and center in the adoption of AI, our lives and work in higher education can be transformed in powerful and beneficial ways.