What difference does human connection make to student success? Does it matter if students come to in-person lectures? And what if students turn to AI for help with academic tasks rather than asking a librarian or someone in student support?

This episode takes on these questions, ones that have driven headlines on Times Higher Education, to examine the topics of student attendance in lectures and whether students’ use of AI might be making them lonelier. We talk to two Australian academics who both touch on questions of human connection in their work. 

Jan Slapeta is a professor of veterinary and molecular parasitology and associate head of research in the Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney. He first talked to THE in 2022 when his tweet of a photo of an empty lecture hall touched a nerve in the Twitter-verse – and we later named him among the academics who shaped the year’s conversations. Here, he explains why he is feeling optimistic about in-person teaching in 2024. His insights, as you’ll hear, are as insightful and heartening as his tips for new teachers.

Joseph Crawford is a senior lecturer in management in the Tasmanian School of Business at the University of Tasmania. He caught our attention with a paper, co-authored with Kelly-Ann Allen and Bianca Pani, both from Monash University, and Michael Cowling, from Central Queensland University, called “When artificial intelligence substitutes humans in higher education: the cost of loneliness, student success and retention”. Our conversation ranged from what belonging and loneliness actually are to what happens when students turn to AI over real-life relationships.


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