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The rapid advancements in artificial intelligence and their continued commercialization are having broad implications across almost all aspects of our campuses. College and university presidents and other institutional leaders should be thinking about the opportunities and risks that these advancements present and developing strategies to ensure their institutions are well positioned to take advantage of the benefits AI provides while minimizing the risks and negative impacts.

Below are seven essential questions that leaders should consider to help frame conversations about AI on their campuses.

  1. How do we provide the skills and build the critical thinking competencies that students need to be prepared to enter a workplace that will use AI in key processes and tools? Advances in AI are changing the workplace. College presidents and other leaders should be asking key questions about the competencies and skills that our graduates will require to succeed in the workplace of tomorrow. How will our curricula and degree programs need to evolve to prepare our students to enter this evolving landscape? The ability to assess the validity of AI output and think critically about how to apply AI tools to solve research and business problems are just a few of the many new skills that graduates will need, regardless of their field of study. Presidents should be discussing with faculty and other administrative leaders how their institutions’ programs and curricula need to evolve in order to prepare students for a world that uses AI.
  1. How can AI enhance our students’ experience? AI can play a role in improving the experiences that our students have at our institutions. Machine learning can be used to provide insights to help students connect with one another, find activities of interest and direct them to pursuits that align with their passions. AI-driven chat bots and other automation tools can streamline how students seek and obtain services, reducing frustration and anticipating and resolving issues before they start. Institutional leaders should engage service providers all across the campus to develop a comprehensive student-experience strategy that takes advantage of developments in AI.
  2. How can AI improve the effectiveness and efficiencies of our processes and support our strategic success? Operational units throughout the institution need to be exploring ways AI tools can be used help make their workflows and operations more efficient. Unit leaders should become educated on AI tools being developed to support their specific field. They should also work with their professional organizations and solution partners to understand how AI can bring insights and increased effectiveness to their operations. For their part, the president and other top leaders should facilitate conversations among different units and divisions to leverage AI tools across the campus in ways that improve overall institutional effectiveness.
  3. What will be the impact of AI on the required skills, roles and organizational structures of our workforce? The new AI tools will necessitate that campus leaders re-evaluate the roles and skill sets needed to perform the work of the institution. What training and competencies will our employees require to apply new AI tools? How will different roles evolve? Which will be added and which will no longer exist? As AI further automates tasks and provides additional actionable insights, will our teams be able to take on higher-value work? What will the impact be on our organizational structures? Institutional leaders need to examine such questions and develop a strategy at each unit level that is undergirded by an institutional approach developed in partnership with the human resources professionals.
  1. What AI-related academic, research, ethical, data, privacy, acceptable use, intellectual property and other policy issues should our institution explore and develop? A broad range of policies can guide or be impacted by the development and use of AI tools across the institution. For example, senior faculty and administrative leaders should review and update syllabus statements, academic honesty and plagiarism policies to clarify appropriate student use of AI tools. They should also re-evaluate policies related to academic research to ensure that those policies provide adequate guidance for the use of AI in conducting and analyzing research findings. And they should also reassess data use and privacy policies to determine what personal and institutional data can be used to train the AI tools.

Some key questions to consider include: How will results of AI-based systems be used, for what purposes and by whom? Who owns AI-generated products—images, programs, reports and other content? Some policies can be reviewed as part of their normal review cycle, while others, like many of the ones listed previously, may need to be considered sooner.

  1. How does AI and its use align with our institutional philosophy, approach and core values? AI tools can provide many positive benefits for the institution and our students. However, the use of AI tools may not be appropriate in all situations, and each case needs to align with the institution’s core values and philosophy.

For instance, deploying AI tools to evaluate and recommend student admission decisions is within the capabilities of tools available today, but does that level of automation align with the values and approaches of the institution? Other examples of cases that require careful thought and conversations are how personal data are used to inform or take actions that might impact a student or where chat bots are used in place of people to respond to queries. Institutions may want to consider creating a process or group to review and approve the use of AI tools to ensure mission alignment.

  1. What opportunities, drawbacks and potential threats does AI present for the fundamental missions of teaching, learning and research at our institution? Campus leaders should be looking five to 10 years out and beginning to think about the broader impact of these developments in AI on the fundamental activities at their institution. We are just at the start of this next generation of AI tools, and they will be getting more advanced and effective. Students joining us in five or 10 years will have been using forms of AI throughout their high school education and will be comfortable using AI as part of their daily routines. What do these and other developments mean for our fundamental mission and how we provide the services related to that mission? Institutional leaders should take developments in AI into account as part the strategic planning processes, projecting out their impact on future student expectations, the emergence of new AI-driven competitors and changes to campus operations.

Developments in artificial intelligence present significant opportunities to gain efficiencies and insights, improve research and student experiences, and provide numerous other benefits to your college or university. At the same time, it is important for presidents and other top leaders to have intentional discussions about the positive and negative impacts AI can have on the campus and to develop an informed and thoughtful approach. These seven questions can frame campus conversations to help develop an appropriate path forward for your institution.

David Weil is vice president of information technology and analytics at Ithaca College and frequently works with Educause and other organizations to explore the strategic use of information technology to support the mission of higher education.

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